Sunday, 14 April 2013

Ben Lawers

Snow, the mountaineer's catnip. Whilst a summer hill is all fine and well - you can do a lot more, stay higher longer, and more easily tackle technical routes in summer - the best memories, when I look back, almost all involve snow, bumslides, the iceaxe chinking off rock and ice, the stimulation of cutting steps or using the axe to haul up or balance, spectacular early sunsets,  frozen hands photographing some unearthly scene of spindrift - you get the idea.

Beinn Ghlas from Ben Lawers:


For me snow -and ideally a little bit of mixed rock and ice, nothing too serious - is what it is all about. I wrote earlier about my first trip necessitating an ice axe this winter. I was very keen to get another high trip before this superlative winter ended, and the opportunity came last weekend.

Beinn Ghlas from the lower path:


This year there has been loads of snow - almost too much of it if the incidence of avalanches is any guide - but worried about a recent thaw, we decided to go high. The 9th highest hill in Scotland, in fact - Ben Lawers. Ben Lawers is easy (unless the route over An Stuc is tackled), and the start is at 400m above sea level. We would still climb 3,700ft though as we wandered over 3 Munros, a good workout in snow conditions. High on Beinn Ghlas I detoured off-piste to tackle a small but steep rocky area, the snow suddenly hardening, the axe in hand and pleasure sweating out of every pore in blinding sunshine. This is what hillwalking is all about!

Looking back on Ben More and Stob Binnein:


On the sunny summit of the first Munro, Beinn Ghlas, we met skiers, a couple of dogs, and an old man, well, equipped. "I started walking when my son took me up a Munro for the first time for my birthday," he said. "I was 76."

"How old are you now?" I asked.

"81." he replied. 81! We were faster than him on the ascent of Ben Lawers, but not that much faster. Good work for an octogenatrian!

Ben Lawers from Ben Glas:


Cliff faces were plastered in layers of rime ice, sign of a long, hard freeze at these levels, but as the day warmed up and we headed up Meall Corranaich, third Munro of the day, lumps of snow slipped off south-facing rockfaces, skating down the snowbanks below with a glassy, shimmering sound like pebbles in undertow. I had been all for heading back over Beinn Ghlas but Alastair said no, there is a contour path visible in summer that goes round Beinn Ghlas' northern corrie and avoids a reascent. A group ahead of us seemed to be having a little difficulty with steep ground at the far side of the corrie so we dropped low, enjoying the sight of shapely cornices and tiny figures high above. Everyone else today on this popular and busy hill seemed to have crampons, some even had helmets. Neither of us used crampons and Alastair didn't even get his axe out all day. These are easy hills if you want them to be.

Descending Ben Lawers:


On Meall Corranaich we decided the detour to Meall a' Choire Leith was not work the effort and left the day's total at three Munros. We headed straight down to Lochan na Lairige, and a steep snowbank turned our downhill slog into an enjoyable bumslide, looking at the cracks and swirls in the ice on the reservoir below.

Ice Loch:


The road was overwhelmed by drifted snow and we walked back down it, traffic free. It was only once down that Alastair noticed the redness of my complexion. "You're burnt!" He said. I peered at his temples. "You too..."

1 comment:

blueskyscotland said...

Three Great hills and some impressive photographs. Years since I've been up there. What a difference a week of rain makes as its nearly all gone now from most of the high mountains. You nabbed it at the right time.