Na Gruagaichean - 1056m
Binnein Mor South Top - 1062m
Binnein Mor - 1130m
Saturday 22nd January 2011
Weather/Conditions: Summits clear, no rain, only brief flakes of snow. Little wind, a lot of sun and even quite hot near the bottom! A damn sight better than the forecast predicted. Snow was generally in good conditions with thick build up (Binnein Mor had some healthy cornicing) or scoured slopes to sheet ice.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 13.5km / 1150m / 6h 35m
Accompanying: James, Iain, Dougie, Craig, Tommy
"Is Kev with you?"
"No. Isn't he with you?"
I don't know exactly what was said because I wasn't there, but the fact is, they left me back in Inchree, unintentionally. Oops!
Dougie (at the car park) called up Diane (at Inchree) with Stevie and I listening in. The mess was cleared up across the phone and Diane, Stevie and I jumped into her car and I got a lift to Mamore Lodge.
It was about a half-hour drive with the Mamores in full, spectacular view and when I arrived the guys were already on their way up the hill as planned. I got on my way pretty quickly. They'd be somewhere up in Coire na Ba and with great weather and superb views I was glad to pick up a pace and enjoy the solitude. Some alone time with the hills was actually refreshing. I enjoyed time to myself. The path curved up into the coire and I was walking among some magnificent mountains. The objective, Na Gruagaichean, didn't look so far away either.
I met one solitary walker who said he'd seen my lot further up. I steamed onwards. I finally met them at 550m and much hilarity and talk followed about what happened. It was a simple mistake - each driver thought I was with the other car. I preferred to tell Craig I knew what he thought of me when he left me behind. I think he knew I was kidding.
When I arrived with the group, I was exhausted and covered in sweat. It was a relief to turn down the pace and walk with everyone even though the upper sections of Coire na Ba felt more like a grassy slog. There were no real complaints though - the view to Am Bodach was occupying enough. When we reached the ridge itself, we got views to the Nevis peaks and Grey Corries. Not only that, we'd had fears a front would come in during the day and these fears were relaxed when we saw nothing was on it's way from the north.
Na Gruagaichean west ridge is a great scramble - perhaps nothing to pay attention to in summer, but a lot of fun in some snow. We all stopped on the NW Top, realising how lucky we'd been with the weather and watching the snow and sun on the mountains, cloud inversions bubbling up through distant valleys. The scramble to the summit of Na Gruagaichean looked fearsome and this was cause for some exhilaration. We dropped off the NW Top and the descent between the two summits was much easier than expected. The climb through rock and ice to the summit looked like hard mixed ground, but again it was much easier than expected. We looked back on the NW Top, realising only now the knife-edge we'd crossed. The north slope drops spectacularly, add to that a few people on top for scale and cornices hanging out over space and it looked like a serious summit. When we got to the top of Na Gruagaichean with no fuss or scares, the joy was only deeper. These were a bunch of really magnificent mountains. In good winter conditions, the whole range must be a joy.
The fun only continued. We continued northward on a knife-edge ridge with snow banked up to an arête. The beaten track weaved around and over this to give some superb walking and since many other teams had beaten down this track just before us, it allowed me not to worry about avalanche danger. (Always a consideration and a nightmare) Crampons had helped a lot because the slopes were regularly scoured to ice, but I removed them for this stretch to see how I got on. I was okay, besides the occasional slip.
The way to Binnein Mor is an easy walk, without much exposure and a graceful ridgeline. It was well worth doing. I was having a great time and found myself, again, in paradise. Thank God I hadn't been resigned to walking around the Inchree waterfalls today, that had nearly been the reality. And when we reached the summit, Iain Rooney reached his 100th Munro.
The summit is very small and six of us piling in gave us the feeling of walking on top of one other. But what a place to be - the view around about is magnificent. An added delight was to see that the weather had held. Ben Nevis, Carn Mor Dearg and Aonach Beag were on display in thick winter garb, their high slopes passing into an untouchable place where for once they became more than stacked contours in my mind. That streak of sunlight on Aonach Beag especially caught my imagination.
As we pass over the mountains on our walks, it's often necessary to bring them to a level where they break down into components of mileage, ascent, easiest line of attack, etc, but there's attraction when the mountains transcending this and thus become unclimbable or otherworldly. I think it's the feeling we get when we set eyes on the mountains for the first time where they're seen for their form, mystique and danger - something that I used to feel but don't any more. It's probably why countless cultures make their mountain summits domain of the gods. Interestingly, Scotland's mythological creatures appear in the lochs as in Loch Ness and Morar. Maybe the Gaels saw more reason to wrap the waters in legend then mountain.
Anyhow - all good has to come to and end and I hate descending when the day is as good as this one was. We headed down the ridge to the South Top with the setting sun ahead of us, casting light across the southern lands. At the saddle between the South Top and Na Gruagaichean, a couple before us had glissaded (bum-slid is a better term) into the eastern corrie, 'Coire nan Laogh'. They'd left smoothed bum tracks, perfect to sit down and fly of. We had a blast, and all went down. I went several times. Further down, they'd left more tracks.
When the snow ran out, we only had to descend to the track leading to Mamore Lodge. But again I found myself that intense experience that brings me back time and time again, an intense happiness to make me feel I was built for days like this. And there's nothing better than to tramp off down the hill with the moors and mountains around, feeling good, tired and content.
This is living.
And with sore feet, we picked up the 4WD track back to Mamore Lodge, in one hell of a good mood. Back at the car park, my feet were soaking and it was a relief to pull the boots off. This time Craig didn't drive off without me.
At Inchree, we had some drinks and a great meal. I would have tried playing pool but the table was off horizontal and no one could prevent the balls from piling in at one side. I didn't even try.
The next day, I planned to finish off the weekend with a couple of Corbetts at Tyndrum (I did one of them a few weeks later, Beinn Bhreac-liath) but the weather was looking quite grim. I'd have to haul walking and camping gear (and it weighed a lot) from Bridge of Orchy to Tyndrum and decided it wasn't actually worth it. Iain drove onwards and dropped me off at Linlithgow. From there I took a train home and despite the brief absence from home life, I found it awfully strange to be back. Such is the fun of the mountains, I was even a bit sad to be back.
(0.00) 10.30am Mamore Lodge
(2.10) 12.40pm Na Gruagaichean NW Top
(2.45) 1.15pm Na Gruagaichean
(3.00) 1.30pm Na Gruagaichean (left)
(3.55) 2.25pm Binnein Mor
(4.15) 2.45pm Binnein Mor (left)
(6.35) 5.05pm Mamore Lodge
2011-03-08 & 09