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Glen Affric 15-17th March 2019

One thing is certain about Scottish winters - they are unpredictable and 2018/19 seems to have been more so than most! After the Inver Croft weekend in February where the forecasted blizzards failed to materialise, followed by the virtually snowless Affric weekend in early March, the latest Glen Affric trip again proved the forecasts wrong with the heaviest snowfalls of the winter coinciding with our arrival.

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The classic Affric view with Sgurr na Lapaich prominently located overlooking the loch

So after a different blizzard, involving multiple WhatsApp messages, 9 of us assembled at the forestry car park early Friday evening and split into two groups with Simon & Gordon providing the much appreciated 4x4 transport to transport us the final 4 miles up the private track to the door of Strawberry cottage. The cottage, run by the An Teallach club and located at the foot of the highest mountains in the West Highlands, is superbly positioned for a huge variety of brilliant ski touring options, so anticipation was high for some good conditions.

 

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David ensuring every grain of rice is fairly shared out

The weekend prize for the furthest travelled and best chef went to Ed Twinn who not only spent the entire day driving up from Cirencester but who also cooked both nights dinner for all. Indeed thanks to Ed and after settling in, restaurant quality food including a great Apple crumble courtesy of Simon was washed down by modest alcohol before we headed off to bed in expectation of a great Saturday forecast.

 

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Star watching during a brief clearance

 

At this point Gordon, having managed to forget his sleeping bag in order to demonstrate his hard core credentials, managed to scavenge some old dog blankets under which loud noises emanated all night simply to prove to the rest of us his ability to sleep under anything. 

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A welcome sight

Saturday arrived and first out of the door for a snow check I was met with fresh snow, steely grey skies and lowering cloud. Before long light snow turned into the more persistent variety and without any accompanying wind it felt more like the arrival of an alpine storm than the more normal Scottish maelstrom. Not to be deterred however enthusiasm, fed by the visibly lowering snowline, soon saw us heading into nearby Coire Coulavie where, after a short but steep haul to 515m, skis were transferred from the sacks onto the feet.

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Heading along the Loch Affric path

 

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Heavy snow & poor light compensated by improving underfoot conditions

We skied on motivated by rapidly improving conditions with the old snow (ie all of 48 hours ?) rapidly being covered by an increasing depth of new powder.

The group split into two with the powder whores* opting to play in Allt à Bealaich Bhàin whilst the mountaineers** pressed on up determined to reach the summit of Mam Sodhail or given the lack of visibility quickly renamed as Mam Sod All. Whilst the powder whores played their games, up above, in worsening conditions and less than 500m from the summit of Sod All, the mountaineers enjoyed a moment of mass compass hysteria. A group huddle involving 3 compasses correctly pointing in the same direction still led to group wisdom briefly taking the party in the opposite direction.

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Route finding skills are essential in winter……

Mistake quickly rectified and a nervous descent in nil visibility led the party into Coire Leachavie. At 1000m and dropping below the cloud base the mountaineers were though rewarded for their additional effort by a magnificent 2m run on perfect powder with 500m descent. A happy but tired party finally arrived back at the hut in heavy snow shortly before 6pm.

 

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Rachel still charging in thinning snow at 550m

 

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Heading down to the Affric path

 

That evening more Ed food, the arrival of Duncan and an amusing Ed game made for a very sociable time enlivened by frequent weather checks confirming the snow was continuing to fall.

 

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Not a night to be outside

 

Sunday and despite facing heavy sleet, hidden tops and strengthening winds we were nevertheless quickly out the door heading back to the playground of the day before. The changes overnight were stunning with snow depths in Coire Leachavie by now comparable to a normal season despite the fact that 14 days earlier it had been snow free.

 

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600m and the stalkers path, followed the day before, now buried

 

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Ready to do battle as the weather closes in again

 

Blue sky made a brief appearance, the sun came out and Scotland at its scenic best put in a brief appearance before the curtain came down again. We were then forced to hunker down in a succession of brief swirling spindrift storms that threw two of us off our feet. Goggles became a necessity, exposed skin was painfully battered and Fiona demonstrated how to lay an egg.

 

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Perfecting the stance

 

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The sun continued to make a more determined effort to break through and finally the Coire lit up in an extraordinary wild beauty of flying spindrift, magnificent lines and acres of powder.

 

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Who needs Alaska?

 

A final uphill fight to 1000m and the transition to downhill mode was rapidly executed. We then set off down what has to be one of the most enjoyable, remote, mellow and scenic descents to be had in the West Highlands. A variety of lines were chosen although with numerous options all around, the Coire is more than worth another return trip.

 

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Fiona heads off

 

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Numero uno Affric telemarker

 

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Mam Sodhail finally puts in an appearance as we head out of the Coire

For now though the end of the snow was all too soon reached and in glorious sunshine the 3km walk back to the hut was a joyful reminder that Scotland at its best rivals anywhere in the world. Stunning views of distant peaks, rapidly varying light, the grandeur of the Caledonian pine forest fringing the beauty of Loch Affric combined with the constantly changing wild spindrift tails racing off nearby ridge crests to make the return walk one of the highlights of the weekend.

