Blind Corbetting Around Glencoe – Day2 – Fraochaidh

3 03 2011

20 February 2011

Few photos of this one – nothing worth taking in a white-out!

On the Sunday we dropped Janet off at the cafe in Glencoe to wait for her bus, chomp scones and think of us struggling up our next snowy hill and Alan and I continued round to the coastal village of Duror.  This was a pleasant spot and the sun was starting to come out. 

As we drove up the road towards the carpark by the forest we saw there was going to be a cycle race.  This turned out to be handy as our knowledge of the route through the forest onto the hill was sketchy to say the least!  Even handier, one of the friendly mountain bikers asked us where we were headed – perfect opportunity to see if he knew the route… he did 🙂  Now much better informed we headed off briskly through the forest on the good forest road, avoiding the odd bike charging towards us.  The sun was still out in Duror but we’d left it behind already.

The guy had said follow the forest track for about a mile and then head down to the right to a bridge across the river.  It seemed much more than a mile – never mind, there was the bridge and a lovely track setting off zig-zagging at a comfortable angle of climb.  Alan remarked what a great track it was, however, that wasn’t to last long.  I was passing a large rock in the ditch at the side of us and happened to notice some little stones scattered atop it – hmmm – is that a route-marking cairn?  I called Alan back and we decided that, with the stones and the eroded gully leading up from it, it was indeed our route.  This went straight up the very steep hillside through the forest.

The route was very well marked with red marks on the trees and bits of plastic ribbon – wrong turns were even marked with red ‘X’s on the trees – great!  At that rate of climb we pretty soon saw daylight and exited the forest over a section of fence marked with red plastic tape.  There was a marker post with a red dot on it strategically placed part-way up the hillside to mark where to re-enter the forest on the way back down, and I noticed there was also a solitary pine higher up as a further marker.  The hillside was exceedingly steep – okay for going up but, being wet and slippery, probably horrid to come back down later.  I started to look for better ways back to the forest entrance…

We eventually reached the top of the steepness after climbing hard for what was probably about 1500 feet… and suddenly found ourselves atop a craggy bluff above a lochan – not straight on then.  We chose right and worked our way round the lochan heading for the snowy slopes ahead.  I said to Alan I’d prefer to head furthest right for the end of the ridge in preference to going up the steep sides as there looked to be some very steep and deep snow banks.  He agreed…

There were indeed some extremely steep and soft snow banks to negotiate and my boots started to fill with snow (I never remember to wear gaiters).  I was finding the soft snow very tiring – the deep bits were obviously so but even the shallow bits were bad as they were too thin to have any grip.  We didn’t seem to be making any progress up the hill and the ridge seemed to take ages to reach.  I noticed that on the south side of the hills the snowline was much higher than we were so hoped that, if we headed slightly round the ridgeline to the south side, we’d have an easier time of it.  That was indeed the case.

Once we reached the ridgeline things became a bit easier but the ridge wasn’t an unbroken one so we sometimes had to cross further bits of deep rising snowfield with its attendant energy-sapping difficulties to reach another one.  Looking up the hill it looked an awful long way and, the way I was going, I was starting to wonder whether I’d make it – I wasn’t at all ‘winter fit’ this year.

We eventually reached a col where we had a slight break… and Alan’s map blew away over the edge!  I made a slight attempt to catch it but it was away – it was very windy indeed up there.  Oh well, I still had mine in my bag.  We set off upwards again, at first on a nice, fairly snowless rise.

At the top of this rise we hit the cloud and headed off into it.  Things started to get murky.  We could see a fenceline going into a gully with a hump either side – we decided that the left-hand hump was the way to go as it was higher – the snow was too deep to ascend the gully.  We ended up on the left-hand edge of the hill overlooking what would be the drop into Glen Creran if we could have seen anything.  At this point though, we could still see rocks sticking out of the ground and Alan caught sight of the fence again.  He suggested it probably led to the summit so we decided to try to follow it for a while.  We were by now on quite a flat area of plateau which was easier going and, strangely, the wind had dropped here.

