Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Lawers bespoke day, Mar'15

In late March, John was leading a bespoke day taking in the seven Munros that make up the Lawers group. Here's his tale......

The forecast was spectacular for this time of year, with negligible wind and unbroken sunshine all day, and the snow cover gave things an almost Alpine feel. The guys were all old university friends from Ireland who regularly meet up, and this time had come over to Scotland for their first bagging trip, (and to rub it in about the rugby as it transpired!).

We met at the Lawers Hotel car park, where you used to be able to leave the car on the promise of partaking of a pint at the end of the walk. This has changed, and there is now much more limited parking, and they ask for £5 for the day. It is still reasonable in my opinion, and a necessity if the linear walk from the higher car park near the site of the old visitor centre is planned.

After the usual logistical challenge of a car left here and a car left there, and the fitting of hire crampons, we got onto the hill by 09:40. The usual boggy approach to our first Munro Meall a’Coire Leith was actually unusually dry, and taking Route One straight up the grassy slope we were soon on the summit and soaking up the extensive views. En route to our second summit, Meall Corranaich, we took the opportunity to cover how to use the axe for self-belay, step cutting and walking in crampons, before ascending the corniced ridge. Again, it had a splendid Alpine feel in places, along with some mind-focusing cracks in the cornices that indicated where NOT to walk!

The descent to the bealach was soon dispatched, with the guys quickly learning how to use crampons on mixed ground too. It was here that we said goodbye to Anthony, who apparently had a pressing appointment with a Sherpa’s daughter back in Killin ;) The rest of us made quick work of the ascent up to our third summit, Beinn Ghlas, from where we could see the rest of the route. Ben Lawers was next, and as the 10th highest mountain in the UK does tower above everything else in the region. The path is good though, and we managed to make the summit without recourse to crampons. After many photographs and the regular checking of phones for the rugby scores, it was crampons on and a nice crunchy tramp towards An Stuc.

We had some fun picking our way through fields of névé and rocky outcrops, but at the bealach, it was obvious Eddie was suffering with cramp. He and Willie therefore decided to descend directly to Lochan nan Cat, which whilst steep, was feasible. Indeed, Willie was so enjoying the snowy slope, he decided to practice his self-belay!

The remaining intrepid team pressed on to An Stuc, the shapeliest of the Lawers summits, and the one with a sting in its tail. The descent Eastwards is steep, and in winter conditions can be quite serious. The guys followed me carefully down some steep footsteps with a rather exposed traverse. There was mix of emotions from absolute buzz to quite, intense concentration. The very steep grassy slope to my right looked uninviting, as well as serious, but the ‘path’ (had it been there) would have cut back left under what was now a steep field of snow. After some discussion, we opted to have a play with the rope. With a sling around a solid rock, the intrepid Dan was lowered down, kicking steps as he went. He soon realised the benefit of winter boots for this task, but he soldiered on. He was soon on easier ground, and then elected to cut steps for his pals to follow, a sterling effort!

The other guys improved upon his work, and by the time I down climbed, I had some nice steps to use, but it still demanded concentration for the initial steepening. We had a whoop and a high-five at the bottom of the slope, as looking back up, it is quite intimidating, yet we had dealt with it calmly and safely.

All that remained now was to cover the last two Munros before dark. Meall Garbh was next, and a couple of the lads demonstrated how much energy they still had by racing to the summit….however it wasn’t! The rest had a wee giggle as it was a false summit. It was a shame, as we knew there was going to be an incredible sunset, yet our previous peaks hid it from us. We could still see the wonderful colours in the sky, set against the snowy peaks, and in the gloaming we realised we needed a plan C with the cars if the chaps were going to get back to the hotel for food. One of the guys had had enough summits for one day, and he took the direct route via the burn, and the final three pressed on for the final summit, Meall Greigh.

In the encroaching darkness, we watched as a Ptarmigan brace went through the time-honoured ritual of female pecking around disinterestedly, whilst the male struts, preens and pesters, resplendent with his red eyes brows.

Just countless false summits to go, and final mad dash for the summit as we all expended our last energy in an Anglo-Irish summit sprint. Ireland won that too, as well as the rugby. After some jubilant and satisfied handshakes, it was head torches on, and down into the depths of the valley for the long traipse back to the hotel. There was some brevity as the guide slipped in the mud after a stile, only to be followed by a laughing client – ‘You do, we follow’!

Everyone reconvened at the Killin Hotel after the to-ing and fro-ing with the cars, and we enjoyed a splendid meal and a welcome pint.

Thank you very much to Eddie for organising, and to Mark, Dan, Willie, Pat, Declan and Anthony for being such a fun group.

More photos by John are up on Flickr !