After the last two year's over-subscribed winter meets we were surprised to not fill the meet and with a few last-minute cancellations 12 of us arrived in dribs and drabs in North Ballachulish at the Alex Macintyre hut near Glencoe to test ourselves in the stormy weather that was hitting the UK.
Day 1 saw Paul, Simon and Zoë approaching Curved ridge on Buachaille Etive Mor, only to turn back in the wet and slippy snow, along with most of the other climbers that day. Meanwhile Ed did some adventure biking (or taking his bike for a walk in the snow) over the Devil's staircase.
Day 2 things really started in earnest with Paul, Chris, Simon and Richard heading for the Aonach Eagach ridge, hoping that the previous day a few people would have laid a trail for them to follow. No such luck- it was only half-way across the knee-high powder snow ridge that they crossed two other parties going the other way and eventually had a trail to follow but that didn't make the abseils off big white pinnacles any easier. They descended back to the car they had dropped off at the Clachaig Inn just before 9 at night and didn't even stop in for a pint! Dehydrated and wide-eyed, a rest day was needed the next day to ground themselves again. On Paul's 9th ridge traverse and 5th in winter, it was unrecognisable but nonetheless an unforgettable adventure.
Simon, Richard, Paul and Chris on the Aoanach Eagach ridge in deep snow
Meanwhile Ed, Zoë and Emily headed off for some ski touring just east of Spean bridge up Chno Dearg, a Monroe spotted on the map as being the perfect gradient and aspect considering the high avalanche warnings. After being recommended by a stalker in no uncertain terms to head slightly off our original course as "we might get shot" if we stayed to the left of the herd of deer by the snow-line, we headed straight up the hill in trainers and then changed to skis at the snow line, stopping just short of the summit to dig a snow pit with completely uniform snow down to over 1.5 m- very reassuring! Having arrived at the summit in zero visibility, the mist and snow parted to show us the way down 2 km of white open expanse which we skied with huge smiles on our face.
Ski touring up Chno Dearg
That evening and the start of the Bowline CIC hut siege begins. The skiers swapped to climbing kit and headed up on an evening hike up to the hut, guided by moonlight, bright stars and the awesome white buttresses of the north face of Ben Nevis. Arriving as the Red rope club were heading to bed, we settled into the cosy, warm hut and made ourselves at home.
CIC hut scenes- night walk in, morning arrival and explorations in a snowy wonderland
Day 3 in the early morning sees the arrival of Masa, the new Highlands local and his sister Yuki, carrying enough gear for an expedition. Lots of tea was drunk, tales told of the conditions, heating vents and windows cleared of snow and milling around with other newly arrived climbers was done. Digging out the water supply became of prime importance and a probe was used to track the line of the pipe and the end was found 2 metres down after lots of shovelling. A few days later Masa gave up on digging for running water and they just melted snow! Masa and Yuki stayed on for 4 days and had a great time: "Due to the easterly wind the east-facing windows were covered with snow to the extent we first failed to identify from outside where those windows were. Nevertheless, thanks to the fantastic location of the hut, we managed to do 2 routes in short lulls during the period of stormy and snowy weather: South-West Ridge (IV, 5)on Tuesdayand Newbigging's 80 Minute Route Far Right Variation (IV, 4)on Friday. The guidebook says the latter rarely comes in condition, but it was in a good nick this time, to our pleasure!" The 3 others headed down after a day of milling around and eyeing out the recent avalanche crown walls!
Day 4 saw Chris and Simon being greeted by horizontal snow and sleet up the hill the other side of the Ballacuilich bridge, Richard being turned away from the Nevis range slopes due to high winds and 5 skiers heading back to near Spean bridge for an aborted attempt up a peak where the same wind attacked us and made us change direction to head for a smaller hill and then even abort that! We left Jean, on Nordic skis to explore the forestry trails while we headed uphill, over rivers and down bracken-bashing slopes and as we returned to the road we found out she was sheltering in a lone phone box waiting for us.
Wet and windy weather for hill-walking, ski-touring or hiding in telephone boxes
Day 5 was a wash-out (even for Masa and Yuki in the snow siege) and saw the first departures, hoping to find some respite from the rain down south (no chance!) but Jo turned up for a couple of days of mountain biking, skiing and a run. Leading up to the weekend there were some half-hearted attempts at skiing at Glencoe and Nevis range (resorting to skinning up Aonach Mor as only one drag-lift was open), a meal at the Clachaig Inn for the CIC survivors and a swift departure for a weekend in the Cairngorms for some as well as Japanese ascents of new routes on Binnein Shuas.
Yuki on the South west ridge of the Douglas boulder and Masa and Yuki's new routing at the weekend
Conditions could have been better but if you are adaptable and ready to face the elements and enjoy the comfort of warm mountaineering club huts, Scotland in winter is a beautiful and awe-inspiring place to be. As Paul said; "Keep on having adventures, that's the most important thing!". Don't worry, we will thanks!
Snowy hills basking in sunshine on a final ski off A' Bhuidheanach Bheag straight from the A9 on the way home