Scottish Winter 'Week'

A report of the "Advance Party's" activities

By
John Edwards

At 2pm on 8th Feb I picked up Nick Piotrowski - not sure if it was the ‘man’ or the ‘fiction’ (you'll have to ask him) - in Harbourne and 7 hours later we were having a drink in The Crianlarich Hotel, opposite the community parking area by the A82, where we’d decided to spend our first night in the Edwards’ motorhome.

Tuesday dawned much less windy than it had been at the weekend so it was a short drive south to Keilator Farm where a new hydro road gave relatively easy access to Grey Height and up onto Cruach Ardrain (3432ft) & Beinn Tulaichean (3104ft). We hit the snow line at around 1,500ft and it was soon on with the crampons & out with the ice axes (as it was every day at around this altitude). Alas no views from the first Munro but a sudden clearing of the clouds & a fogbow as we headed towards the second made the climb rewarding. We were back at the ‘van by 4.30pm, having done 1067m of ascent. After a quick brew, we headed north to The Cluanie Inn in Glen Shiel. After cooking a meal in the car park we went for a drink, only to find the place locked up even though it was only around 8.30pm! So we shared a can of cider before getting out our sleeping bags for an early night seemed a good idea with our plans to tackle The Saddle the next day.

The summits of the South Shiel Ridge were clear of cloud as dawn broke so we drove down the glen and headed up the obvious stalkers path to the base of the Forcan Ridge, a great scrambling route with some spectacular drops, especially when descending from the Sgurr nan Forcan top. We ignored the 2 abseil loops frozen in at the top of this and turned the cliff to the south, soon arriving at the east top (the true summit @ 3314ft) and a little father on the trig column. It was 1.30pm so we didn’t hang around, but dropped down SE in whiteout to the col and decided to give Sgurr na Sgine a go. It was a totally different sort of climb, less exciting but we got better views when we reached the 3104ft summit at 4pm. A long ridge walk N then NW saw us still at 2,800ft on top of Faochag at 5pm but by dropping down steep slopes we were just off the snow as it got dark 45 mins later. When we got back to the Inn it was 7.30 so we went straight in for a beer & meal and were able to stay in the warm until 10pm that night. A memorable winter’s day on a classic route with 1430m of ascent.

We decided on an easier route on the Thursday, taking the old road from the Inn round the south side of Loch Cluanie to climb Creag a Mhaim (3107ft) at the eastern end of the South Glen Shiel Ridge. Cloud descended and wind rose so after crossing the narrow ridge to the next Munro, 3238ft Druim Shionnach, (making it a total of 860m ascent on the day) we dropped off north, had a brew in the ‘van and then drove off to Foyers and the “Loch Ness Shores” CCC site, where we were able to enjoy showers, battery recharge & water top up, before paying a visit to the local pub.

Friday was (correctly) forecast to be the best day of the week so we changed plans and drove to Loch Shiel to attempt the Glenfinnan Horseshoe. After a long walk in it was good to climb the ridge up to Sgurr Thuilm (3159ft) and get great views of Streap to the east and the Knoydart hills to the north. The other Munro, Sgurr nan Coireachan (3136ft), was visible 2.5 miles away beyond a broad knobbly ridge with 3 minor tops and it took almost one and a half hours to reach this in mixed snow conditions. As the book says “ this Peak of the Corries is slightly lower than Sgurr Thuilm but is a much better summit” with superb views of the Cuillins of Rhum & Skye, as well as the island of Eigg and faintly in the distance the Outer Hebrides. Alas somewhere on the descent, partly with head torches, a slip caused my mobile phone to fall out of my pocket. As we were off track in the dark it would have taken a miracle to go back up and find it. Still an excellent day with 1219m ascent.

We were booked in to The Ben Nevis Hotel the next night so a slightly easier Saturday seemed a good idea and we were both tempted by the wonderful Corbetts to the south of the A830 Mallaig road. In the event, the ascent of Sgurr Ghiubhsachain (2784ft) via its NNE ridge with its steep rocky outcrops was trickier than most of the Munros we’d done, especially in the icy, blustery wind. We thought we might have to be content with just the one peak but at the col to the east things were calmer and the SW ridge up to Sgorr Craobh a Chaorainn (2543ft) rose only 175 m at a gentle angle so we went for it, ending up with 1025m ascent on the day. A long boggy descent to Callop and 35 minutes driving saw us in Morrisons at Fort William just as it got dark. An hour or so later we were checked in and swimming in the hotel pool, before dinner at 8pm with 48 other WBMC members who'd just driven up that day.

Sunday was another good weather day so many groups aimed high & Gulvain seemed a popular choice. We drove to Kinlochleven to try for 3 of the Mamores I hadn’t done. We parked up below Mamore Lodge from where an excellent tarmac road, then graded stone track, took us high above Loch Eilde Mor and the Blackwater Reservoir, where we caught up another pair intent on the same peaks. Crampons on, we soon left them trailing on the fine southern ridge up Sgurr Eilde Beag (3135ft). Then it was up to the South Top of Binnein Mor and along a fine ridge to the blade-like highest summit in the Mamores (3707ft). Conditions were now deteriorating rapidly but the easiest way back was to cross over the twin summits of Na Gruagaichean (3465ft) and down into Coire na Ba. We were back at the ‘van at 5.30pm having completed 1735m of ascent & descent in just under 8hrs. We headed to 'The Grog & Gruel' for their Stag Pie and excellent ales before re-joining the main party at the Ben Nevis Hotel.

Having had 6 good days walking our ankles were slightly chafed so we took it easy on the Sunday, catching the train to Mallaig with Simon Grove before setting off for the Midlands at 6pm.

The week, stopping mostly in the motorhome, had worked out well, costing each of us only £42 in overnights and £83 in fuel, plus beers and a couple of meals out. Maybe it wouldn't have been so comfortable if we'd arrived back at the van soaking wet every day, but we were lucky and had no rain & only one snow squall all week.

Summary:- 7 days; 10 Munros; 2 Corbetts, 24,000ft of ascent; 1093 miles travelled; 166 litres fuel used, 2 showers taken (per person!); 3 nights self-catering; 1 night of luxury; 0 arguments We hope the main week was as successful & enjoyable!

For the record the Edwards' Munro count now stands at 134 (94 done in winter) so still not half way to doing the lot, but at least I've done over 2/3rds of the 5***** & 54% of the 4**** ones). I'm more disappointed that my Marilyns total is still only 466!

This article was written by John Edwards and published on this website on the 1st March 2016