 

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Mullach Fraoch Coire dominating the western skyline of Affric

 

The winter still has time to run and undoubtedly it’s been a frustrating one with a few enforced hill walking meets, but as with previous years this particular trip proved the club has a knack of hitting the best places at the best times.

Al Todd

*Fiona, Ed, Gordon & Chris
** Simon, Rachel, David, Xav & Al

 

The depleted snow conditions were reflected in the number of club members who arrived at the Glen Affric car park on a calm but cloudy Friday night, namely Blair, Karen, Rachel, Alison, Andy, Adam and Dougal. Having loaded their kit and Dougal into Adam's car, Blair and Andy mounted their trusty steeds and led the party to the gate where the elusive padlock was at length located.

Barring a fairly quick wrong turn by the ladies' party, the approach proceeded satisfactorily, with the ford occasioning some fun for the drivers. The party found Strawberry Cottage in good repair, particularly the ample pile of dry wood that was soon toasting in the grate. Various bottles of beer, wine and whisky were produced while the conversation stravaiged far and wide over the topics of Crown mums, Crown dads, split-board skin troubles and veganism.

With Saturday's forecast looking better earlier, IBSC alarm clock Karen was tasked with sounding reveille at an unpalatable hour. The edge was taken off by a combination of homemade marmelade courtesy of Andy (awarded two pips by Lake District high end amateur judge Rachel) and hand-ground coffee thanks to Adam (even though he does not live in Crown.) Outside the cottage, mists shrouded the birches beneath blue-dappled skies, lulling the team into optimistic mood - a mood sustained even during the punishing direttissima of the SW face of Creag Coire nan Each - as views opened up behind of Sail Chaorainn, Mullach Fraoch-choire, Ciste Dubh, Beinn Fhada and Sgurr nan Ceathramhnan.

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On the ridge things became substantially windier and winter was finally found, brooding in collapsing cornices in the magnificent east-facing corries of Mam Sodhail. These are high and, holding snow even in these conditions, promise great things for the next team fortunate enough to find themselves there in a cold snap.

Spurred by the wind - now bearing a horizontal blizzard - IBSC pressed on towards the summit, finding some very welcome respite in a small ruin shortly before it which was immediately claimed as the interim club hut. The wind, meanwhile, claimed one or two victims in the hasty there-and-back to the cairn, and the less Scottish members of the party saw fit to don goggles on arriving back at the hut before proceeding to the col where ice axes made a token appearance.

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With snow threatening imminently to turn to rain, Adam and Dougal opted to limit their exposure by switching to hill running mode and beat a hasty retreat down Coire Leachavie and back to the cottage, where soon smoke was rising from the chimney along with the steam from their discarded undergarments. The rest of the party were welcomed with more freshly ground coffee, single malt and high quality diddly diddly music on the Bluetooth speaker. Not to be outdone, the IBSC Ladies proceeded to have a cleansing swim in the river while the boys set to work on dinner. Adam's root vegetable tangle took considerably longer to prepare than to eat, but was the perfect foil for Blair's well-judged chilli. While the food cooked, hunger pangs were eased by Rachel's superb apple cake and Andy's never-ending supply of Bombay mix while the alcohol flowed and trips to the outside lav became ever-wilder as the storm closed in around Strawberry Cottage. With bedtime fast approaching, Dougal's choice of most fragrant sleeping companion was an obvious one: Adam - with his Smelly Hill Runner credentials - being the clear front-runner.

 

With the storm not yet having blown itself out, Sunday morning was a slower affair. Even Karen had a lie-in till 6am before succumbing to the lure of An Socach, while the rest of the party dallied abed prior to a breakfast variously of homemade bread, marmelade, bacon sandwiches and more coffee. Mid-morning, Andy saddled up for a westerly-assisted ride back along the loch while Alison, Rachel and Adam got ready to frothily brave the flooded track up Gleann na Ciche and Blair the bike ride to Camban.

Soggy once more, IBSC reconvened at the cottage for lunch and clean-up before bidding fond farewells and - in Adam's case - having one last bit of car-ford fun.

We left the hills whiter than we found them, and many fresh tracks were made in the Affric bogs.

Introductory winter skills with Inverness Backcountry Sports Club.

For a full write up, please follow the below Hyperlink

https://nineonesix.wordpress.com/2018/12/16/introductory-winter-skills-with-inverness-backcountry-sports-club/


Inver Croft weekend


A suspicious forecast which varied between a storming Friday followed by 2 days of blizzards and “snow down to glen level” had ramped up the weekend enthusiasm level to a point where 5 sets of skis accompanied Susan, Al & I on the long drive up the A9 to Achnasheen to join the rest of the weekends gathering. The first warning signs of a rapidly diminishing snow pack greeted us at Drumochter and from there on the white stuff became ever harder to spot hiding behind torrential rain and low cloud. Thoughts of lovely fluffy powder and touring from the hut were quickly replaced by fears about flooding.


