Scottish Winter Trip, February 2011

A bumper collection of three reports for this eventful trip from Tim, Gary and Daryl. Take a look at the trip photo gallery then read on….

First report from Tim….

18 club members congregated in 4 comfortable timber chalets at the Braemar Lodge hotel for an exciting week’s holiday in the Southern Cairngorms. Wind and snow are the two words which best describe the conditions which resulted in careful route planning so as to best reduce the avalanche risk which remained high on the Scottish Avalanche Information Service for most north facing slopes throughout the week. Visibility was generally poor, even white out above 600m which led to some challenging navigation, although not everybody relished painstaking map and compass work, and a few relied more on GPS allowing them to bag an impressive number of Munros. Notwithstanding this most of the main peaks in the area were climbed, and some further afield by Gary, Archie, Simon and John P using bicycles to avoid the long valley walk ins (and out!) which are a feature of these mountains.

There were few views to be seen but survival shelters came in handy when John H, Naomi, Jill, John S and Tim lunched one day on top of Glas Maol at 1068m in near blizzard conditions the culmination of some impressive navigation by Naomi which brought us spot on to the summit cairn. Not the bit of metal gate post claimed by another HR & F party!

Chris and Tim took a day off from grinding up mountains on foot to ride up in comfort and glide down on skis at the nearby Glenshee ski centre.

It is rumoured that later this year Nick will be giving lectures to the Club on cornices and how to avoid them, followed by another talk on how to navigate your way up a mountain with the wrong map. We are also hoping to be able to book Daryl and Steve to lecture us on planning and time management when climbing a grade II gully high up on Lochnagar, with a few tips on night navigation thrown in.

Several parties walked round the beautiful Lock Muick stopping for lunch on its banks in a Scots Pine grove in the grounds of the Queen’s country cottage which had been built by Queen Victoria and now has a small bothy in the outbuildings and which had been used by Naomi and a friend as a base for their successful assault on Lochnagar the previous week.

On the last day Jill, Naomi, John H and Tim walked through the beautiful Ballochbuie Forest which is a preserved Victorian Scots Pine forest fenced off from deer and in it’s natural state. We stopped for a picnic lunch spreading deep pile rugs on the ground, getting out the hampers and chilled champagne with a piper playing on – well that was the plan, but unfortunately it misfired because no-one had told the staff of our plans and we had to make do with sitting on our rucksacks and chewing nuts and crisps washed down with chilled water.

The majority of the group enjoyed an excellent meal one evening at the Balmoral Lodge hotel.

The final morning dawned with a promised snow storm and those driving were unable to get over the Glenshee pass resulting in a long detour via Aberdeen in spite of Simon and John P’s unsuccessful attempt to follow a snow plough over the pass.

second report from Gary Dyer…

By the end of our week in Braemar, Archie and I had a well established routine

  • Alarm, kettle on and a large slab of porridge washed down by a stiff brew
  • Van on autopilot to Linn of Dee 20 minutes away
  • Out with the bikes and either up the track to Derry Lodge (4/5) or west to White Bridge (1/5)
  • Spend day ploughing through soft snow
  • Summit relevant Munro thanks to Archie’s superb navigation but invariably in zero visibility
  • Exit in failing light, back on the bikes to Linn of Dee
  • Fife Arms for a pint or two
  • Return to hut for rest and refuelling
  • Alarm, kettle…………………………………..

Unfortunately, the poor conditions left Archie with plenty work to do if he is to complete all his Munros by the end of April. However great memories of

  • Peaks -Carn a Mhaim, Beinn Bhrotain and Derry Cairngorm.
  • People – The 2 Dutchmen returning to Scotland for their 15th winter visit to spend 5 days tramping and camping: the 2 Scottish lasses who greatly enhanced our day on Carn a Mhaim by kicking steps prior to our ascent; the mad mountain biker carrying his bike and panniers out through 6” of snow after bivvying in the Lairig Ghru.
  • Places – The Coire Etchachan Memorial shelter below Beinn Mheadhoin, Corrour Bothy, so atmospheric, and Scottie’s Hut by Derry Lodge, photos and the log indicating it to be the scene of intense social activity at weekends and especially on New Years Eve.

