As a new member this season, sadly the vagaries of the Scottish winter have resulted in a somewhat inauspicious start. After the abortive Feshie Freshies trip (my first, where I elected not to join the small hardcore who ski’d on the one day of action) and Rothiemurchus trip (another new member in the group’s first), the hope was that Laggan would deliver the goods. But – alas – it was not to be…

On returning to Aviemore from Edinburgh days before the trip, it was disappointing to observe very little snow remaining over Drumochter, with a similar situation evident in the Monadhliath and the Cairngorms. Aggregating intel from SAIS and Cairngorm Mountain reports with weather forecasts didn’t pour any light on the situation – with the scarce snowpack firm-to-bulletproof and high winds, rain and poor visibility forecast, hopes seemed to have been dashed again.

Not all in the group had lost hope, but after consideration it came to pass that only four of the nine trip members even bothered to pack skis (or splitboard) for the trip. For the rest (myself included), bikes or hiking boots were the order of the weekend. But all were determined to make the very best of the time, and so we came together on the Friday night around the roaring stove of the Cabin Hut, to see what could be salvaged from the weekend.

Amongst those members with skis or board, there was still optimism that sliding would be possible, with Creag Meagaidh and the Moy Wall being the target of their intention. And so – after much poring over maps and talk of alternative itineraries, and general social pleasantries – we retired to our bunks to slumber and review the situation come morning.

Over breakfast, it was evident that the situation was much as forecasts suggested it would be, but still the four sliders were determined. A fifth member would join them to walk as far as possible, and from there witness their turns. For the others, lower-elevations beckoned. Two members would walk to the Dalnashallag bothy for lunch, traversing and summiting Binnein Mor (550m) en route. And the remaining two would cycle along the banks of Loch Laggan and up through the woods of the Ardverikie estate, to return via Lochan na h-Earba.

Successful completion of all itineraries was sadly not to be achieved though, with the sliders’ optimism melting away in the face of torrential rain and significant wind at car park level, resulting in the decision that even the standard IBSC practice of “taking the skis for a walk” was a bad idea. And so a hill walk was to be attempted instead.

Setting off, the relative shelter of the trees made the initial climb pleasant, but progressing into Coire Ardair the sleet driven by gale force winds quickly became arduous. The party agreed to turn around before the lochan, retreating back to the hut to warm up and eat lunch.

The Creag Meagaidh party found what they were looking for…

…but plentiful it was not

But I’m pleased to report that the less ambitious plans did come to fruition, with the bothy party battling winds to successfully summit their objective, finding no snow en route but catching sunny glimpses of small accumulation in the coire of Carn Dearg. At Dalnashallag, a sofa for each member awaited for the consumption of lunch and coffee, and the luxuries further extended to a stove and firewood. It was noted from the visitor’s book that the last party to visit had come on skis in the sunshine from Balgowan en route to Carn Dearg on the 18th January – the lucky lot!
Returning through a strong Southerly and heavy sleet that practically necessitated goggles, the party returned through Cluny Castle, meeting up with the Creag Meagaidh party who had chosen to take a gentle after-lunch walk there too. It was noted that the estate was well maintained with plenty of pheasants, and an absentee Laird – in Qatar.

Binnein Ben

The famous bothy

Over at Loch Laggan, after a brief encounter with torrential rain, the cyclists enjoyed the ride along the picturesque banks and on up the hill, sheltered very effectively by the forest from the strong winds, whose only effect – being on the tail – was to ease the pedalling burden. On exiting the woods at the north-east end of Lochan na h-Earba and stopping for lunch, however, the choice of cycling into the wind at higher elevation was questioned!

But sufficiently fuelled, a brave effort was put in with the wind making the flat Land Rover track akin to an Alpine climb, with only limited dismounting required when the strongest gusts threatened to topple the riders. On a better day, it would have been a disappointment that the beautiful sandy beach at the south-west tip of the Lochan was submerged under a metre of excess water, but by this point rain had made a return so haste was made to the final downhill section.

Into the wind along the banks of Lochan na h-Earba

“What – you mean this is only half way down the Lochan?!”

With all parties reunited safely at the hut, cooking of a splendid feast commenced, with wine; music, both recorded and live; philosophical discourse; and exuberant after-dinner playing of cards. A most pleasant evening in superb company was had, rounded off with a sound night’s sleep.

The group, minus photographer

Awakening to another dreich day, cutting of losses seemed the wise option so it was decided that the group would disperse, leaving only the matters of (a) fixing the water supply, which had inconveniently dried up overnight; and (b) returning the Hut to its previous state of order.

Considered as a ski trip, it cannot be denied that it was a disappointment. Considered as a trip with skiers (and splitboarders), however – it should be considered a great success.

– Rob