sun and snow on blaven
Sun, Apr 20, 2008
A couple of weeks ago I had a wild day on Blaven, turning back at the bealach in the face of severe gales and whiteouts, so on Saturday I took advantage of the stunning weather to nip up again, this time for a traverse of the two summits. I try to avoid going up the first east ridge you come to as it’s pretty loose and covered in scree and instead I always head for the big boulder in Coire Uaigneich and head up to the bealach below the second east ridge, where I have bite to eat at the big boulder, a favourite spot of mine, where I can shelter behind the big rock and gaze out at Rum and the small isles.
From the bealach there’s some really nice scrambling on solid gabbro and less of the scree you get on the other ridge. A lot of people think the second east ridge is the “tourist route” but I’ve always considered the first east ridge the tourist route as that’s where most of the walkers head for. It’s difficult to find the path though in poor visibility and the plethora of crags and cliffs can be intimidating. A tip is to follow the path up Coire Uaigneich until it starts to level out and when the crags on the right hand side peter out and form a corner, follow the wall uphill, with the wall on your right and you’ll come to a very narrow slit, hard up against the wall. The path is directly at the top of the slit. You can either squeeze up through it, taking care not to damage the flowers, or head left until you can break up through the crags, then head back right to the top of the slit where the path is obvious.
However, I always head up the second east ridge. Once past the first rock band on this ridge, which is an easy scramble, a tower looms ahead. This is the headwall of a very deep gully, so take care and if you don’t like heights, keep well to the left. The rock on the tower is friable too the further right you go and the drops rather impressive. Once past the gully head, I reached the summit snow fields, glaring in the hot sunshine and very deep and soft, although I managed to thread a line through the rocks and up a wee gully, then some nice scrambling to pop out on the south summit.
From the south top, the “easiest” route is down a narrow chimney with the exit barred by a chockstone, which leads into the big centre gully which the runs the height of the cliffs between the two summits. In summer it’s an easy scramble with a short move over the top of the chockstone into the gully bed but today it was rather more interesting as I kicked steps down rather steep snow towards the top of the chimney. The softness of the snow, overlying smooth slabs didn’t help either and I thought of Whymper’s advice as I gingerly inched down the steep snow field, threading a route through rocks for more grip, to “look well to each step”. The top of the chimney wasn’t too steep and it was a case of kicking slash steps for a bit until I reached the steep lower section. Here the angle hits about 50-60 degrees and being in the shade of the chinney the snow became very hard indeed. So, facing in and daggering with the axe, I kicked steps for what seemed ages, down the narrow chinney until I reached the chockstone.
It was banked out and normally steep drop below it was a flawless snow slope, though I didn’t fancy trying it as it looked rather steep and soft, so I hacked away some of the ice and snow above the chockstone, as I knew the it had superb undercut holds at the top. A nippy swing under the overhang, the axe clanging on the cold gabbro, onto the ledges on the face of the chockstone, a step down the other side and I was in the main gully, past the difficulties. It had taken about three times longer than normal and my feet were a bit sore from kicking steps in the hard neve. I made for some exposed grass near the top of the main gully as the remnants of the cornice loomed overhead, ice crystals glinting in the sun, with the snow I was traversing very deep and very soft in the middday sun. Not a good combination, so I didn’t linger, just enough to take a couple of pics of the main gully, which I’ve pencilled in for next winter. Once out of the gully, it was a graceful snow ridge above the west face and onto the summit, with the two resident ravens and a fantastic view of the Cuillin ridge.
There was quite a gathering on the summit although everyone else had come up the “tourist route” and it was satisfying to reach the summit the “hard way”. The last time I’d tried it was a couple of years ago on Christmas Day and I’d been above the clouds for a bit but it was blowing a blizzard and the main gully looked like it might avalanche, so heavy with new snow. The descent of the chimney had turned a summer hillwalk into a winter mountaineering day, although the snow was soft and deep on the ridge and the weather was summer conditions. I’m just glad I took the axe “just in case” as no way would I have attempted the traverse with just the pole.
You can see all the pics here.