The JMCS hut “The Cabin” in Balgowan near Laggan was the destination for the club weekend 3rd February 2023. This was a new location for the club and is ideally situated for access to the Cairngorms, Drumochter Hills, Monadliath Mountains and Craig Meagaidh.

A big thaw in snow conditions in the area was a real surprise considering how much snow we still had in Glenurquhart. I was the first to arrive and trudged up the path with a rucksack and bag of firewood for the stove. Half way up I met Al who lives locally on his way down having opened the hut to get the stove alight and the water turned on. He helped me by carrying the wood and helped familiarise me with the hut. The club participants arrived at intervals from near and far to eventually number nine participants staying at the hut. For various reasons I ended up being the club contact having only got on the trip due to a cancellation. Everyone had contributed to food for the Saturday night group meal. With the hut warming up everyone was soon chatting and making friends as we were all strangers, many on their first club trip. The water pipes to the common room/kitchen were out of action due to a frozen/burst pipe so we had to heat water in pans on the wood stove. A minor inconvenience as there was still hot water available in the shower room for washing.

The lack of snow was obviously an issue for a skiing club but we organised an easy walk on the Saturday as the weather forecast was for cloud and rain. Sunday was likely to be better and a tour of Craig Meagaidh was planned with one group tackling the Moy wall on skis and a second group opting for a climb with axes and crampons of the “Window” to the summit.

Saturday dawned dry and we headed north from the hut over the moor to the summit of Binnean Mor. After obligatory photos we continued north to Glen Banchor and the wee bothy by the river Calder for lunch.

Following lunch we surveyed the ford (bridge marked on OS map was missing) and fell runners Adrian and Ruth felt compelled to run (yes you heard correctly) another four kilometres uphill to Loch Dubh requiring a river crossing. Those of us with more sense opted to head along the hill track upstream to see if there was an easy crossing for a possible hike up to Sron na Creige. With the weather starting to deteriorate to our relief there wasn’t a suitable crossing point and we decided on a tactical retreat to the comforts of the hut.

I guess it was no surprise that the runners managed to arrive back soon after us despite covering an additional eight kilometres. There was another reason apart from the weather for returning early from the walk as the group contained a number of rugby fans and the Scotland England match was being televised live. There was a mass exodus from the hut to the local pub in Newtonmore for the match with the group split between support for Scotland and England. I was content to stay in the hut to keep the home fire burning, listen to music, drink red wine and snooze. On their return the whole group mucked in with meal preparation and we were soon tucking in to soup, stew and veggie chilli with various accompaniments, beer, wine and friendly craic (Scottish for banter).

We were joined by Angus and Al who both live locally and plans were firmed up for the tours on Sunday. Angus kindly volunteered to lead a group for a climb to Craig Meagaidh via the window returning via Poiste Coire Ardair and the ridge. Al decided to join the rest of us for the Moy Wall route.

A much improved weather situation on Sunday gave a boost to our spirits despite the conditions being a tad suboptimal! Unlike last years tour we had to walk 3km over rough moorland and climb to 700m contour to reach a very narrow strip of snow by the wall. Ruth the fell runner had made a decision at the car lay-by to forego skiing and decided to run up Craig Meagaidh which is 1130m asl. Going lightweight she was spotted on her way down very soon after we had started our ascent on skis which either showed how slow we were or how fast she was. I probably didn’t help with the group progress being very much the tail end Charlie. Gone are the days when I’d be racing ahead for photos of the group. To this end I decided to stop at the 1050m contour at the end of the wall so the others could make a push for the summit without me holding them back.

My ski down was uneventful but having the new skis gave me confidence to tackle the very narrow strips of snow on a steep decent. I did observe the group returning along the wall when I was hiking down from where the snow ended and just managed to keep ahead arriving back at the car a minute ahead of the group. The climbing group managed to scale “The Window” using axes and crampons and reached Craig Meagaidh summit before descending via the ridge line.

It was great to meet up with so many new members and despite the poor snow we all agreed it was a super weekend.