deep snow on the south glen shiel ridge

Sat, Dec 6, 2008

Had a fantastic day today on the South Glen Shiel Ridge, well the bit between Maol Chinn Dearg and Sgurr Coire na Feinne. A ridgette really. I was planning to do more but the snow was so deep and soft I was tiring by the time I got up there. I was also trying out my new La Sportivas, which are rigid and are hard going on the old feet, as I haven’t worn stiff boots in years. I left the house at 7.30am and was walking by 8.30, through deep soft snow from the word go, while the sky blushed in the first light of day.

Sunrise over Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe

I followed a faint indentation in the snow that was the stalkers path heading up Druim Coire nan Eirecheanach but what I didn’t realise was a two foot deep drainage ditch on the uphill side of the buried path and I went into it a few times. Very tiring indeed. Despite a very cold and clear night, the snow was completely unconsolidated and was very tiring to walk in. Further up the ridge it was a case of lifting foot (plus heavy winter boot) to knee height, lower onto snow, push down to go knee deep in snow. Man, it was tiring! There was almost no ice to play on with the new crampons. Near where the ridge levels off, there were a couple of interesting sights. The first was hare print sastrugi, where a hare had passed by and compressed the snow with its paws. The loose snow around the prints had blown away, leaving the raised imprints of the paws:

Hare sastrugi

the other was more ominous. As I stepped up the steep slope, a four inch deep slab broke off and slid down into my footprints. Loosely bonded layer ready to avalanche, so I hastily detoured to the left!

Avalanche sign

Further up the ridge narrowed down to a fantastically sculpted sinuous wavy line of unblemished snow, topped with an interesting rocky section with some icy patches. It almost felt like mountaineering. What a difference winter makes:

Approaching the interesting rocky section of Druim Coire nan Eirecheanach

Finally, after 3 and a quarter hours of deep snow slogging and “post holing”, I reached the summit of Maol Chinn Dearg and stopped for 10mins for a bite to eat. A raw wind was coming from the west and it wasn’t a place to linger as the small cairn gave little shelter. Then it was off down the snowy ridge to Sgurr Coire na Feinne.

Descending west from Maol Chinn Deag

I was planning on heading on to Sgurr an Doire Leathainn but the snow was just too deep and the cloud was rolling in from the west, ahead of a wild forecast tomorrow, so I headed down Druim Thollaidh, enjoying the elegantly flowing spindrift on the steep upper section of the ridge:

The lower section of the ridge was alive with deer and hare prints. In fact the only prints I’d seen all day were animal ones. Again, the hills were empty. Only me, loads of deer and some adventurous hares. I noted one set of prints stop at the top of a small gully, while the hare thought twice and headed off on a different descent route, while I plunged down the narrow gully, enjoying the winteriness of it all. I noticed the deer had come up out of the very deep snow in Coire a’Chuil Droma Beag and had run up the narrow ridge. There were lots of tracks nimbly ascending a tricky gully, plus a few tufts of grass had been exhumed from the snow and were surrounded by hare tracks. A busy place indeed!

A fantastic day to be out. Tiring, yes but it was so good to get out and enjoy the winter conditions so early in the season. The last word, I’ll leave to the snow:

Wind sculpted snow on Druim Coire nan Eirecheanach

You can see all the pics here.