Inver croft, the brilliant mountaineering hut operated by the Jacobites club of Edinburgh, is located on the other side of a wide flood plain lying between two lochs which in high water become one occasionally cutting off access to the hut.  On arrival a quick look down at the river bridge confirmed the 200m raised walkway on the other side was still clear of flooding so no problem we thought. An exciting time was then had fighting our way forward in 50 mph side winds which kept threatening to blow us into the water. We finally got the hut opened up, fire on, ferried everything else across and waited for the rest of the Friday night team to arrive. The real fun then started as various members arrived to find winds strong enough to blow them over into a rapidly rising and widening river. Sheena and Sonya both had an early bath whilst a chivalrous Al Todd jumped in and saved the wheelbarrow when he saw that Sonya’s leg was deep enough in the bog to stop her floating off. A combination of torrential rain and some involuntary swimming saw a damp group of 8 huddling up to the fire in improvised clothing for the remainder of the evening whilst hoping for the sudden forecasted change in weather to blizzards.

  

Saturday morning & the river had dropped 1 metre!

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Saturday morning and a long lie as the beating rain on the roof confirmed it was to be a no skiing day. A leisurely breakfast and various plans were hatched involving Karen and Adam going for a run whilst Sonya, Susan, Andy and the two Al’s opted for a wet walk to visit the brilliantly located Coulags bothy, Sheena seeing the skiing was on hold opted for the sensible option and headed back to Inverness.

Heading in to Coulags bothy

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A welcome sight through the sheets of rain

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 Late afternoon light had the Coulag group engage in a mad dash to see the sunset from Bealach na Ba where Susan spotting some decent roadside summit snow quickly donned

skis and shot off. Meanwhile Adam was inspecting Torridon to get visuals on snow conditions whilst Karen not content with a big run and having been inspired by Sonya and Sheena’s involuntary swim, went for a pre planned dip in Loch Gowan. That evening reinforcements in the form of Simon and Andrew re stoked the enthusiasm levels and after much good food, a mini ceilidh comprising Susan on accordion, Simon on guitar and Adam on spoon and glasses entertained all in front of a furnace like fire.

Susan proving there is always a turn to be had

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Bealach na Ba, snow free but never fails to impress

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Sunday dawned bright, frosty with no sign of the prolonged snowfall which had been forecast even as late as Saturday evening. With stunning views and obviously good snow cover remaining above 600m, quick packing and tidying saw everyone at the Beinn Eighe car park for a reasonably sharp 10am start.

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The river crossing looking far more benign than on Friday evening 

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The Team

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Ski’s were carried up the excellent path into Coire an Laoigh until at 460m sufficient snow allowed us to start skinning up.

Onto the snow

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Conditions underfoot varied from a (small) amount of windblown powder to surface ice and in places spring snow pack whilst overhead glorious sunny conditions kept the enthusiasm levels up until eventually the steepening ground allied to increasingly icy conditions underfoot led to a rethink by several of the party.

 

Boot packing the higher section

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 A smaller group including the two Al’s, Susan, Simon & Andy then boot packed to the subsidiary top of Spidean Coire nan Clach where stunning views across the Torridon giants of Beinn Eighe, Liathach, Beinn Alligin as well as the Fisherfield and Strathcarron peaks were enjoyed.

Approaching the summit

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Liathach 

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Stunning views

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 The descent? Undoubtedly a classic skiers line and on the day it comprised over 500m of vertical on continuous snow including some packed powder and lots of surface ice where good edges were vital. A temporarily marooned skier was recovered from his tiny rock perch whilst lower down some rock dodging took us back to the start point. Big grins remained however since it was one of those rare winter mountaineering days where the exceptional views combined with the weather more than compensated for the less than perfect underfoot ski conditions.

Dropping in

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 Al cranks the turns

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And further down he really lets go despite the approaching icy section

 

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So now the waiting begins again with a grim weather forecast this week so let’s hope for a late winter snowier March!

Al Todd

 

As Met Offices promises of “big snow from the west” seemed to peeter out during the week, several of IBSC Team Corrour left their kit at home and arrived at the very posh 5 star accommodation ready for action but not full of hope for the white stuff! Monika, John, Ewan, Alex and Bob all got up into the blustery hills on the Friday and Andrew hiked in from Rannock station taking a windy ridge in on the way. The rest of us (Jan, Blair, Karen, Andy) arrived in the dark missing the stunning drive into Loch Ossian and Alice came up on the train to Corrour from the borders late on.

A delicious Fri eve chilli (courtesy of Ewans grandma!) more than made up for the chilly weather outside and given the poor forecast for Saturday, late night carousing seemed to be the most appropriate action…..hic! True enough it was dank, dreech and misty when we woke with a slow start for most, excepting Karen who was up at 5am and out at 7 determined to bag a few Munro’s whatever the weather. The rest of us procrastinated but, inspired by Karen’s determination, all went out for some action including Jan and Monika’s heroic multi-mile jog whilst the rest of us walked round the Loch including Blair who successfully nursed a knee injury….Alice and Karen topped the days activities off with a quick dip in the Loch…as you do….brrrrrrr!