Sunday it was westward bound for 3 days in Torridon with Charles White. Conditions were much better with some great views and frozen snow.

  • Circuit of Moruisg (928m) from near Craig with views of Skye.
  • A long walk in to Beinn an Eoin (855m) east of Baosbheinn on an excellent track from the Gairloch road.
  • Beinn Liath Mhor (925m) from Achnashellach station.

The bunkhouse at the Kinlochewe Hotel is recommended. The bar offers a choice of several local real ales and excellent food. However the kitchen closes at 7.30 and you could go hungry if you are 10 minutes late!

Thanks as ever to Dick and the other committee members who made it all happen.

and finally from Daryl Naylor…

So first Scotland trip! This was the reason I joined the club almost exactly a year ago so I had been looking forward to this for ages. The anticipation had slowly been building over the last three or four months as various pieces of shiny new gear had gradually been purchased. So the day finally arrived and off we went but first a short detour … it was a brilliantly crisp winter day at the Peaks so it would have been rude not to have a quick stop for half a days ‘proper’ climbing as Dick would say!

So after a pretty painless journey we arrived at our lodge around 11ish. Conscious of others being asleep we tried to make as little noise as possible getting all our stuff in. This obviously didn’t work as we were shortly met by a half-a-sleep John P who muttered a few words of welcome before shuffling off back to sleep!

Must be said the lodges were superb, wasn’t expecting anything so luxurious and spacious so full marks to whoever sourced those.

So first day proper, we met up with the others for what had been sold to us a ‘valley walk’. Not having spent a lot of time in Scotland, we thought a valley walk would be a low level walk in the valleys with the odd foray into a wood or two … so of course we thought … no need for winter boots, gaiters or anything like that, we could make do with standard summer walking gear!! Oh dear it wasn’t long before we were arguing over who had the coldest and wettest hands and feet. But minor grumbles aside, it was a good walk with lots of white stuff and pleasant company, even had a good view looking down to the valley.

Monday we followed Nick and his crew to the Glenshee ski car park for a hike up to the local munros, names escape me sorry! This time we would not be caught out, proper boots, gaiters and we even threw in a balaclava and goggles this time. Up we plodded, a quick stop to put crampons on, another for goggles when the whiteout kicked in and all the time brushing up our navigational skills and getting a few new tips from the old master Nick, we made it to the summit. No cairn or welcoming committee, no view for that matter either but we were there, so Chris’ GPS unit told us anyway. Only one thing left to do, head back, Nick took a bearing and we headed into the whiteness, visibility was poorer than ever now. The summit plateau had a gentle incline so it was a surprise to everyone when Nick suddenly went up to his waist in snow, he just about had enough time to turn around before falling through the rest of a cornice. A few seconds later Nick appeared 50 odd meters away, unscathed, politely shouting at us to keep away from the edge!! We obliged and headed across and down to meet up with Nick. Unbeknown to us Nick had lost his compass and bearings in the slide and by the time we’d got a little further down to meet up with him he’d moved away in the opposite direction!! After a lot of shouting back and forwards and not hearing a great deal, Kim, who had handled the whole partner falling through a cornice episode very well, said she thought she’d heard Nick mention ski lifts and a way down. So we agreed to go our separate ways. After a tense wait in the Glenshee car park, Nick arrived with the other group who he’d just bumped into on the way down!!

After Monday’s fun and games Steve and I were itching to scratch up our axes. Avalanche warnings on W to NW slopes had been up all week so Tuesday we opted for a ridge and a relatively short walk-in. A few hours later we were in the ever-omnipresent whiteout conditions but with the addition of strong winds, another hour we arrived at the start of the ridge and could barely stand up. We beat a hasty retreat but not before taking a break inside our emergency shelter.

