Tuesday - After a 'bit of an epic' getting to Scotland due to the M74 being closed we met up at the Fort William Back Packers Hostel where we would be based during our stay. Tuesday morning we travelled over to the Cairngorms where I had arranged to meet Mick of mickhunter.com who is a qualified Winter Mountain Leader and had generously offered to spend some of his time helping me prepare for the WML assessment, it was also a good opportunity for Simon, Cat & Rich to refresh their skills too.
We headed into Coire an t-sneachda we spent time looking at movement in snow, cutting steps, movement on crampons whilst Mick also gave me advice on coaching techniques. All the time I can spend preparing for the Winter Mountain Leader assessment is extremely valuable and I appreciate Mick giving his time to assist me, good man!
|Fitting Crampons to boots|
Wednesday - Christmas Eve and with strong winds forecast we looked for a route which would offer us some shelter for most of the day. We opted to head into Glen Nevis and take a route up to Stob Ban which is in the Mamores range as the surrounding peaks would keep the worst of the wind out of our faces until we reached the final stages of the ascent.
Rain fell steadily at lower levels until we reached the snow line at around 600m where signs of the strong winds above also became apparent in the form of wind transporting loose snow around. The last section of the ascent to Stob Ban from this direction rises fairly steeply on a short ridge line so we stopped to put on helmets and crampons and to carry our ice axes, it was at this point that skies suddenly became obviously darker and a flash of lightening crossed the sky. Being on the hills during a lightening storm can obviously be problematic and to add to that we were carrying metal axes and wearing metal crampons on our feet so we made a somewhat hasty retreat and descended quickly!
|Rich, Simon & Cat.|
|We used the day to introduce Rich to some navigation skills.|
Thursday - Christmas Day and after exchanging mountain themed presents at breakfast and with an excellent weather forecast we made plans to head up Ben Nevis, unfortunately the avalanche forecast wasn't as favourable as the weather so we would be avoiding the bully's on the 'back' of the Ben and using the 'Pony Track' for our ascent.
As the track passes Lochan Meall an t-Suihe we climbed into a patch of low cloud and for a short while there were thoughts that we may not get summit views but these were allayed as we climbed the 'zig zags'and through the cloud to be greeted with stunning views of the surrounding peaks.
Friday - My final day on the Scottish mountains for this trip and with another favourable weather forcasts plus an avalanche forcast predicting stable conditions myself and Rich set off on the route of the 'Ring Of Steall' in the Mamores. The route begins and ends in Glen Nevis with a river crossing over a wire bridge which is a good way to check you are switched on for the day ahead!
At around 16km with 1676m of ascent and traversing four Munros along narrow and rocky ridges this would be an extended day, especially under winter conditions. Climbing out of the Glen to get on the ridge is an effort in its self due to the steep gradient of the terrain though the views that greeted us distracted from the suffering a little. Crossing snow line at around 600m we continued on until the ground started to rise steeply as we started the ascent of Sgurr a' Mhaim, at this point we stopped to fit crampons and take out our ice axes to assist over the terrain. The ridges of the route were corniced so care had to be taken with foot placement and there were sections of scrambling as we followed the route in an anti clockwise direction over the Devils Ridge, Am Bodach, Stob Coire a' Chairn and An Gearanach. Darkness fell at around 16:15hrs which meant us ascending the last Munro of An Gearanach using our head torches to light the way, before descending back down into Glen Nevis to make our way back to cross the wire bridge in the opposite direction and head out of Glen Nevis and for a much welcome meal!
The route took us approximately 11hrs of which 3 were spent in the dark. Rich declared that he had been out of his comfort zone since we had left the car that morning but concidering he had little experience of using crampons or ice axe on this sort of terrain, ridge walking, scrambling, the extra elements of extended winter routes or being out on the hills in the darkness he did excellently. His movement over the terrain and his confidence grew over the day as he pushed beyond the boundaries of his previous experience which great to see, though it meant I had carried the unused rope in my rucksack all day!!