Blind Corbetting Around Glencoe – Day1 – Mam na Gualainn

2 03 2011

19 February 2011

No decent photos for this and the film is still in my camera so flying without…

Me, Janet and Alan met up for what seems to be becoming our yearly February meet, again in Glencoe.  We were staying at the SYHA and sampling the varied entertainment of the Clachaig Inn every evening.

Janet and I managed to get a room to ourselves on the Friday night but on the Saturday night 3 young girls joined us in our room.  One of them asked me whether we intended to get up early the next day.  After I stopped laughing I said definitely not and that it would hopefully be around 9 o’ clock.  The lassie then told me she was asking as they were getting up around 0630 and didn’t want to disturb us and said they would get all their kit together that evening. 

I was very dubious that we wouldn’t be disturbed as I find the usual treatment afforded to folks staying in hostels who wish to get up ‘a bit later’ is that they get the following: firstly the big light is slapped on… then the plastic bags are rustled vigorously (every item has to have its own separate plastic bag apparently).  Finally, the early risers decide to start chatting about their planned day – which could of course be done over breakfast.  Anyway, to cut a long story short, these girls were as good as their word!  They used the dimmest of torches, made hardly a sound and were out in a few minutes.

Our first night in the Clachaig was pretty amusing.  In addition to the musician, one of the entertainments was one of the climbers getting very drunk and starting to verbally abuse his two (very tolerant) buddies.  He was ranting at them and jabbing his finger towards them one minute and, the next time we looked, the whole thing had disintegrated into a hair-pulling fight! The ranting guy had long dreadlocks and a bandana, his grappling partner had long hair and a beard.  The bearded guy was being held down firmly by his hair.  They grappled on and drinks started to topple off the table.  No punches were thrown but eventually the shattering glasses attracted the attention of the bar staff who came over to break it up.

Then, when we came to leaving, Alan decided he really didn’t want to leave his car at the pub and walk back to the hostel so asked me if I wanted to drive.  I agreed and we all piled into the car.  I reversed back (fortunately slowly) into the gap behind us but was suddenly horrified to find there was actually a car in the gap, invisible in the rain and the darkness.  That was bad enough but when we arrived at the, by now full, hostel carpark, we decided the only place I could put the car was in the wide entranceway.  I ran forwards onto the road and then backed down onto the drive and switched off.  Alan tried to get out of his passenger door but couldn’t open his door.  He got both hands to the job and started ramming his door quite hard but could only move it a couple of inches.  I advised him to stop shoving and let me get out and have a look.  When Janet and I got out to look we were amused to see I had parked his car completely up against a heavy wooden ‘garden’ pot.

The next day we had decided to tackle A’ Chailleach and the Corbett of Mam na Gualainn from Kinlochleven (I’ve done all the Munros in that area).  I parked up and we set off on the West Highland Way footpath to the glen between our hills and the Mamores, intending to descend the far end and come back through said glen.  We were soon in sight of the zig-zag starting out up A’ Chailleach.  Janet wasn’t feeling very fit and wondered whether she should back out and just walk the valley.  We assured her she’d be okay and that it wasn’t a very hard walk so she continued with us.

We descended to the footbridge across the burn and plodded off up the zig-zag – a pretty good track.  This track took us easily up to the top of the first steepness and the snowline and we were rewarded by a flattish stroll across the snow to the next steep section.  The next steepness looked a bit more serious – a craggy nose – there appeared to be another path zig-zagging up to the right of it.

I led steadily up the snowy zig-zag which soon met a very steep and hard-frozen rise.  I managed to kick steps but decided it really was crampon time so we stopped at the top of the rise to fix them.  Janet fished in her rucsac and found… one crampon!  Her other was at home ‘in a box on top of the wardrobe’!  I offered her my spare micro-spikes.  Once we’d all fitted some kind of spikes, we looked around to see where the path went next.  It didn’t appear to go anywhere from there so it just looked like we had to tackle the very steep hillside on our left.  We peered upwards – the snow directly above us looked about the least steep (although very steep) so we decided that was as good as anywhere and headed up with Alan leading the way.

Alan soon ascended an almost vertical bank of hard-frozen snow which, unsurprisingly, Janet wasn’t totally happy with in microspikes.  I offered to go at the back so she would have someone below her and she forced her way up it.  I actually really enjoyed this part of the climb as it felt like ‘proper mountaineering’ – in fact I thought it was about the best part of the day:-)

As we reached the top of this section we arrived at a cairn which we assumed was the summit so we stopped for a break.  We looked around us for the continuation of the ridge but all we could see were a couple of rocks nearby sticking out of the snow and what looked like ‘the edge’ just past them – visibility was very poor indeed.  Alan and I took compass bearings and we headed off along them, very soon reaching a second cairn at the proper summit.  From there the descent was in almost nil visibility and deep, soft snow and seemed to go on forever.

