I couldn’t resist another trip up to Scotland before the end of the Winter season. This time a re-visit to the beautiful area of Glencoe (Munros Completed : Bidean nam Bian (28), Stob Coire Sgreamhach (29)).
Back to beautiful Glencoe
I flew into Glasgow from appalling weather in the South-East to a surprisingly fair day in Scotland. This time I was heading up to Glencoe, a 2 hr drive from the airport. Glasgow is a good base for any Munro bagging trip as there are frequent flights & a large number of Munros within a short drive. There was no sign of any snow at low levels despite the recent dump of fresh snow, as it appears most snow fell to the east of the A9 & on the higher ground. This was a blessing as I was intending to camp at Invercoe Caravan & Camping Park, a decent campsite with lovely views over Loch Leven.
I awoke the next day to the spitting of rain on the walls of the tent, which though forecast was still disappointing. The sky was completely overcast with the Munro tops hidden in cloud but this is Scotland and you have to make the most of it. Thankfully, there was no wind so a bit of rain wasn’t going to prevent me getting up into the mountains.
Today, I had intended to climb Bidean nam Bean which is a beautiful peak and highly rated hike. It stopped raining almost as soon as I started from the car park layby which was a bonus. There were several others setting off it seems on the same trail & to my surprise (& concern) there were 3 French guys slightly ahead of me in jeans & trainers! I didn’t like their chances and later on was proven to be correct.
A near miss for unprepared hikers
I soon hit the snow line up the Coire nan Lochan valley and the snow became quite deep at the three lochans (around 700m where there seemed almost to be the borderline between slight snow and deep snow). This is also where the cloud level sat and visibility was reduced to about 30m. There was no clear trail any longer but around the foot of the Stob Coire nan Lochan buttress there was a faint trail in the snow that appeared to almost go straight up it. I decided to follow it and it turned out to be quite a good climb up, exposed in some places with even a bit of scrambling amongst the rocks. I caught up with another three climbers near the top & surprisingly the three French guys.
Unsurprisingly they were struggling & asked if they could follow me to the summit as visibility was now about 20m and they also didn’t have a map! It was an easy walk down to the col before it ascended the ridge to the summit though here it was steep and icy in places.
I had to cut a few steps even with crampons on. The French hikers found it too steep and icy (unsurprisingly without the proper equipment) and sensibly decided to turn back after one of them slipped and had a nasty scare only stopping from a helping hand from one of his mates.
Beyond the col there were no tracks (since the fresh snow in the week) so I was breaking trail all the way to the summit but it wasn’t long before I arrived though by now it was almost a complete whiteout with visibility down to 10m (thank goodness for GPS!). Here from the summit the first part along the ridge towards Stob Coire Sgreamhach I trod carefully as the ridge was very narrow and any slip would have ended in a long fall.
Given the poor visibility I almost considered turning back but decided to continue for another 100m to see if the ridge widened & luckily it soon broadend out & I descend further down to the col above the lost valley. The cornices were enormous and the slopes into the valley very steep. I kept expecting the sides to become shallower as the descent path enters into the valley at the bottom of the col but they didn’t. It looked impossible. Fortune was on my side as just descending to the col, two climbers appeared over the snowy rim coming up from the valley. They told me it wasn’t too bad and only really steep for the first 200m or so.
The three of us all quickly ascended to Stob Coire Sgreamhach, a mixture of snow & rock & then descended back down to the col. Here we parted as they continued up to Bidean so I took a deep breath and very carefully, step by step, following the footholes & plunging my ice axe up to the shaft, inched my way down the steep slope. After about 50m, the steepest part was over and I decided to have some fun and glissaded for about 200m on my backside as far as I could go. Great fun! The track then follows this gloomy but spectacular valley to the left of the river until a nasty section of large slipper boulders and rocks that blocks the valley near the bottom. This was made ever more slippery as it started to rain, however, it isin’t a long part to get through and soon after I was back at the car, eight hours after the start. This wasn’t a moment too soon as the rain soon increased. Despite the poor visibility it was excellent mountaineering, loads of snow, ridges, exposure, scrambling, glissading – the lot.