Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Mamores, April'14

John was leading a weekend on the Mamores range in the Lochaber area. Challenging days, here's his tale....

Day One – 
With a forecast of heavy rain showers, sleet and snow, and strong wind, it was a stoic group that left the Grey Mare’s Tail car park in Kinlochleven bound for the Eastern Mamores. It was an even more stoic group that smiled as we went up the wrong path for a few hundred metres. (How is it that I can navigate across the Cairngorm plateau at night in a whiteout, but getting out of a car park is always a challenge!?) 

On the correct path, we made good progress until we got to NN216641, where the rain and the snow melt had turned an innocuous burn into what we termed the Zambezi. We had to ascend some 400m upstream, and found a viable, safe crossing place. With some great teamwork, we got everyone across dry, if buzzing with the excitement, and it set a pattern for the day as we crossed what should have been easy wee burns, but in spate, needed us to help each other to remain dry. 

Arriving at the lochans at the foot of Sgurr Eilde Mor raised the predicted oohs and aahs, as it is a lovely place, and we had great views of Glencoe. It was there that the wind really began to be felt however. We decided to try the ascent of the South flank, safe in the knowledge that despite gusts of maybe 70mph, we were unlikely to be blown off anything, just blown flat! As we neared the summit however, the wind was hitting the hill and being thrown over us, so not only did we have a sunny interlude, we could stand and admire the view. It was then time to get the axes out for the snowy descent down to the path to Binnein Beag, which we dispatched with aplomb, the team learning how to stow an axe Alpine-style between each snow field. 

Making the traverse across the paths to our next objective, the effect of the all the snow on the unfrozen ground this winter became apparent, as there was more soil and rock avalanche debris than I have ever seen in Scotland. 

We soon got to the bealach between Binneins Mor and Beag, but here the wind really did batter us, (‘brutalised us’, as we laughed later!). Diane, being new to Munroing, asked if I had ever been in such wind, and even Victoria, veteran of nearly two compleations felt it was the strongest she had encountered. We decided as a team to leave the rucksacks, thus lessening the sail effect, and again, as the path had no drops, to try and make the top. We were delighted to have done so, as the wind eased as we gained height, the funnelling effect of the bealach being negated. We agreed that although challenging, the weather added a frisson to the summit experience. 

The descent was long, and we were relieved that the ‘Zambezi’ had dropped a good bit for the return, so it was a tired but satisfied party that arrived back at the car park after some 11hrs. Two hard-earned ticks, so well done to Bill, Diane and Victoria for staying so positive in the face of such a fierce wind. Tomorrow couldn’t be any more challenging….could it? 

Day Two – 
Sunday was supposed to be a round of the Ring of Steall, but another forecast of persistent rain, snow and hail over 700m and wind of 55mph gusting to 75mph meant a judicious review of the plan was necessary. Victoria had left us as planned, but our group was joined by Chris, Nicola and Sally. We decided to play a percentage game, and headed up the Allt Coire a’Mhusgain with the intention of getting to the lochan at the foot of Sgurr an Iubhair as stage one. Stage two would be Am Bodach and back, assessing the wind, stage three Stob Ban, and finally, if all was well, Mullach nan Coirean. 

We played leapfrog with another party up the coire, but as we lost visibility due to the rain and hill fog, they decided to turn back. Our intrepid group had a break in our survival shelter, and decided that although wet-through, the wind was OK, and we’d be able to go straight onto stage three. *Note to self - ensure no-one is claustrophobic when squeezing five folks into a 4/5 bothy bag!* Stob Ban was ascended in fresh, wet snow, and it carried the usual huge cornice at the summit, so we were careful for the summit photo! 

The wind was still surprisingly acceptable, (although the rain, sleet and snow were biblical at all times, and the visibility was always poor), so we were happy to press on. It was only as we neared the summit of Mullach nan Coirean that the wind really got up. I would estimate gusts of 80mph, and the smaller party members had real trouble moving. We had no choice but to continue, and I knew once we started the descent we would be sheltered, so we just held on to each other and staggered to the (thankfully) large cairn. Phew! 

Another short stagger brought us to the descent, and although the wind and rain never really gave up on us, we only had trouble again at around 400m where it gave us a final slam and sent a couple of us to the ground in the slippery, wet conditions. 

On the fire road through the forest back to the car park, we reflected on the weekend. For folks new to the hills, it had really been a baptism of fire, a real elemental battle! If they were still smiling after that, (and they were), then I know they have caught the bug that compels us all to get into the hills even in such conditions. Well done to all, and here’s to that dry day when it comes……