a dusting of snow on blaven

Mon, May 4, 2009

I finally managed to drag myself away from the daily grind and get up a hill yesterday! I didn’t want any faff, no long drives, just wanted to get out and up, so I headed round the corner for what has become my most favourite of hills, Blaven. Strangely, the road was quite busy, with three cars ahead of me and they all turned in to the car park at the start of the path. It was a bank holiday of course. So I geared up and made off, to stay out of the way of the massing crowds. By the end of the day, I’d have counted 30 people on the main summit! That was while I spent 2 whole hours on the south summit watching the weather roll by.

Blaven from the path

It’s a pleasant bimble up into the coire along the side of Allt na Dunaiche, which translates as burn of the little hills, a sure sign of morain. Once in the coire I almost always head up onto the bealach at the foot of the east ridge as the tourist route, which goes up the first east ridge gets rather busy sometimes. It’s pretty mental scree in parts but once up there, the view is fantastic and the scrambling up the ridge is as hard of easy as you make it. Being sheltered from the west winds means it can be nice and warm sometimes but you can easily be caught out in winter when violent north westerlies blast in round the bulk of the mountain and catch you unawares.

Isle of Rum from the bealach below the south summit

From the bealach, heading up the ridge, easier ground lies more to the left but it’s tough going on pretty mobile scree. The middle ground is the best as you can thread your way up gabbro outcrops but don’t stray too far to the right. There’s a gash in the ridge about half way up that’s mirrored in the other east ridge and one minute your scrambling up a nice wall and the next you’re staring down into space! The clue is loose rock. If it gets loose, you’re prolly too far to the right, so move left onto solid gabbro. Nothing exposed, just nice clean scrambling. The rock was wet this time but it was still grippy although I didn’t do the full on stuff as it was just a bit too wet and drippy for that.

Steep scrambling on east ridge of Blaven

There isn’t as much Juniper on the east ridge as there is on the south west ridge but there’s plenty of Alpine Lady’s Mantle which makes for nice diversions to interesting nooks and crannies. With all that rock in close proximity, the final few steps on to the summit are a revelation as the entire Cuillin ridge bursts into view, more often than not accompanied by an eye watering wind that suddenly makes you feel very very alive! As you stand on the brink of the north face with nothing but space below you, billowing cumulus above and acres and acres of mountains all around, it’s one of the best experiences to be had in the UK hills. Add to that the resident ravens adding scale with their soaring from peak to peak and you feel like you’re flying too.

The Cuillin ridge from Blaven

Overnight there had been snow down to 2000 feet on some hills and although Blaven only held the fresh stuff on its north face, Bruach na Frithe was curiously plastered and Sgurr nan Gillean looked like the it belonged in the land of trolls.

Sgurr nan Gillean from Blaven

It’s a view of which I shall never tire. After a while I headed down the chimney across to the main summit, just in time for the first of the hoardes arriving. At first it was just three but they said there was a considerable quantity of humanity making its way up the mountain, so I headed back to the south summit and sat in the complete calm of the cairn and watched the masses arrive on the top. I counted about 30 in total. While only 4 came across to the south summit but didn’t stop.

The main summit of Blaven from the south summit

Although there was a stiff wind scouring the north face, it was deflecting well above the summit and from where I sat I could see vast areas of cloud boiled mountains and open blue Atlantic seas and not a sound could heard. I marveled at how something so vast could be so silent. Not a sound could I hear. Great Cumulus Congestus rolled from peak to peak, quite silently. White crested waves came up the passage between Rum and the mainland, quite silently. Everywhere I looked there were mountains and sea, all wonderfully silent. Then I heard a strange whizzing sound overhead, looked up and saw the raven, zipping along above my bubble of silence where the wind flew above the summit, humming its flight feathers into sound as it closed its black raggedy wings and dived into the coire in front of me and in the blink of an eye was over the other ridge and out of sight. And I was back to silence.

I eventually spent 2 hours on the summit just thinking, watching and relaxing. I didn’t need a book to amuse me, I just got up now and then and wandered around, watching the changing view, dipping into the gale coming up the face now and then, exploring and watching the masses come and go on the main summit. It was marvelous. Eventually the weather started to close in as stringy hail storms draped the Cuillin ridge and headed my way. Dark clouds barelling their way across the ridge and dumping hail on me. But I loved every minute of it.

Storm clouds gather over the Dubhs Ridge

Back down the ridge I trundled, back down the scree from the bealach and down to the big rock in the coire, exploring its plant colonies and scanning the east face of Blaven for winter routes. I’m sure that big gully on the left will be a good route. Didn’t get round to it this winter. Next time for sure.

You can see all the pics here.

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