Jan and Monika’s funky soup and fab Polish lamb dish warmed us all up on Saturday night… and the more youthful of the group found yet more carousing energy anticipating another slow start the next day…..…But when we awoke on Sunday we were met by the bella vista of several inches of snow, which although not really enough to promise good conditions did at least get us all whipped up into action….Bob christened his new skis and boots with Ewan and Alex up in a gully on Bhein na Lap (?spelling!). Andy started off with them but literally got blown back down the hill by the high winds, managing a wee snow/heather/tussocky ski back down and Nordic style cross country ski round the Loch tracks. John, Alice and Andrew got up into the snow line with stunning views and the others did various other low level options.

 

 

 

Sunday eve departure was a bit touch and go for a while as one of the 4 wheel drives skidded off the track and decided to explore and have a rest in a ditch but the estate tractor came to its aid and all those leaving managed to escape in the last light before the big freeze really kicked in. Sunday night at the Lodge must have been blissfully quiet and those staying were rewarded on Monday by some fine crisp weather and views from the tops…making all those who had returned to work rather envious.

Best bits: Fab food, company, venue and setting…… topped off eventually by the white stuff

Worst bits: 2 hours on probability theory sat eve + Toyota Land Cruiser getting stuck ;-)

 

Write up by Andy

Christmas Shenanigans Weekend 8th of December

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The first weekend trip of the season saw the club staying in the cosy Glen Feshie Hostel. Despite it only being the start of December we were able to enjoy some early season turns and training.

One group of club members attended a winter skills course, which was hosted by Jim Sutherland who is an experienced local mountain guide. This group walked into Coire an t-Sneachda where they were able to brush up on moving safely with ice axes and crampons. They also had the opportunity to work on their navigation.

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The other group made the most of the snow conditions and headed up Coire na Ciste where they were treated to lovely spring like snow which provided over 400m of descent. The snow depth in the Coire had reached a significant depth due to windblown snow. After completing the descent John discovered that he was without one of his hiking shoes. No one needed any persuading to do another lap to the top of the gully.

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After a fun day on the hills we enjoyed a full home cooked Christmas dinner with all the trimmings. We were also treated to live acoustic music. On Sunday we had a full cooked breakfast and many of us returned to Coire na Ciste to make the most of the best snow in Scotland!

Bothy and Ben weekend, 10/11 March 2017

The forecast for the weekend was particularly grim with a promise of rain and sleet fired by 40mph winds on Saturday and a big warm fog on Sunday. So when lugging my skis across the snow-free head of Loch Glascarnoch I was surprised there were three others following, namely Sheena, Susan and David. Although we had all initially signed up to the two-day circuit of Loch Mullardoch, such was the forecast we needed an alternative. Something equally big and epic but not foolhardy. Overnighting in a bothy with a traverse of Beinn Dearg I thought would fit and bill.

One vehicle was left at the craft centre carpark near Loch Broom for our return, then we drove the to Loch Glascarnoch to start. If anyone was a little sleepy after an early start, plunging our bare feet in the icy waters of Abhainn a’ Gharbhirain woke us up. On the far side we could begin skinning, heading due north into the impressive amphitheatre bordered by Cona Mheall and Am Faochagach. For a steady five kilometres we moved into its quiet depths, the slope steepening above Loch na Still and forcing us on a series of switchbacks. Small avalanches had left trails of debris and I looked above at big overhanging cornices. All morning the clouds had thickened and reaching the bealach we were greeted by a whiteout and our world changed. The half-kilometre length of Loch Prille had vanished beneath a huge snowdrift. I’d been here a good many times in winter but had never seen this quantity of snow, even in 2010. We could just make out the bowl of the loch and this guided us to the watershed at nearly 600 metres, snow now hurrying in from the east, straight into our faces. Here we peeled off skins and at first skated on a slight decline over a featureless waste until the contours bunched and we ran freely, carving great turns on our descent to Gleann Beag. David shouted that he could see the bothy, a tiny building alone in the frozen emptiness. Skiing right to the door was a dream fulfilled. A fine refuge from the rain, though three months of winter now seeped from the thick stone walls and I for one began to shiver. We dug a hole a metre deep to reach the river, boiled water for brews all round, and discussed the merits of braving the wetness to search for firewood. No one was especially keen. Someone mentioned the highly flammable resin found in ancient bogwood and someone else that she’d carted in a load of kindling. So with empty sacs and fantasies of a roaring fire we skied a kilometre up the glen, crossed the frozen burn and fell upon the old roots like a last act of plunder. ‘Go for the driest pieces’, I said, and received looks as filthy as our rucksacs were becoming, now all stuffed with peat-smeared roots. David overloaded his, fell over backwards and couldn’t get up, others with unbalanced loads seemed to be practising a new form of locomotion. Back at the bothy and armed with a pickaxe and pruning saw I sorted the sodden mandibles into three piles – wet, very wet, and aquatic. Nobody believed any of this would burn. It did. We built an edifice of sizzling logs and the flames leapt, we humbled at the miracle and sat around it steaming and revelled in the warmth of ancient suns. Our talk roved widely from a general thumbs-down for freeze-dried to the merits of beaver reintroduction – mostly thumbs up -  to whether mindfulness trumps other distractions such as, well, bird-watching, all helped along by Susan’s homebrew gin and David’s Dalwhinnie.

