It is said that most people pine for the affectionate touch of a loved one; the thought of it plagues their every aching hour and infests their dreams. These people clearly aren’t mountaineers. Only we know what it is like to have true desires, desires that torment our lives between November and March every year. The intolerable yearning for that sweet, sweet medium we call snow. There was only one way to get our fix; we’d have to leave the equable world of Liverpool and venture North beyond Hadrian’s Wall. Winter was coming.
And so it was that 14 adventure hungry mountaineers packed their ice axes, crampons and every warm layer they could find and bundled into a minibus, salivating at the thought of a journey filled with John’s library of folk rock. We knew sharpish that we had wandered across strange and mysterious lands, far from the comfort of Liverpool, when we stocked up on food in Glasgow. With only one translator among the group (Greg), it was a good job that opportunities for conversing were scarce. With the essentials of pork pies and Tennents purchased, we carried on northwards towards our home for the next week, North Ballachulish in the North West Highlands of Scotland. Perfectly nestled between Glen Coe to the South and Lochaber and Ben Nevis to the North.
The first day started, as the week would continue to go on, with a painfully early start. It’s just not true mountaineering until you’re trying to see through bleary eyes as you cook porridge at 4AM. The early morning was worth it however, as a couple of hours after leaving the Glen Nevis Visitor Centre under moonlight, we stood half way up Ben Nevis watching the sun claw its way over the horizon and mountain tops, casting a pallet of colours over Lochs and steep mountainsides. The group had decided to split, one team traversing around the base of Ben Nevis and taking the direct line up the headwall of a corrie, wading through snow and clambering over boulders. The other team continued up the more pleasant and scenic main mountain path. The visibility near the top was typically Scottish but we had enough snow for everyone to get their feet refreshed to the feeling of crampons. A successful first day, LUMC briefly becoming the highest mountaineering club in the UK. Once we were back down with grimacing but happy faces it was definitely time for tea and medals at the café in Nevis Sport in Fort William.
Our second day was a tame one as the weather was wetter than an otter’s pocket. We opted to catch up on some sleep and go for afternoon adventure to Steall falls, a huge waterfall set in the misty Nevis Valley. After crossing a wire bridge and getting thoroughly soaked at the bottom of the fall, we finished our adventure with a couple of games of Ninja. Possibly the most scenic place to play such a game.
Another early start was called for as we set off for a big day of traversing the imposing ridgeline of Buachaille Etive Mor. As a bonus most of the group got a taste of Grade I winter climbing, scurrying up gullies with ease. A few members of the group went and tackled the classic Curved Ridge scramble to the top of the first summit, Stob Dearg. Stob Dearg was to provide the best (and pretty much only) view of the day, looking out across the snow capped peaks of Glen Coe and the vast bogginess of Rannoch Moor. After summitting Stob Na Doire, Stob Coire Altruim and Stob Na Broige we had traversed the entire ridge- job done, so we climbed back down into the valley to finish the day in some uncharacteristically Scottish rain.
So for those of you that are still following, our story is now up to New Years Eve. Hoorah you may think, I can’t wait to hear about all the celebratory escapades LUMC got up to. Well you will have to keep waiting; I’m afraid LUMC members don’t have time for partying when there’s good weather upon the horizon. So it was hey ho and off to bed we go, ready for another early morning.
New Year’s day brought sunshine and fresh snow, the rarest and most sought after combination in Scottish Mountaineering. Everyone set off for Stob Coire nan Lochan, the main group setting off earlier for a long day of walking. Myself and some others started a little later, needing daylight for the climbs we had planned.
After a hefty walk in we reached summit buttress, the crags below Stob Coire nan Lochan. We paused to take on food and water, watching the main group topping out of Forked Gully (I). We waded through deep powder snow to the bottom of our climb, Dorsal Arete (II***). Luke, Georgia and myself opted for an alternative start to this route which Luke aptly named ‘Cluster-f*ck Direct’. Luke and Georgia picked their way up sketchy terrain with very little protection as I experienced the true Scottish winter experience of my whole body uncontrollably shaking at a belay, wishing I were anywhere but on this bloody mountain, questioning how anyone finds this fun.
It was all worth it though as we joined back up with the main route and dashed upwards along the knife shaped arête, catching up with Charlie, Charlotte and Chrissy. We topped out to an LUMC party, meeting up with Joel and Tom D, and Tom D and Colin, who had all just finished their routes on the buttress.
A quick dart up the summit of Stob Coire nan Lochan and it was time to descend broad gully, swimming and sliding through powder, mentally readying ourselves for the long walk out.
The main walking party, after summitting Stob Coire nan Lochan, carried on towards Bidean nam Bian and Stob Coire Sgreamhach, before turning back on themselves and heading on down into the stunning Lost Valley, descending down to the beckoning lights of the A82.
On the 5th day weary bodies rose, so those who wanted to climb headed for the Cairngorms in search of short walk-ins and better snow whilst the others headed for a mountain with car parking as high as possible. With an abandoned hotel providing parking at 250m, Na Gruagaichean (1055M) was a good choice.
We were soon in thick cloud as we started our ascent, navigation was tricky and the soft snow was hard going. We found the gully we were after and set off through the cloud towards the saddle below the summit. The snow was thigh deep, sucking energy from our already tired legs, so we made sure to follow each other’s footsteps towards the summit. We eventually reached the saddle, being greeted by buffeting winds, we made the short way to the summit, took the obligatory summit selfies and quickly started our way down towards calmer weather. We eventually broke through the cloud and were welcomed by some cute deer and breathtaking views of Loch Leven.
The group who went to the Cairngorms got rained, quickly abandoned climbing and ate burgers instead. Sometimes the best mountaineering decisions don’t involve mountaineering.
LUMC being the somewhat unconventional club it is, the 2nd of January made the perfect date for some New Years celebrations. Cue merry times, Tennents and whisky fuelled fun and a whole host of classic LUMC games. I got my first experience of ‘Battle of Trafalgar’ and the library of LUMC variations on twister may have reached saturation point. We even saw in the midnight hour with a somewhat hazy rendition of Auld Lang Syne, heartily led by Mr Bickerton. We also discovered that Chrissy makes a fantastic hairdresser and that Joel is an incredibly (if not too) trusting person.
The next day was spent resting sore heads and bodies, going for a last supper in the Clachaig Inn, sampling the multitude of whiskies and ales on offer, before returning to the hut for some final trip Shenanigans.
In conclusion, we had a swell trip, got weirdly close at times (looking mainly at the Hut-Van-Life crew) and learnt new skills, whether a winter mountaineering virgin or seasoned pro. However it is apparent further research still needs to be undertaken, so come join us next year for what evidence suggest will be an absolute banger.
Matt Dennies (Walking Captain)