When we finally reached the col we immediately headed off up a steepening slope which fortunately had hard, shallow snow so was pretty good going.  Janet was by now starting to tire.  The ascent went on for quite some time and then levelled out.  We assumed this was the small intermediate top we’d seen on the map before the main summit and when we started to descend slightly, we expected to meet an immediate steep rise to the summit proper.  However, our descent continued and became more pronounced.  Alan and I checked our altimeters and saw we were way too low to have been anywhere near the summit.  Where was it?  We went into a puzzled huddle trying to figure out why we were apparently descending the mountain.  I was determined to find my summit no matter what.  Suddenly the cloud cleared for a moment and we saw what looked like a huge peak ahead and quite a way distant.  Janet was pretty despondent…

We set off down the slope to the long and very snowy col – the snow was more than knee deep in many places and I found it a very hard trudge.  Luckily the ascent of the final peak was again on hard and shallow snow so excellent going.  We were up it in minutes – the real summit at last.  Janet had a little celebration, waving her ice axe in the air like an Everest summiteer and we had another little break behind the cairn.

I decided to try to stick to my original route through the valley at the back as it was a shorter (and pleasanter) route back to the car – the others decided to head straight for the road.  I told them that if they managed to thumb a lift to wait for me in the pub and I’d check there before driving down the road to pick them up.  However, as soon as I set off on my descent I met extremely deep snow banks and promptly fell flat on my face, hurling my flask out of my side pocket.  My flask rocketed down the slope looking like it would go right to the bottom – luckily it eventually hit an irregularity in the snow and stopped.  I was glad I’d not emulated the flask in its wild and speedy descent but had actually stopped where I’d fallen as my feet were well anchored in the deep snow!  I checked the other two hadn’t seen my embarrassing fall and continued…

I persevered with the deep snow but decided it was hopeless and that I should just descend straight down to the col on a ridgeline and then reassess which route to take.  By the time I got to the col I’d already decided I had to join the others for the route straight down to the road as there probably wasn’t even enough daylight for me to reach the main track in the valley (the track would have been fine by headtorch).  I traversed round the slope and fortunately ended up just below them – I waved at them and got an acknowledging wave so waited on the col and then we all trudged down to the road.  By now it was 1730 and almost dark.  I looked up the loch to Kinlochleven and saw how far it was.  I knew it was at least 6 miles.  None of us fancied the trudge and I was certain none of us would get a lift if we thumbed it. 

Alan stood across the road playing with his phone.  I asked him what he was doing and he said he was going on the internet to try to get a taxi (my 10-year old mobile doesn’t do that!;-)  Soon after there was a taxi on its way, ETA 10 minutes – so modern phones do have some uses after all!  Any feelings of cheating soon disappeared for me when I watched the miles of swooping road pass by in the darkening gloom and with no real verges to walk on – it would have been a truly horrendous walk at that stage of the day and we’d probably have been squashed flat!

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11 responses

6 02 2015
motherland mark

Just a quikie http://www.mark-away.blogspot.co.uk btw like yourself I have been concerned about damage to blogs, on my Jura blog my photos disappeared! I am not computerised but my wife helps me, could you not transfer them to word and download them to a disc?

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7 02 2015
mountaincoward

I do a regular full backup of my blog which you can use to reload the whole thing on WordPress – probably has the same facility on Blogspot somewhere. But sometimes things like photos disappearing happens but they generally rectify at WordPress’s end and all goes back to normal after a day or so. I haven’t lost anything totally yet…

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21 01 2015
motherland mark

Hi M.C me again, when your flask went tumbling down the hill it reminded me of when I was front pointing on the Ring of Steel, on my own, my water bottle slipped out my cagoul and dropped thousands of feet! I saw the top come off and the water disperse. Couldn’t help making grim comparisons.

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22 01 2015
mountaincoward

I nearly lost my flask completely on Meall Dearg (Liathach Northern Pinnacles) this summer when it fell out of my side pocket again. Luckily, it just thudded by my feet on the narrow ridge and stopped – it only had another foot before it went over the edge and down in the corrie at the back (not the one we were descending to).

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21 01 2015
motherland mark

Hi Carol thought ya might like this little beaut! http://www.mark-empty.blogspot.co.uk.

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22 01 2015
mountaincoward

I’ve read it – superb photos – but I’ve left a comment on your blog so I won’t repeat them here 😉

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14 02 2014
mark ingram ( Motherland Man/Mark)

your blogs are very entertaining, still working my way thru them dude! Feel free to check out my exploits at Mark- Alder.Blogspot.com. Be good man.. M.M.

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15 02 2014
mountaincoward

Hi Mark – I’ve had a first read tonight – had to comment as ‘anonymous’ as I can never figure out what kind of login Blogspot wants!
Carol.

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15 02 2014
mark ingram ( Motherland Man/Mark)

sorry should have realized you’re a lady! You do very well, bit of an inspiration to other ladies(including my wife) to get out there and taste the Motherland. Well done, keep rocking. K.T.D.A

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6 03 2011
Oldie

Good report Carol! Shame you have to drag those two drunks about with you….Only kiddin’. Alan

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5 03 2011
Alan Bellis

It turned out to be a harder day than we thought. I felt sorry for Janet who was really struggling on the climbs, not being hill fit, so it was good to see her with a big smile, do a Highland jig and a shout out a “Whoop” when she reached the Corbett summit.
And with darkness looming I was glad of the tech phone; otherwise we’d have been a bit stuck, with only a slim chance of a lift, and the nearest phone-box a few miles away in the opposite direction
Great weekend with many laughs. 🙂

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