Conditions were predicted to be much the same Wednesday so we opted to join everyone for a walk up the big hill behind the lodge, sorry can’t remember the name again. There were some good views of the valley below just before we entered the cloud line. Nick was back on entertaining form today when he produced a random map instead of the one for our area!! No drama though as we had enough spares amongst us.

After a lot of weather checking Wednesday night, it looked like we there was going to be a break in the weather. The chance to get a climb in we’d been waiting for, so the plan was to leave with Nick and Kim who were planning a walk to Lochnagar and we’d take a look at some of the gullies. However avalanche warnings were still in force on north facing slopes so late that night we change our mind and opted for a south facing route called The Waterfall on Eagles Rock.

We went with a reasonably early start, as there was a 10km walk-in. Hindsight now tells us the early start wasn’t nearly early enough!! We made good progress, even with packs full of climbing gear, and dusted off the first 7.5km in a couple of hours. Just 2.5km and 250m of ascent left to the start of the climb … should be easy right? Humm, how wrong we were! The snow was deep, loose and un-trodden, a very tiring 4hrs later we made it to the rough position of the start of the climb, another 1hr and we had found the actual start and finally geared up full of the excitement of being in the middle of nowhere with no one around about to start our climb proper. It was around 2.30pm by this point so we didn’t hang around any longer. I lead the first pitch and ran out the rope to an icy bulge, unfortunately the ice was useless for a screw, a couple of axes went deep over the top into some good ice and high foot went up which when rocked over and weighted on went straight through the wet snow!! I knew the feeling of momentarily having my full weight on two axes was going to be more than my quota of excitement for the day and probably the week! A very ungraceful scrabble and I was over, another 10m up the slope led to a quality piece of water ice, deep and solid. In went a couple of ice screws and up came Steve oblivious to my fun and games further below. Without stopping for a breather Steve led through the next pitch making quick work of a couple of bulges. We continued this way, swapping the lead and 150m later we made it to the top … 4.30pm. No backslapping, I think we’d both had enough by this point, the walk-in had taken its toll! Our first choice was to descend the rocky gully parallel to the route we’d just come up, however fading light, poor visibility and a couple of slips put paid to that idea. Our next option was to traverse the high plateau and come down the other side via a gentler ridge and hook up with a path. Around this time we noticed a bit of phone reception so Steve made a call to his better half Jacqui, who with a few snippets of information on our delay and route changes set on a mission to contact Mike and John back at the lodge to let them know our change of plan.

It was proper black now, we were in the clouds and it was pretty featureless up there, so the navigation skills were about to be tested. A very shaky start had us quite literally walking in a circle, noticed when Steve pointed out the river was flowing the wrong way!! Compass interference we hoped, anyway we decided to pack away the climbing gear and this seemed to do the trick. Lots of pacing and a few bearings later we were descending the ridge and then, there it was, the path, or at least lots of footprints where the path should be and going in its same direction! We instantly started to relax, the pace had been quite slow over the top, walking on a bearing, counting paces and constantly adjusting but now we could really pick up the pace, until we were more running then walking. Unbeknown to us whilst we were plodding across the top, Jacqui had made contact with our lodge who with our best interests in mind passed all the information to the mountain rescue who put an alert out on us. Luckily this didn’t mean a full on search party, instead the local ranger was dispatched up the path we were now heading down and we met up with him by the waterfall we’d been heading for. It was clearly a mild winter night for the ranger as he was quite casually dressed in fleece and beanie, no jacket or gloves needed! 10mins later and we were down and greeted by the very happy Nick, Chris and John. We were very pleased to see them and even more relieved when they said they had a car to take us the remaining 5.5km back to our car!! Thanks guys for coming out and to everyone else involved that night, we know Simon was also coordinating back at the lodge … and sorry if we worried anyone!

Steve’s instructions for the next day’s activities were quite clear … “I’m not going up any mountain!!” Friday we went mountain biking!

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