Wednesday 5 April 2017

Guided Winter Walking day in Glen Coe. Sunday 26th March 2017.

Day two of Matt & Ellie's Winter Skills Training Course in Scotland dawned just as fine as the previous day. Once again, there had been a light frost in the glens, but temperatures were due to be between 6 and 9 degrees C at 900m. This did not bode well for the remaining snow cover.

The view as we set off from the upper car park in Glen Coe, was absolutely stunning (photo one). Our intention was to head to the back of "The Lost Valley" (Coire Gabhail) where Iain had noticed a large bowl of snow well sheltered from the sunlight. Surely there, we would find old Neve - ideal for covering the remainder of the pair's Winter Skills Syllabus.

An hour later, we reached the floor of Coire Gabhail - a flat area of grassed over alluvium created after the valley floor was dammed by a massive landslide from the east face of Gear Aonach. This massive rock fall is famous for the apparently impenetrable barrier that was created and it was behind here that the MacDonald Clan hid their livestock from the marauding Campbells during the famous Glen Coe Massacre of 1692.

The effect of the sun further up the valley beyond Ellie & Matt is evident in as much as there was loads of snow on the slopes of Beinn Fhada to the left; and virtually no snow at all on the south east facing slopes of Gearr Aonach to the right. Our objective was the snow right at the head of the valley under the obvious col.

Arriving at this area well over an hour later, Iain quickly gave up any idea of being able to complete Matt & Ellie's Winter Skills Training Course. Whilst there was a considerable amount of snow at the head of Coire Gabhail, there was up to a foot of fresh, slightly consolidated and stable wind-slab from the snowfall the previous week lying on top of the old hard neve and clearing it would have been a mammoth task. As it happened, Matt & Ellie were just happy to be out enjoying another great day in the mountains. Photo three sees Ellie as we approached the Bealach Dearg (col) at the head of Coire Gabhail with the intention to now summit the nearby top of Bidean Nam Bian (1150m) - Glen Coe's highest mountain.

Moments after photo three was taken, we would step out over the cornice at the Bealach Dearg and out of the shade. The temperature went up by some ten degrees C almost instantly and whereas minutes before we were in cold shadow amongst snow with runnels of ice amongst the rocks, we were now on grass and dry rock with hardly a hint of snow to the south.

We trudged up the ridge towards the summit of Bidean Nam Bian and it was like being in The Alps in mid-Summer - no wind; and people walking towards us in their shirt sleeves using ski poles and sunglasses. The view from the top of Bidean (photo four) was just amazing. The tops of Arran were visible due south as was Ben More on Mull; and way out west one could see The Cuillin Ridge and Blaven. Up here it felt like mid-Summer and not later Winter...not at all!

After enjoying the views and having a well earned rest, we descended due north into the couloir dropping into the very head of Coire Gabhail from the summit of Bidean Nam Bian (photo five).

Here, we did find the right sort of snow for a Winter Skills Course, but it was much too steep an angle to be safe for ice axe braking or covering any other part of the syllabus. However, it was good for Matt & Ellie to be able to put into practice some of the skills learnt the previous day by reverse daggering down the initial steeper part whilst kicking steps before we "heel plunged" the rest of the way into the upper corrie.

The way down into the head of Coire Gabhail became progressively more arduous as the snow cover became progressively thinner and more broken and we were getting quite tired by the time we reached that main path to the valley bottom.

That considerable melt of the remaining snow-pack had taken place was evidenced by the amount of water going over this fall in the final photograph of the day as the third stream of water nearest Ellie & Matt had not been there in the morning and as we reached the valley floor, the stream there was clearly bigger in volume and flowing further out on to the alluvial flat than it had been when we were there earlier in the day.

Iain had been unable to deliver the complete Winter Skills Syllabus for Matt & Ellie due to the unseasonably warm weather, but hey! they were more than happy to have enjoyed a good winter walking day with plenty of variety in one of Scotland's most famous mountaineering areas.

We arrived back at the Mondeo at 7pm and were truly amazed to find the ambient temperature gauge reading 15 degrees C - now that's a Summer temperature in this part of the world.

Matt & Ellie paid just £80 each for their Winter Walking Day in Scotland with Iain; and fully intend to return next Winter to finish off the core Winter Skills Syllabus with us. We've advised them to book their course for early to mid February next time. Interested in joining one of our Scottish Winter Skills Courses next year? Keep an eye out on the Facebook page and the blog; and contact us here to book your place. We look forward to working with you.

No comments: