Climbers tackle ridges on Highland trip

Climb Shetland members travelled down to the Highlands of Scotland for the annual winter climbing trip early last month.

As with last year they based themselves in Roy Bridge, just under 10 miles north of Fort William. After the success of last year’s trip confidence was high for another challenging week.

Unfortunately the weather forecast had it to be a very mixed bag through the week with heavy snow to start, maybe a nice day in the middle then mild and windy to finish.

Undeterred, the first day was spent climbing a hill a short walk away from the lodge. Beinn Chlianaig (724m), while not as high or a steeply angled as some of the larger hills, still provided a stern challenge due to the high winds (gusting 80mph) and the large quantity of powdery snow.

The following day the avalanche risk was still quite high so a valley walk was chosen up Glen Nevis. This walk takes in some spectacular waterfalls and can be spiced up by scrambles of all grades through the crags on either side.

The group split into three pairs to tackle different routes back to the cars. Peter Sawford and Julie Maguire tackled the summit of Meall Cumhann (698m) in winter conditions, Tommy Robertson and Al Whitworth tried a grade I scramble through the crags on the south side of Meall Cumhann and Kelly Robertson and Alan Ratter carried on up the valley to some spectacular waterfalls.

The Tuesday was forecast to have the best weather of the week and so it dawned bright and still. Unfortunately, due to longstanding injuries Pete and Julie were forced to take a rest day. The party was joined by Anna Pigott for an assault on the North ridge of Mullach nan Coirean (939m), part of the Mamores, overlooking Glen Nevis.

The ridge itself is 4km long with some quite exposed sections near the summit. The walk started on forestry tracks before taking a very wet path between the trees to a stile over a deer fence. Once established on the ridge crampons and ice axes were donned in order to keep a secure footing in the snow.

After an hour of careful walking over crests and dips on a path less than a metre wide in some sections the summit was reached. The views over the surrounding mountains were spectacular with snow capped peaks stretching as far as the eye could see.

The weather changed for the worse on Wednesday with high winds and heavy snow over the summits and the avalanche risk rising all the time. The day was spent in Kinlochleven in the Ice Factor climbing wall.

The weather on the west coast was not improving so the group decided to head to the Cairngorms, particularly Coire an t-Sneachda, for better conditions. This area combines some shorter walk-ins with excellent low grade mixed and ice climbs.

Peter and Julie were raring to go after their enforced rest. They had a very successful ascent of Jacob’s ladder, grade I (150m), overtaking a number of other parties on the route. Al and Anna practiced the essential skill of self arresting using an ice axe on Fiacaill a’ Choire Chais. The day was followed by a lecture in the Nevis Centre by Dave MacLeod, one of the best climbers in the world at the moment, about his latest routes on crags in Scotland and beyond.

After the successes of the previous day Pete and Julie headed back to the Coire an t-Sneachda for some more ice climbing while those remaining headed to Creag Meagaidh (1130m) for some more walking and, hopefully, some climbing.

The temperature was rising all day so the snow level was constantly retreating and the cornices formed during the week began to collapse down some of the gullies. It was decided to head up an easy gully to the north east of the lochan away from the collapsing cornices before heading to the summit.

Kelly did a great job breaking the trail and we topped out in no time. After a traverse around the north side of the hill and two short sections of 80° neve the summit plateau were reached in time for the clouds to descend and spoil the view. The car park was reached nine hours after setting off via Meall Coire Chollie-rais (1021m) and An Cearcallach (987m) with a few hundred metres of glissading thrown in.

The report from Coire an t-Sneachda was of excellent ice in a route called the Runnell, grade II (200m) with Julie leading her first winter pitch.

Al Whitworth


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