Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Luck Of The Draw - Beinn Alligain Traverse

Coming from England you have to take a chance when coming to Scotland, it's only worth travelling this far north for the minimum of a long weekend probably more. Most employers tend to react badly to short notice requests for holiday on the basis that route XYZ is in condition and it is essential you go and climb it immediately. Thus the lottery of booking time off, I took a punt in December that conditions in the far north west often excellent in late February would be so again this year. Unfortunately this year it has not really paid off, I've had a good mountain day but compared with what I had hoped for It's been a little disappointing as despite yesterday’s estimate the snow is disappearing fast

The traverse of Beinn Alligain a classic ridge traverse is today’s objective. I wanted to couple it with an ascent of Deep South Gully as the way onto the ridge. I was quite psyched about this route having seen an amazing picture of it in perfect conditions. It's been the background on my computer for months even now as I write this. Although from valley level the snow cover was poor I was hoping the depth of the gully and its NE orientation would have preserved some of the snow.

 My Inspiration

The Reality 
The walk in is easy, slowly gaining height, warming the legs up on a good path. In panorama to the left today’s objective a ridge curving round from the Horne's of Alligain (a series of sandstone pinnacles) up on to Sgurr Mhor the highest peak scared by a huge cleft the result of a massive landslide the debris from which litters the floor of the Toll a'Mhadaidh, the ridge then swings south round on to the second Munro Tom na Gruagaich. Ahead the great bulk of Beinn Dearg dominates the view a seemingly impregnable redoubt of steep ramparts and brooding crags. The hill is short of Munro status by a single foot a fact that leaves it isolated and often ignored in favour of it's three famous siblings despite looking easily as challenging and spectacular.

 Beinn Dearg

Reaching the foot of the gully its obviously nowhere near in the bottom hundred meters just screen and boulders. Further up the snow is soft and balls up underfoot, a rock step at half height is uncovered and negotiating it involves some tenuous feeling moves on loose rock. More fun ensues at the upper choke stone (usually buried), the upper surface of the rock is now only covered with a thin crust of rapidly melting ice, and any attempt to climb over it looks likely to end in me removing the last of that ice and depositing it along with myself at the base of the gully. Fortunately the thaw has expose a tunnel beneath the choke stone which looks big enough for me squeeze through.

Baosbheinn from the Horn's of Alligain

Five minutes and several contortions more suited to a caving enthusiast later I’m wedged between ice and rock slowly edging my axes upwards to pull myself through, thoroughly pleasant it is too. Once on the ridge It's a bit too snowy for boots but not quite snowy enough for crampons. The Horn's Of Alligain are actually quite easy as most of the rocky steps are short and not that exposed, plastered in ice and snow it would make a hugely enjoyable winter hill day. The view out north east from the cols between the Horne's is spectacular despite the grey overcast weather; the vast Torridon wilderness a jumble of rock grass and a myriad of lochs and streams. Rising out of this the distinctive humps of Baosbheinn free of cloud and looking like a fantastic walk and further a field the sea curves round into the far horizon blue grey and wrapping itself round the ragged coast of headlands, coves, and beaches.

Both main summits are lost in the clouds and there is little point stopping for long at either. As I make my way down the final slopes; the wind makes patterns on the sea loch, patches of texture running left then right, forward then back as they chase each other across the water. Temperatures are rising and there is the feel of a front coming in, the weather is due to turn tonight bringing gales and torrential rain. Horizons are being lowered and new objectives selected in response. The Liathach traverse has gone on hold, as I really don't want to be on the pinnacles in a 75mph wind. will have to come back and do Deep South Gully when it's in condition, and play Russian Roulette with the weather again. We will see what the morning brings and try and find a good objective for the day.

Loch Torridon

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