Winter Walking in Glen Coe
Phil Lee – December 2001
Driving up on Boxing night it was not until Loch Lomond side that we encountered any serious amount of snow. Following the Christmas day festivities, John Sellers and I had planned a trip to make the trip to Glen Coe and we prayed for snow about a month before.
This was the second festive period I would spend in the spiritual home of Scottish Mountaineering but 2000 had been spent with my family and low-level walks were the order of the day. This was my second walking trip with John, the last being in Wales over the beautiful ridge of Cnicht.
Arriving into Glen Coe at 1.30am we set up our tents outside the Clachaig Inn. For those of you that know the Glen well will know what a shrewd move this was. It turns out that camping is not strictly allowed where we set up our tents but the owners of the Clachaig were happy to let it go because we were small in number compared to the summer hoards.
|The view from base camp|
The following day we decided that a gentle walk to break us in would be good so we decided upon the Pap of Glen Coe (Sgor na Ciche). Since we were only a couple of miles away from the access point for the hill we decided to walk to its base. This is not a hill that should be underestimated in winter as it shares the attributes of many of the hills round those parts, it is steep and the summit cone is quite rocky. We did underestimate it! The decision was made back at camp to leave our axes and crampons behind since it was “only the Pap”. When climbing the summit cone we realised the error we had made as we attacked what must have been approaching a grade 1 scramble with seriously slippery snow beneath our feet. The heather quite often provided the best handholds!
|Top of the pap|
One of the best reasons for a stay in Glen Coe is the nightlife and we made the most of it. In the Clachaig Inn there is a real sense of community and the sense that you can talk to anyone you want (probably because you share a common passion). Coupled with live music acts it is easy to see why Trail Magazine voted it the best outdoor pub in Britain.
Two days in and we still weren’t feeling over adventurous and decided on the hill behind the Kings House Hotel called Beinn a Chrulaiste. A friend of mine had reliably, informed me that this hill afforded the best views of any in the Glen Coe area. This did not mean much to me while climbing the corrie with a large cloud of mist sitting just above us but once up the corrie headwall the breeze wafted that away and we were treated to the most amazing views from the top which was basking in sunshine.
|Mor and Beag from Chrulaiste|
I felt pretty good about climbing this hill because it has escaped me while doing the West Highland Way due to “bog miserable” conditions. We popped down the west ridge and walked back along the WHW path to the Kings House. Sadly it seems that this bar is not as popular as it once was but that could have been explained by the earliness in the Ski season. I can however recommend the Kings House for their meals that are vastly preferable to the 3-min microwave food at the Clachaig.
Third day and it was time for some Munro-bagging. I had made an attempt on Bidean nam Bian back in February 2001 but had been forced to retreat Munro-less from the Col just after Stob Coire nan Lochan due to heavy wind. This time the conditions were much better in every sense and we looked good for our target. Our chosen route was up to the Lost Valley up the corrie headwall then up Stob Coire Screamhach then up Bidean itself. Unfortunately our plans failed for two reasons. One reason was that I was pretty seriously dehydrated most of the day, the other was that John had spent so much time with getting up and getting his breakfast (probably didn’t expect me to walk so slowly though!). It was still a memorable day and the Munro of Stob Coire Screamhach was attained and we were within 200 feet of the summit of Bidean when we turned down due to failing light. A word of warning though: The Lost Valley is not a place to be descending though in the dark. The jumble of Glaciated Boulders and precipitous paths proved to be slow going and we didn’t get back till the car till 7pm. I will be back to get that hill at some point!
|Entrance to the Lost Valley|
Having had a fairly heavy day we decide upon a rest the following day which was spent in the delightful shopping town of Fort William. Those of you who have been there will note my sarcasm. We spent a few hours wandering round the shops before we were seriously bored. We returned to Glen Coe and went to the Study to take a couple of snaps of the 3 sisters. I then showed John a small gorge with some waterfalls that I had spotted during the descent from Buachaille Etive Beag back in February.
What followed that night can only be described by the phrase “heavy drinking and carnage”. We were really getting into the atmosphere and John had more to drink than I have ever seen him have. At this drunken stage there was ramblings about climbing Curved ridge on Buachaille Etive Mor with basically a summer rack and a non-dry-treated rope.
Luckily when the haze had passed in the morning we had decided on just a walk up the larger of the two Munros on Buachaille Etive Mor. Rather than follow the hoards and climb up the large corrie from Altnafeadh we decided on an approach from Glen Etive. This meant more ascent and we didn’t see anyone till the very top of the mountain
A very Scottish New Year’s Eve followed and it was back to the tents for the last time.
|Buachaille Etive Mor|