Our blog - Glen Shiel, 25-26 Feb'18

A blog of our mountain adventures in Scotland, hiking, biking, rock-scrambling and more !

Mountains above Glen Shiel

25-26 February 2018
Two days of guided hiking and winter skills on mountains above Glen Shiel. John King was leading....

Day 1 - A'Ghlas Bheinn

A big thaw early last week was followed by the onset of a much colder easterly airstream with calm and clear conditions. The snow cover on the hills had mostly survived the warmer temperatures, remaining extensive on the hills but it had consolidated and firmed up. This sequence of events gave ideal walking conditions and a low avalanche forecast. These snow conditions were also due to be combined with greater than 90% chance of cloud free hills and less than 10mph winds on Sunday and Monday, which boded well for my trip to Kintail for two days of walking and winter skills with two clients visiting Scotland with the Gloucestershire Mountaineering Club.

After an early start I met Kim and Adam at Shiel Bridge at 0830 on Sunday morning. It had been -7C on the drive through Glen Morriston and, with clear blue skies overhead, it was shaping up to be a pretty special winter's day. We took a bit of time at the lodge to discuss aspirations for the trip, fit crampons and talk about kit, forecasts and planning, then we headed round to Morvich to start walking. Our plan was a circuit of A'Ghlas Bheinn and I hoped we would find some nice areas to practice core winter skills along the way and enjoy some of the outstanding conditions!

It was a good warm up walking into Strath Croe and Gleann Choinneachain although some care was required with lots of ice on the paths and a couple of tricky stream crossings where all the rocks were covered in a fine film of ice. We progressed up towards the Bealach na Sgairne and had an opportunity to walk on some nice hard neve (well compacted snow) in the upper glen. Meltwater runnels preserved in the snow slopes, avalanche debris from cornice collapse and the potential for the area we were walking through to be a terrain trap in different conditions gave us plenty to talk about in terms of avalanche awareness.

On reaching the bealach the views opened up ahead of us with great views to Mullach Fraoch Coire and Sgurr nan Ceathramhnan just across the head of Glen Affic. We turned north and followed the ridge upwards. The series of steep steps that make up this ridge made for a perfect classroom to look at travelling in crampons and using the ice axe for support and balance. As we climbed the views opened up all around and near the top it became pretty warm so we had to rapidly reduce the number of layers we were wearing. With the bullet hard snow still frozen beneath our feet and the heat of the sun on our backs, the hill had a really alpine feel to it. We pushed onto the summit, reaching the top just after 1430 for a late lunch. Without a breath of wind, there was perfect silence and we took time just to admire the 360-degree panorama with particularly good views out west to the Cuillin of Skye and north to the peaks of Torridon.

Eventually we dragged ourselves away and picked our way down the shaded northern slopes of the hill where we got the chance to look at descending steeper terrain and practice some ice axe arresting. There were a few ptarmigan about and copious numbers of deer. However, with the sun starting to set we continued on down, heading for the Bealachna Sroine and picking up the footpath to the Falls of Glomach. This gave us an easy descent back into StrathCroe, with beautiful light over the hills as the sun finally set. We got our head-torches out for the final kilometer or so to the car and reached the end around 7pm, a long day but worth every bit of effort!

Day 2 - Maol Chinn Dearg and Sgurr an Doire Leathain

After a good nights rest we were back out on Monday morning with the forecast suggesting we were in for more of the same. However, after meeting at Shiel Bridge at 0830 once more and driving up the glen we were faced with much more overcast conditions accompanied by a cold easterly wind blowing down the glen. The hills were still clear though, so we wrapped up and set off, hopeful that the sun would make an appearance as we went. The plan for our day was to visit a couple of Munros on the South Shiel Ridge while covering a few more skills and consolidating what we'd covered yesterday.

We took the ridge of DruimCoirenanEirecheanach straight up to the top of the day's first Munro, Maol Chinn-dearg. Care was required lower down once again with plenty of ice around but the ground was well frozen after a hard frost overnight so there was no issue of boggy ground! Climbing up from the north, there was significant snow cover and on reaching the snow, it was bullet hard once more so we took the chance to look at some step cutting – using the ice axe to cut ledges in the snow for your feet on short slopes where donning the crampons isn't desirable. We did get the crampons on from around 450m, which eased our progress and gave us the chance to consolidate the skills covered yesterday as we crossed a variety of terrain and slopes of different steepness.

As we climbed there was a gusty wind coming across the ridge but it didn't cause us any issues and we reached the top after a steady climb just before 12. Time for an early lunch with a view! We got down out of the wind, used our axes to cut ourselves a some seats and enjoyed our sandwiches with views down Glen Shieland out to Ladhar Bheinn in Knoydart.

Heading west from here, keeping the wind at our backs, we wandered along the undulating ridge to Sgurr an Doire Leathain, focusing on navigation strategies and practicing some navigational legs as we went and taking care to avoid the large cornices overhanging the northern corries. In quite a few places there was some significant avalanche debris to observe and a bit of windslab was starting to form with some snow being redistributed in the wind. It was noticeably colder than yesterday and a keen windchill encouraged us to keep moving, so were soon on the summit of the day's second Munro. We admired the view of the jagged summit of SgurranLochain, the next peak to our west and could see all the way to Ben Nevis, but with it being 2pm and the cold, overcast conditions persisting, we headed down toward the glen.

Heading northeast over Maoilean t-Searraich provided a nice steady descent. We stopped for a snack half way down and typically, the sun started to appear! We took our crampons off just before an easy crossing of the Allt Coire a Chuil Droma Mhoir and the frozen turf gave us easy walking back to the path then the road. By the time we were back, the skies were clear, giving us a satisfying view of where we'd been. Then it was on to the Cluanie Inn for a suitable finish to another great day on the hill!

More photos by John King are here on Flickr.

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