trailbreaking on beinn chabhair

Mon, Dec 6, 2010

Last Tuesday I caught the last ferry from Skye and headed down to the Drovers Inn at the head of Loch Lomond for a couple of nights B&B and an attempt on my second last Munro, Beinn Chabhair. When I’d booked, the weather forecast was fine but on the Tuesday the place was white and I was the only car and passenger on the ferry and it was a beautiful sunset over Eigg and Rhum with the mountains of Knoydart like black cutouts from the electric blue sky. A fantastic evening and a superb drive south, 2 hours 15 minutes from Mallaig to Inverarnan with hardly a car on the road the whole way. There wasn’t much snow on the road until Crianlarich, which looked like Chamonix. I’d phoned ahead to the Drovers to let them know I might be late and the lady at reception (who’s from Crianlarich) was very helpful and friendly. In the end it was a fast drive on clear roads with no traffic.

Descending the Beinn Glas falls

Wednesday morning it was about -10 in the car park as I pulled on the salopettes and La Sportivas and shouldered the heavy winter sac with axe, crampons and all sorts of spare food, clothes and emergency shelter. My, isn’t winter a burden at times! But I love it. A brisk walk up the road to the deserted campsite, a quick look at the map and straight up the Beinn Glas steeps, trailbreaking all the way as I’d been the first out since the huge dump of snow.

Near the top of the slope, where it heads into moorland, the drifts were waist deep with a serious drop into the gorge should they slide. Exciting stuff!

Ben Vorlich from the moorland above the Beinn Glas falls

The route then heads across a moorland which is almost flat and in this case, covered in 8 inches of new snow, which was very very dry so no great hardship to plough through although I was a bit peched by the time I stopped for an apple, two hours into the walk. It was good to get some fitness back and I was pleased I could walk in 8 inches to two feet of snow without a stop, for two hours. There was a huge bog under the snow at one point which sucked my feet deep into its glour and with the air temperature being well below freezing, as soon as I pulled my foot out, the bog froze to ice instantly and I had to bash my boots with the axe to get it off. The walking pole had no effect on it, it was so hard.

Frozen bog!

The unfrozen ground combined with such a low air temperature proved a problem on the way back as my feet turned into Frankenstein boots which required regular bashing, otherwise they weighed a ton and were difficult to walk on due to the rounded ice bottoms!

After three hours I stopped for a bite to eat and tried to plan a route up the next bit, some rising ground up to Lochan Beinn Chabhair but it was going to be difficult. Down by the burn the drifts were horrendous and where the side burns came down, it was chest deep in places, so I kept fairly high but still had to negotiate cornices on cross loaded burns.

Cross loaded burn

I had to bash a way through the one above to get across the burn channel and that was at the easiest point! Eventually I drew near the lochan and was so parched I was thinking of front pointing down the frozen waterfall to bash some ice out of the way to fill the water bottle. The snow was like sand in its consistency, it was so dry and what little water still flowed was buried under several feet of snow.

Just before Lochan Beinn Chabhair

It normally takes about 3.5 hours to get up Beinn Chabhair but after 4 hours I was still about half a Km from the lochan with, I suspected, about another 2.5 hours to go to reach the summit. But I knew from experience the snow higher up would be worse and as it was so deep and fluid an avalanche was on the cards getting onto the ridge. So I marvelled at the view and headed back, intending to follow my outward steps as the wind wasn’t too strong. What a mug! In the mayhem of criss crossing deer trails I lost my own trail back to the moorland and had to trailbash for another hour! Eventually I reached the unfrozen bog again and this time went in even deeper and crossing the drifts near the burn made me walk in a most peculiar fashion. I was in up to my crotch so the only way I could move was to throw my arms in the air and leap up to get one leg out and plunge it in a few inches forward and so on and so on…

At the start of the moorland above the Beinn Glas Falls

At length I reached the top of the Beinn Glas steeps again and waded down through the trees to the sound of snapping branches under heavy snow cover. At the top stile I stamped flat an area of snow and tore up my last roll for the birds who were gathering on the fence, then ploughed on down to the road and a hearty steak and ale at the Drovers!

The plan for the Thursday was to head north to meet my old friend Penguin in Glencoe for a couple of days walking but he couldn’t get out of Glasgow. So I just headed home for a day in the Cuillin instead, only to find the water pump had burned itself out as the filter in the loft had frozen. What a winter!

I can thoroughly recommend the Drovers. The staff are very friendly and helpful and I was upgraded to an en suite and given an extra heater as the forecast was for -22! The food is excellent and hearty and the John Smith Ale smooth and creamy and with a roaring fire at either end of the bar, what more could a winter walker want! Superb!

You can see all the pics here.

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