Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Bidean nam Bian, May'15

More than the usual Spring snow was hanging around as John was leading a group up Bidean nam Bian. Here's how it went.

The unseasonable conditions continue, with some days being a mix of showers and bright spells, and others heavy rain and sleet, interspersed with varying levels of wind. The only constant is relatively low temperatures, so it was with a certain amount of trepidation we set off for Bidean nam Bian and Stob Coire Sgreamhach from Achnambeithach at the Western end of Glencoe. What would the stream crossings be like? What would the headwall of the Lost Valley be like for the descent? We would have to see, but had a few alternative routes in mind if so required.

Myself, Andrew, Tony, Gill, Lisa, Charlotte and Jackie zigged and zagged our way up the atmospheric coire towards An t-Sron, crossing and re-crossing the burn on the excellent path, until we got to the snow covering the steep scree leading to the col. It was here that we got out our ice axes and had a quick refresher on self-belay, the technique of stopping a slip becoming a fall with the axe. It was then a matter of 'follow-my-leader' as I kicked steps up the snow onto the col, 'encouraged' by Lisa as my steps became less textbook as my legs tired!

On the ridge, we were treated to the expanding views towards Loch Linnhe and Beinn a'Bheithir as the cloud swirled. We followed our nose towards Stob Coire nam Beith, avoiding the cornices which still lie in abundance, and then finally onto the fine summit of Bidean nam Bian. There was little evidence of anyone else, until the cloud lifted a little and we saw a large group on Stob Coire nan Lochan, so we lingered as long as the cold allowed.

As we descended towards the head of the Lost Valley, the clouds lifted properly, and we had the excellent vistas for which this mountain is rightly famous, from Ben Cruachan over Glen Etive, around over the Blackmount, as far as Shiehallion, the Mamores, Lochaber and of course the Aonach Eagach. What we could also see was the extensive amount of snow on our intended descent route, and when we arrived at the top, it was clear that despite it being a Bank Holiday and late May, not a soul had attempted that route at all. The snow is many feet deep, and very steep. There was one set of daring footprints higher up on the crags, that we could only surmise was a climber with crampons and a good head for heights. So the decision was made, Plan B.

Plan B was a descent of Beinn Fhada, (despite the fact that Walkhighlands says 'Note that the Beinn Fhada ridge is not recommended for hillwalkers as a descent route from Stob Coire Sgreamhach'). Our alternative was to retrace our steps back to Bidean and then down and over Stob Coire nan Lochan, and we also knew that there is actually a 'walker's' way down the ridge...well John Walker's way!

The descent NE is just a narrow loose path initially, only made tricky today by the pesky snow, which we had to negotiate carefully once or twice until we got to the 'bad step'. This is in fact just like a giant rocky staircase, which looks improbable once you are down, but is on lovely sound rock, and never technical. The group had a ball, and we whooped our way over the next few undulations in the ridge, enjoying the late afternoon sun. The SMC book tells you to go West into the Lost Valley, 'with care, down the steep slope left of the deep gully'. I have never fancied that, so go East into the Lairig Eilde down a mix of easy scree, grassy terraces and sound rock. Much more pleasant.

It was then simply a matter of a walk along the path to the road East of The Study. On the way, Jackie realised the length of the walk back down the glen on General Wade's road, and she sped off ahead to accost a gentleman walker who was just preparing to drive off. With the pleading eyes of a lady in distress, she acquired a lift back to the cars, and we all got to travel the glen in style. Excellent work Jackie!

A splendid day out, the weather played ball, and although the snow added some frisson as well as a route alteration, it also added atmosphere and beauty to the pictures. Can't wait for summer though...

More photos are on Flickr !