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.