The rocks disappeared… we could see a slope rising to our right and turned that way… everything else disappeared.  I peered hard into the mistiness and continued to plod upwards.  Eventually I saw a ridgeline high above me and pointed it out to Alan.  We hoped that was the summit ridge at last – at this point we were just using our altimeters and a very vague compass heading as we hadn’t taken one in time to be of much use.

A second later the ridgeline materialised directly in front of me – not way above us as previously thought.  It was actually just a wind-blown surface ridge across the slope.  I peered hard at it and couldn’t see anything at all past it.  Was it a cornice over the edge?  I peered harder to see whether there was actually ground past it but had no idea so had to take to stabbing with my ice axe – yes, there was ground under a substantial depth of snow.  I was feeling totally disorientated now and none too happy.  I stepped over the ridge of snow but had to keep prodding ahead of each step to see if there was anything there.

Happily, soon after, I managed to see what looked like a pyramid to my left a short distance away.  I peered more and it looked like a cairn made out of the usual rocks but with fenceposts stuck in it like a wigwam.  We agreed that must be the summit and headed enthusiastically for it – it was.  We decided it was way too cold for any kind of break there so headed back downwards to look for a sheltered spot.

As we got back to the snow ridge, Alan asked if I wanted to stop there for a break as it would be out of the wind below the ridge.  I looked at the complete emptiness and said no – I felt like I was floating in space.  There were no points of reference whatsoever and I would have found it extremely disconcerting to sit there feeling like I was suspended in mid-air with only the seat of my pants telling me I wasn’t.  I said I’d prefer to sit somewhere within sight of a fencepost, rock, dead body or anything which made me feel I was still somewhere on the planet!  He agreed and we continued down.

We eventually reached a nicer spot with rocks surrounding us and fairly out of the wind, although we kept getting bouts of spindrift as the wind swirled around.  Alan had a couple more things blow away…

After a warm drink and some shortbread we continued down.  We’d already decided we had to follow our footsteps all the way back until we dropped out of the cloud as we’d taken such a circuitous route to get up the hill – this was because we’d just been heading for the highest ground we could see all the way up – a strategy which usually works well on the simpler hills, of which this was one.  I did giggle quite a bit though following our footprints back as the route we’d taken looked like it had been taken by a pair of drunks!

I was pleased to re-attain the col where Alan’s map had blown away.  I suggested he might be able to get down the gully it had blown down but he studied it for a while and then decided against it – after all, he might not find it anyway.

It was much quicker descending the deep snow banks and slippery slopes and we took a much more direct route for the lochan and bluff.  On one steep bank with slippery, shallow snow, I decided I would just sit down and slide as I was going to fall on my arse anyway.  Alan did the same and I was surprised how quickly we shot down the slope and hoped there were no rocks – I’m sure it would have been much worse for him if there had been!

Further down we’d dropped out of the wind and I was getting pretty warm so stripped back down to my thinner clothes and took my buff off.  As I reached down to pick my ice axe up again I noticed something bright red in the snow – it was the cord on my brand new and expensive compass which had been ripped off with my buff!

We headed left around the hillside to pick up the forest edge and then traversed back round the edge of it to the re-entry point – our route wasn’t really much less steep than the ascent one.  We seemed to be down through the forest and onto the good track in no time despite it being very steep and fairly slippery in places.  Then it was just the nice easy walk out on the forest road where we could at last relax and chat about our walk.  I was very glad to see Alan’s car as I’d found it a pretty hard day.

The only photos I took!

Beinn a’ Bheithir from Fraochaidh ascent

Alan

And Alan did a short video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cnzvv4TqclM

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One response

5 03 2011
Alan Bellis

Enjoyed re-living that. Poor weather but still a good day. As an ex-bagger, I know what its like to “have” to do a hill, almost in any weather, so going with someone else who is still bagging gave me the push to do a hill I would not have done that day if I had been alone.
The video for this walk is here :-

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