David claimed he slept a like a log, the rest of us thanks to the wind and unforgiving floorboards slept a little less soundly. After a little initial weariness we mixed muesli with burn water, downed two or three brews, and set off. A mild morning with thick cloud. Careful navigation in a windless fog got us to Cnap Coire Loch Tuath at 884 metres. Here a gauzy sun and faint shadows began to show and climbing towards Ceann Garbh we emerged into a bright brilliant world, an unbroken sky and white peaks in all directions, especially the prospect of Beinn Dearg, only the line of its famous dyke visible through the snowcover. In the glens a dense blanket of cloud lingered. We skied the south slope of Ceann Garbh, our speed carrying us across the small plateau and we gathered here to begin the 300 metre ascent of Beinn Dearg. Too steep for skins we stowed away our planks and climbed up, the snow so hard in places I wielded my axe for stepcutting.

At the summit we could see from Ben Wyvis to the Fannichs to Suilven and beyond. As the cloud base appeared to be rising we didn’t linger, skiing the southwest shoulder in perfect spring snow. At the 850m we became engulfed again in mist and it was back to tricky compass work with Sheena and David as navigators and Susan as foil. We negotiated the steep and loaded west flank, stopping for a snack at the head of Allt Mhucarnaich, then for the last time we skinned up to the col just east of Beinn Enaiglair and simply pointed our skis downwards and took off. A kilometre and a half of typical Scottish backcountry, tracing burn lines, edging small defiles, fighting the soft surface with frantic pole plants, snowpatch hopping to about 400m where the snow finished, a lot higher than on the east side. I was a little concerned the final descent might require a huge fight through a dense conifer plantation but in fact a path materialised close to the forestry edge then a broad and mossy way switchbacking to the main road and all touched down some eight hours after leaving the bothy. To bury the memory of freeze-dried and answer the usual carbohydrate cravings the weekend was rounded off with a visit to the Beauly chippy. A fish supper never tasted better.

Ballinloan Lodge was the meeting point for the Glen Lyon ski weekend, a first for us all. 6 intrepid tourers (3 Hinds and 3 Stags) met on Friday night to be welcomed by John’s steaming curry dish, savoured by all, as it was flavoursome and avoided cooking. The Lodge was luxurious and spacious as it had a bed capacity for 8.

Over ‘dinner’, we all chipped in with options, desires, ambitions and considered historical and prevailing weather and snow conditions. Plan A was to aim for The Carn Mairg Group working East to West. After group discussion and agreement in situ, Plan B involved walking to approx. 650m where we then skinned alongside Inverar Burn, veering Easterly to the coll between the rocky prominence of An Sgorr, and Meall Garbh summit. As rumblings of the Beast from the East became evident, heads down we dropped over onto the North face, regrouped and relished the snow laden slopes. After delightful skiing on firm, compact and hard snow in the direction of Glen Sassum, we skinned up before repeating the experience in the sheltered bowl.  Surface snow was softening nicely as the sun beamed its rays over the white blanket as we steadily re-ascended. An experienced mountaineer within the group, opted for a more leisurely day and soaked up the rays, before soloing it back to the car. 

Despite strong gusts of wind, the weather was considerably better than forecast. After the delight of not encountering boilerplate conditions; collectively we decided to call it a day… that was until a sun-baked south facing slope beckoned and 5 of us donned skins. The skiing element was a softened spring snow descent of around 300m over 1.20km before walking the track along and down through the tree felled area to the car park. The most dramatic snow topped views were Southerly, across the Lawers hills and West. To the North, Loch Rannoch stretched out between forest and hills.

 

Saturday evening nosh was another surprise and courtesy of Susan. Moroccan delights abounded, and discussion flowed into the living room where were greeted by a well stoked fire. The bonhomie continued as we considered our options for day 2. What was evident from this small group was a willingness to ski as one. As it happened, we were all reasonably well matched in fitness and ski ability levels in Glen Lyon. The consideration for others, perhaps made easier by good conditions and a mere group of six.

Over the weekend, the high road through to Loch Tay was impassable, so the suggestion to drive to NN 513464 (OS51) at Loch an Daimh and head North was agreed after the pop of corks, a rush of bubbles and a stretch by the fire.

We were spoilt for stag spotting in the Glen, but the Stag in Corrour ruled the day! A number of male club members herded there (hence reduced numbers on this trip), to celebrate Duncan Brown‘s Stag Party for his forthcoming wedding to Club member, Lizzie Aitken.

