The Mamores Munro team with Coire an Lochain behind and Binean Beag centre left (Photo: Andy Stratford)
KMC/FRCC Joint Meet Waters Cottage
Waters Cottage KMC / FRCC joint meet 3rd to 5th February 2017
KMC members: Andy Stratford, Jim Symon, Geri Mihalkova, Steve Graham, Stuart Hurworth, Mark Pilling, James Meakin. Guest: Dave Broadhead
I emailed MIC Tony Halliwell, based in Ballachulish to check on conditions on the Tuesday before.
‘’Munro’s only – or bring a bike’’, was Tony’s advice.
Steve and James had been at Waters since Monday. I called James on Wednesday evening and was initially encouraged at the news that they had just completed the winter mountaineering classic - curved ridge on Buchaille Etive Mor (normally a II or III)....
“We never even got close to put crampons on or getting the axes off the bag”......’’it was a rock route’’
Even my optimism was dampened somewhat. On Thursday, I didn’t even pack my winter rack. By 11pm Thursday evening we were all safely installed in front a roaring waters cottage coal fire courtesy of James ‘firestarter’ Meakin. Although Geri nearly earnt that accolade on Saturday after setting fire to sheets of newspaper whilst trying to encourage the fire into life. With literally almost no snow to be seen, the ground and turf unfrozen and a forecast in which the lead forecaster admitted was ‘low confidence’ which is an MWIS euphemism for ‘look guys, I really haven’t a clue’, we decided on a Munro bagging day.
Friday morning dawned dreich and dismal but a lively team of 8 left Waters 20 minutes after the appointed departure times, clockwatching whilst Stuart faffed. After an hour the rain stopped and brighter skies emerged and the summits started to clear. We turned off the Loch Eilde Mor path up the well constructed stalkers path round the shoulder of Sgurr Eilde Beag to pass Coire an Lochain. The remoter parts of the Mamore’s opened up in front of us, the skies had brightened and the air clarity was bringing distant summits into focus. After passing the Lochan there was a 150m descent before reaching the Binean Mor -Binean Beag bealach at 730m – a lovely spot with a small lochan and some wild camping possibilities. Steve had raced ahead followed close behind by Jim with the rest of us following 15 mins behind due to lunch stop no1. By now we even had sunshine. Binean Beag (943m) is a lovely viewpoint, it really is the wild part of the Mamore’s – not a road to be seen or heard, and views for miles. After we all summitted the party split – Steve raced back, Stuart and Geri also headed back via the outward route. Mark decided on another Munro called Sgurr Eilde Mor, whilst the four of stick to the original plan and climbed the biggest Munro in the Mamore’s, Binean Mor (1130m). The views were stunning and well worth the extra effort. We descended via the south ridge and south top (1062m) to the stalkers track from Sgurr Eilde Beag and eventually the outward track.
The forecast was for overnight snow and for much more to fall the following day so we planned with options in mind.
Stuart and Mark were working with Kevin Avery a contact of Steve’s and aspirant guide on some mixed climbing and multipitch techniques on North Buttress IV, 4 Buchaille Etive Mor in challenging conditions. Stuart was practising hypergravity training, having carried an entire extra rack up the mountain. He wore some of it in addition to the full rack supplied by Kevin, just to make the chimneys a little more interesting. He didn’t use any of it. Over a foot of snow fell on their approach route whilst they were climbing obliterating their tracks.
I texted both Steve and James when they had not returned at 7pm after leaving at 8am for the Ben. Parking at the dam, their target was Castle ridge – doable under most conditions; rock, snow or ice. A text came through to my phone at 8pm saying that climbers had been avalanched on Ben Nevis. An anxious 30 minutes passed, then finally a call from Steve letting us know they were safe. They arrived back at the hut around 10pm after a visit to a reviled burger chain in Fort William.
‘I’m a broken man’, said James. ‘That was really tough’.
(And that was just the ‘food’ at the burger chain that shall not be named)
As on Buchaille Etive Mor and Glen Nevis, between a six inches and a foot and a half of snow had fallen since the morning. The unconsolidated powder on bare rock on the route had made for an interesting climb, especially as they only had three axes between the two of them.
‘I’m only taking one axe, James’ said Steve, confidently in the warmth of the hut.
I’m going to take two, just in case’ replied James.
Several hours later......
‘James, this pitch looks a bit tricky, give me your other axe’
‘What I am going to use’ – James sounded concerned.
‘You’ll be fine; you’ve got a rope above you!’
James felt a little hard done by!!
After topping out just as it went dark at 5pm, the direct descent through the boulder field was tortuously slow, with many areas drifted with waist deep fresh powder, and the river crossing of the swollen Allt a'Mhuilinn proved the final obstacle in yet another epic day out!
Whilst Jim rested his sore Achilles, Andy, Geri and Dave had decided on a route from Glen Nevis – possibly the Ring of Steall, but that would depend on conditions. In the event, it was clear that the forecast was not conducive to enjoyment of such a fine route, so an easy walk through the Nevis Gorge was followed by a not so easy crossing and re-crossing of the infamous wire rope Steall Bridge, and a distinctly steep and adventurous route of ascent up a small, craggy peak, Meall Cumhann (698m) weaving up through the crag bands heading due North from Steall Bridge. It was a massive contrast to the previous day with at least 4 inches of snow, in places already drifted to a foot, just at this height – the decision to bail on Ring of Steall was a good one.
The evening was spent by the fire, eating much food, drinking whisky and havening much cake to celebrate Jim’s birthday.
The forecast was a little better, and early signs were encouraging – Dave set off for Meall na Teanga on the northern side of Loch Lochy.
‘’My day on Teanga is best summed up as "bog and fog". The path which used to go up through the woods from the east end of Loch Arkaig is now a wide hydro road, after which there is a long boggy climb up to the bealach to join the path from the other side, from which there were lots of prints in the snow to the summit. From there I was on my own again, picking my way back along some narrow ridges with the help of my compass - lots of deep snow. A brief blink of sunshine about 3 pm, otherwise not a great weather day!’’
Andy, Jim and Geri headed south encouraged by a better forecast, only to find it much worse with heavy rain and low cloud at both Bridge of Orchy and Arrochar, and so headed home. Stuart and Mark had the same experience. James (who was still broken) also headed back, leaving Stevie to chill out at Waters Cottage – by now his home from home.
Thanks to everyone for coming on yet another great Scottish hut meet, despite the very poor climbing conditions, we snatched a couple of great days out.