Sunday 10th December 2017
Weather/Conditions: Clear skies, sun, snow to sea level, inversions in the glens, dry powder from the road to summit. Gentle (but baltic!) wind on top from the west/NW, and descent on pink snow and twilight over the Fort and Loch Linnhe. Minus 10 at the car at the end. Something else!
Distance/Ascent/Time: 8.5km / 760m / 4h 05m
Beinn Bhan is a broad hill which occupies a chunk of land between Loch Eil and Arkaig. It's a bulky, visible hill in the Lochaber area, and would suit the bill for today in I was not looking for anything 'too epic'.
With gear and snacks packed, I followed a set of ski tracks through the low mist onto the open hill. I was soon glad I hadn't opted for a bigger day as having a cold is still kicking the crap out of me. I was finding the powder hard work...
But I soon rose out of the cloud and into bright sun. It was a warm afternoon up here. The air was absolutely still, cold enough that the sun had little effect on the snow. For the climbers, it seems that we need more of a dump of snow and a bit more thawing as well. But I couldn't complain because these conditions are just tremendous, and they are so rare. How often does the freezing level reach the coast itself?
Beinn Bhan has a stunning flat top, and it's flanks fall gently on all sides. It's a beautiful mountain to see, but this also means it is hard work under snow. I don't normally notice false tops, but I did on this occasion. The hill continually flattens off gently, so you are always chasing the next horizon.
It wasn't until the summit itself that views opened out west; Loch Arkaig was under a carpet of mist, but I could see into the hills at the back of Dessary, all absolutely plastered in snow.
The hills around Arkaig got a bit lost between the inversion and sky - sometimes it was hard to tell where land stopped and mist began. It gave the appearance of the landscape melting among it all. Yet while the summits were etched sharp in the slanting light, there was little trace of the lochs or glens lying below.
I ended up spending about 45 minutes on top; it felt a lot longer with the cold. But it was a hell of a vantage point to watch the changing light, as well as the sun going down prematurely. Such is the daylight at this time of year that the sun sneaks off quietly just after lunchtime.
I would have liked to have remained on top for the sunset, but it all got a bit cold to stay. I followed the skiers tracks back as the sun fell to the horizon. The land turned pink in the process then shadows crept up the hillsides to consume all but just the highest tops. The Belt of Venus rose to consume it all, and the world settled into a silver-blue twilight for another afternoon. Just amazing...
I was back to the car for very last light. I got my salopettes and boots off, then turned the car on to find the temperature reading minus 10. It didn't seem that cold, certainly not in the calm of the glen. But it shows again at how air temperature itself isn't really a problem; the harder conditions are usually the chilling wet damp that seems to make up the rest of winter. But I'd had none of that; just white mountains and golden light today.
(0.00) 12.20pm Car, near Moy Bridge
(2.10) 2.30pm - 3.12pm Beinn Bhan
(4.05) 4.25pm Car