On Sunday, weather conditions were brighter than forecast and afforded spectacular views of bright blue sky, snowy mountains and the icy brilliance as the sun shone on Daimh’s water. It was a good choice, as the higher topped hills were mostly cloud covered and stronger winds were apparent.  Firm footing on frozen bog made the walking element of a ski weekend bearable, followed by zig zag skinning practise into Coire nam Measach and a lunch stop. We skied ‘n’ skinned a south east line in the Coire of Meall Buidhe on hard packed snow, in similar conditions to Saturday. After taking an SSE line from Meall a Phuill we were able to snow, and momentarily, heather ski, pretty much down to the cars.

It was a weekend of conviviality, experience sharing, debate even, learning, skinning and skiing. The old guard and the new, with reminisces and contrasts; all in all, just what a good Club thrives on.

After all, we were like the cats who’d had the cream.   

By Sonya Anderson

The Cairngorms had been battered all week but the Beast from the East finally ran out of puff in time for our gathering in Glen Feshie. Milling about the small carpark were sixteen skiers, one of whom was only in attendence because he’d been stranded in the Highlands due to a snowbound Bristol. We were able to ski straight from the cars, a vanguard leading a brightly coloured tail that extended back some hundred metres through the woods. All reasembled at the second burn crossing. Assessments were made of the conditions and a decision on which slope to aim for. The Beast may have passed but it had left a residue of cold, overcast and windy conditions, not a day for the high tops.

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We struck an ascending line towards Coire Gorm a’ Chrom-alltain and stopped to refuel in the partial shelter of the burn, some of the party here putting their shovels to good use in a creating a shelterwall. From here we ascended in worsening conditions to around 850 metres. A whiteout threatened and after a short council we decided to proceed no further. Sixteen skiers then turned and headed for home. I’d skied this slope a fortnight ago in fantastic powder conditions but thawing and freezing since then and the activities of the Beast had left pockets of windblown and scoured areas, though still great cover.

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Whizzing past our lunch spot the party split, most going headlong for the burn with its drops and narrows while a few chose a long lazy traverse back the first burn. A few of us reapplied our skins and headed into Coire na Cloichre which was fully loaded, but with impeccable timing the cloud dropped and I for one had that nauseous feeling of skiing simply by feel, snow and air merging. Overall a decent ski in mixed conditions, well worth the effort. A small crowd reconvened at an Aviemore café whose speciality was coffee, cake and huge hottubs, the latter alas only for viewing.  By Mike Cawthorne. 

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As is usual for the Loch Ossian Hostel weekend the forecast was grim, promising rain, sleet and high winds. Despite that twelve members, having travelled by road and rail, north and south, were found huddled in Loch Ossian’s cosy common room on the Friday night, already nursing glasses that were at least half full.

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Jan and Monika’s wonderful Polish dish of bigos accompanied by various Vin de Pays and a few Tennents fuelled the residents and our lively and varied talk was punctuated by reverential readings of Donald’s well-thumbed copy of The Backpackers Handbook, by the legendary Derek Booth. The party dispersed around 2am. Outside wind rapped the window panes and rain dripped from the gutters.

A wet morning and an enjoyable drawn-out breakfast gave much time for map-gazing and a decision was made to tackle Beinn na Lap which rises in a long sweep just north of the hostel. Close to midday the rain finally eased and all suitably wrapped and muffled ventured out to beat a path towards the snowline, skis like antennas and pummelled by the wind. At a snow-filled burn we applied skins then a steady ascent in the strengthening wind. Visibility was superb with grand views of a snowy Leum Uilleim and the sun-speckled expanse of Rannoch Moor.

The long ridge leading to the summit proved to be very exposed and everyone gathered to discuss the next move. All seemed happy to push on, and maybe ski the more sheltered, though steep, east side. Coming in from the west the wind went up a notch until I for one was being shunted upslope. I led the way towards the summit cairn, now less than a hundred metres away. The wind was so strong now it was impossible to stand. Susan was close behind and we both sank to the ground for safely.We removed our skis and forced our way back, mostly by shuffling, until we saw the others and gestured with ski sticks, the message passed through the group to all gather at a place of marginally better shelter.

From here we skied to a level place a little below the crest, gathered again, then tackled the great snowfields on the southeast aspects, the wooded lochside below and fine snow-filled prospects of Ben Alder and Aonach Beag to the east. It is fair to say everyone was a little shaken by the severity of the conditions about the summit and in hindsight we should have perhaps turned back sooner. All though acted with resolve and awareness, and with our considerable combined experience we got safely off the crest.

Below the general snowcover we ski-hopped from patch to patch and had a late lunch at the edge of a larch wood. The wind seemed to reach its full fury walking along the track and it bullied us back to the hostel in twos and threes, and there we shed our wet gear and drunk tea and mulled over the day’s events, all wiser, all with a tale to tell. Jan and Monika produced a delicious meal and a desert to replace lost sugars. The promised Loch Ossian battering had been duly served. With more of the same forecast for Sunday some opted for the late evening train and home to bed by midnight.

Words: Mike Cawthorne

Pictures: David Jones and Monika Pietsch

Some eighteen members were milling about at Chisholm’s Bridge on a grey Sunday morning rubbing their eyes, quite unable to believe the blanket of snow. For once we could avoid the slog up the track and skin from our vehicles. The ease of access certainly impressed the new members.

