Thursday, 22 December 2011

Glorious Grovelling in the Grey Corries

The realisation that I may be a closet Munro bagger is dawning on me! No sooner was I back from the Fannichs I was planning the next outing eager to bag as many summits as possible in the last day of ok weather for a while. While pouring over the maps my Dad offered a lift down to the Ben Nevis car park and a pick up at the end of the day. Quickly altering my plans I decided to start up Carn Mor Dearg and then head from here over the Grey Corries finishing on Stob Bhan. This would mean 6 more ticks on my list and a journey through some very wild and remote terrain. I couldn’t wait!!

A 5am start delivered me to the start of the hike at 7.00am, I was quick out of the starting gates and on top of Carn Mor Dearg at 9.00am feeling elated watching the twinkling lights of Fort William below. Taking a moment to put crampons on I could see the North face of the Ben was plastered in snow and unusually devoid of climbers! Although the cloud was swirling above I got some views of the awaiting summits of Aonach Beag and the first of the Grey Corries in the distance. From here a narrow ridge was taken down to the col between Carn Mor Dearg and Aonach Mor. The ridge had a large amount of snow accumulation and these soft meringues made progress along the crest a toil and avalanche a worry. I calmed my fears by doing a few tentative avalanche tests then waded on down to the col. The climb back up to Aonach Beag was particularly gruelling as there was a hard crust to the snow which had to be broken through before I could make each step, strength sapping at such an early stage!
The mist was really closing in as I approached the summit and white out conditions became a problem on the flat featureless top of Aonach Beag. Steering clear of the ever present cornice on the North East face I gingerly made my way down to the next small top before plunging down again to the next low col. Now I could get my teeth into the Grey Corries!

Sgurr Coinnich Mor was my first summit on this ridge and to my relief this ridge was blown free of soft snow. Finally feeling like progress was being made I powered round the next section to Stob Coire an Laoigh feeling like I had a second wind. Being alone and making my own track for 5hrs now I was surprised to see three figures on the summit, they had just done a route on the grey corries and were descending on the long walk out. Unfortunately they had not left any useful tracks to the next Munro which proved to be the toughest of the day.

Appearing out of the cloud ahead I could see that Stob Choire Claurigh was absolutely plastered in snow, the ridge was loaded with Mr Whippy ice cream like snow formations. My legs winced at the sight but being only two summits from completion descent wasn’t an option. Luckily time was on my side as I began the 1.5km wade.
Normally trail breaking in deep snow feels good for the soul, everything else fades out and your left counting steps and keeping rhythm, trying to stay just on right side of exhaustion. However in this case it started to feel tortuous, I could tell my body was starting to loose energy and my pace dropped from 40 paces and then a rest to 10 paces then a collapse. To make matters worse as I approached the final ridge the white out prevailed and I had no finish line to aim for. I made painfully slow progress uphill and just as I thought I couldn’t go any further a faint outline was made against the flat white backdrop; the summit cairn! Greedily stuffing down the last of my food in celebration I realised that I was in a pretty serious state of exhaustion and vowed to take more fuel with me next time.

With warm clothes on and some tea in my belly I felt a lot happier and managed to get a third wind as I raced towards Stob Ban. Luckily the snow here was hardened and I was standing on top at 3.30pm. From this point the walk out to Spean Bridge is 15km and with no food left I had to get going. Night fell as I passed the Lairig Leacach bothy, my legs didn’t feel my own and I floated down to my awaiting lift satisfied with one of the best Scottish mountaineering days I have had in a long time!

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