For some three kilometres we went like a crocodile’s tail past the picture-postcard pinewood and into the broader reaches of Gleann nam Fiadh, and then up and to the west of Allt a’ Choire Odhar, a great snow-holding burn. A disparity of fitness manifested itself on the skin up, one member talking casually of cycling 250km every week, another recovering from a wine-soaked evening, and so two distinct groups began to materialise.

The wind rose and it started to snow from the southwest. The leading group disappeared into the mist, and by all accounts they had a great ski and board, though in challenging and, by now, white-out conditions. The smaller group of Jan, Monika, Sonya, Howard, and myself reached about 900 metres and turned for home. Goggled against the driving snow and skiing blind, we nonetheless encountered some fantastic snow conditions.

Jan and Monika went down in graceful curves whilst one of our party on telemarks regularly catapulted himself into drifts. Loose bindings were suspected. Duly tightened he put in some stylist turns that almost caused an outbreak of tele-envy among the alpinistas. Almost. The final three kilometres pole-planting schuss to the cars will be long remembered.

By Mike Cawthorne. 

Ten of us met at the Corie Cas bar at 9:00. Skitouring experience varied across the group, from quite new to the sport to experienced skitourers, who just wanted to spend a day out in a good company. Before we kicked off, we covered some theoretical aspects of skitouring and discussed essentials that every skitourer should have in their rucksack. It was a good opportunity to get caffeine boost, so much needed given that most of us had to leave their house before the sun was up. The weather was reasonably good at the start but soon clouds came low, and all slopes over 1000 m were buried in fog.

Snow cover looking from the car park was thin and patchy. We could hardly see any larger patches, and when we did they were separated by big boulder fields. The plan was to attack Coire an t-Sneachda or just play in Lurcher’s gully. None looked good but we decided to look for a play in the latter. Suprisingly, we managed to start skinning almost straight from a car park. We had to cross a few burns, which was fun (see picture), and navigate between boulder fields which was fun too.

We found our playground on the easterly slopes of the hill dropping to Lurcher’s gully. We did a few laps, and practised zig zags, kick turns, various techniques of taking skins off (see picture) and skiing in wet and heavy snow, and occasionally heather. The level of difficulty was raised by Paul’s dog Brèagha who was trying to bite our skins and (ski) tails off. Coming back was surprisingly easy and we did really well on skis all the way down to the car park, and believe me or not, without hitting any rocks.

We all agreed that it was a great day, because we spent more time skiing than walking (we have hardly walked at all), we could see where we were skiing (some were complaining that contrast was not great), it was not freezing cold, bitterly windy or raining (like it usually does), and we enjoyed our company what was the only thing which has not surprised me today.

By Jan Sznajd

The team: Rachel, Lyndsey, Alice, Cerys, Dan, Bass, Paul, Paul’s dog, Derek, Graham and Jan

Special thanks to Graham for help with teaching and guiding, and to Derek for pictures

Last year on Ben Wyvis was snowless, as was the year before. Would it be third time lucky?

Eighteen members from as far afield as Forfar gathered in anticipation at the carpark on a frosty morning. Among the throng and seasoned stalwarts were plenty of bright new faces and we set off with skis lashed to our sacs up the ice-covered trail through the conifers, pausing for counsel where a turn in the path presented a choice of options.

A small bold group led by Jan headed up the west ridge of An Cabar in search of steep slopes while the main party applied skins and forged up the glen that swung north and ascended Coire na Feithe Riabhaich. Having struggled on baseless snow the cover improved as we skinned into the corrie. There were pockets of sustrugi and crust, all earmarked to be avoided on the descent. The sun accompanied us the entire way to the ridge but, as so often happens, disappeared as we gathered for lunch.

Though at least we weren’t getting the promised white-out. Over sandwiches and flasks we mulled over the merits of skiing Wyvis’s west facing flank, Monika being the chief advocate, and she and a couple of trusting recruits disappeared over the crest. A lone skier on the ridge, perhaps seeing this happy crowd, joined us in our ritual peeling-off of skins, then a slight nudge forward, a pole plant, and one by one we plunged into the corrie, for some their first backcountry slide of the season. Enthusiasm largely trumped technique when negotiating the sustrugi and crust and pockets of powder but an exciting and challenging descent for that. Even the baseless heather skiing was a joy, sort of.

Somehow all three groups coalesced into the original throng, each having a tale of fantastic skiing. Jan’s group had practised slideslipping and jump turns on Wyvis’s east face, Monika’s small following had enjoyed floating on a cushion of powder, so they said. Everyone accounted for and shod in soft trainers again we went jauntily back to the cars. Wyvis had delivered.

By Mike Cawthorne.

A superb week’s guided backcountry ski touring was held in March 2017 in the Tatra Mountains of Poland, thanks to Jan Sznajd’s excellent organisation and inside knowledge.  This was truly a trip like no other; with a few trip member’s commenting that it was possibly the ‘’best week they’d ever had’’

A group of seven IBSC members met at Jan’s house in Zakopane south of Krakow in the Tatra mountains of southern Poland on the Slovakia border on a cold Saturday evening in March, having flown via various carriers from the UK to Krakow’ some members taking budget (or not as the case may be) Ryan Air and Easy Jet, and some taking KLM via Amsterdam.  The next day Jan, Gordon, Xavier, David, Duncan and Lizzie set off into the hills under the care of Alek; a very experienced local Polish guide and friend of Jan, who knew the Tatras like no one else.

After a couple of hours sleep, the group set off early on the first morning to the local Chocholowska valley.  We were picked up by a military vehicle and, hidden like refugees in the back undercover with all our gear, transported 8km to a hut at 1148m which was just at the snow level given the time of year. 

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After a quick delicious breakfast consisting of mostly Polish sausages with excellent coffee, our first ski trip was to Rakon at 1879m.   Our plan was to climb to Wolowiec at 2064m, but due to bad weather we decided to head down early and were rewarded with most excellent powder skiing. Dinner in the evening consisted of rather traditional Polish mountain hut food: ‘’Bigos’’ (cabbage stew), ‘’Zurek’’ (fermented rye flour soup), ‘’flaczki’’ (tripe) and ‘’pierogi’’ (dumplings), which when washed down with several beers was rather splendid.

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After a sound sleep in our quiet hut, our second day skiing was spent in thick fog and mist, but nevertheless some fresh snow as well.   This initially consisted of a steep ascent to Trzydniowianski Wierch at 1758m.  Some of the group enjoyed a short powder ski between trees, before heading to Konczysty Wierch at 2002m.  There was fog aplenty, although some seriously enjoyable runs were had in true powder especially the lower parts.  Another filling Polish meal and second night at the hut were enjoyed by all, and Jan made us all feel very welcome to his country.  

They say third time lucky, and our patience was rewarded on the third day with wall to wall sunshine, blue skies, light winds and great snow skiing all together.  This was a long whole day trip to Lopata at 1958m, with terrific ascents and descents, stunning scenery over all the high Tatra mountains of Slovakia and Poland, and plenty of Vitamin D with it feeling positively warm out the wind climbing.  Absolutely brilliant; no other words to really describe how good this was.

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Our fourth day together consisted of an early morning transfer from our first hut to the region of the High Tatra mountains.  We ascended to a col at Zawrat at 2159m climbing a steep gully with use of boot and ski crampons, as well as ice axes and a good sense of humour.   We descended in fog and crusty snow conditions, and hardly managed to find our next hut in the Five Lakes Valley at 1671m.  Without our local Polish guide Alek, who would often be heard to say ‘’Lizzie, come’’ ‘’Gordon, here!’’, we would have been seriously disorientated.  His expertise and local knowledge were second to none and we were given more personal attention than we’d have found elsewhere.

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Our fifth day skiing was another day of excellent visibility but very strong winds.  we did two ascents and descents, the last one being Nizni Kostur at 2055m. The ascents were steep and rocky initially, but then rewarded with a beautiful descent into a corrie by the frozen lakeside, where lunch consisted of more Polish sausage and local bread.  A second night and final evening in our second hut was enjoyed by all with plenty of fine beer, wine and polish vodka to top off a most excellent day on the hill.

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Our sixth and final ski day was spent climbing Szpiglasowa col at 2110m, consisting of a tricky descent initially, then playing around in the corrie and local gullies which was great fun.  By late afternoon we descended down to Morskie Oko hut for a hot drink.  Our ultimate transfer out of this valley back to civilisation was by traditional horse and cart, which took us to our more modern taxi back to Zakopane.  We enjoyed the remainder of our final evening all together in a Polish sauna complex consisting of several saunas and ice baths with much entertainment and bonding in between.  A truly sumptuous dinner was had by all in a local famous trout restaurant, before returning back to Krakow in a modern taxi and all staying at Jan’s parent’s house where we were made to feel truly welcome.

Our final day in Poland consisted of Krakow sightseeing to varying degrees whilst exploring craft beers and fine dining, before some of us left for the airport to make our way back via various means to northern Scotland.  This hereby ended an absolutely spectacular trip to the Tatra mountains in Poland, professionally organised all voluntarily by Jan Sznajd, who deserves huge thanks for putting so much of his free time and effort into organising such a great trip that ran faultlessly throughout and gave a few privileged members of IBSC a ‘’trip of a lifetime’’ that they would never forget.  One thing’s for sure: as well as fabulous powder skiing and great views, this area of Poland offers skiing and lodging at excellent value with superb local food, drink and amenities.  We will all never forget eating Polish sausage under the stars, group bonding in a sauna complex, and being guided across knife edge ridges in thick mist with near vertical drops.  I, for one, am truly grateful to Jan for the most unforgettable week skiing with such a great group, and one of the best week’s holidays I have ever had.

Written by Duncan Brown, October 2017

With special thanks to Jan Sznaijd

Images thanks to Jan, Alek and Duncan.

   

   
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