This was one of the most keenly anticipated trips of the season. Set in an uncompromisingly mountainous and remote location to the east of Glencarron and the west of upper Strathconon, Glenuaig Lodge was a trip where any spare places shifted like hotcakes.
The lodge itself is charming and a sort of combination of rustic mini hunting lodge and self-catered cottage. This time, on arrival, the house was warm and well-lit, and the fireplace was nicely prepped by Eric for instant combustion. We did not have to wait for Eric to arrive late in the evening to find us wandering about disconsolately with no power, and candles in our hands. A good Scottish winter meant there was plenty water on this occasion to power the micro-hydro generator.
The weekend was billed as champagne and powder. The first year the club went to Glenuaig, there was legendary powder but no champagne. The year after that, there was no powder, and indeed no snow, but several bottles of excellent vintage champagne (thanks to former club member James Jackson). This year was an almost-year: almost champagne, but not quite; and almost powder, but not quite.
The omens for the weekend were poor. All week, the Met Office had been warning about a weekend storm. By the middle of the week, the storm had been named Storm Ciara. It turned out to be fiercest of the winter storms of 2019-2020, and almost engulfed the club trip. However, our intrepid crew headed into the eye of the storm, quite literally. As those interested in meteorology will know, the eye of the storm is often one of the best places to be when all hell breaks loose around you.
The fiercest winds were forecast for the Saturday and again on Sunday afternoon and into Monday, when the Met Office was advising against all travel to elevation. So we chose our spot and route very carefully, after much discussion on Friday evening over an excellent vegetable tagine prepared by Zoe and Aurelien. They had transported the ingredients in an ingenious trailer that was attached to the mountain bike, ostensibly for Jura the collie dog if she were to get tired en route. However, there was not the remotest possibility that Jura would get tired, so thankfully the food managed to get up to the lodge intact. Coire an Lochain Ghaineamhaich was the favoured spot. Not only was it close by Glenuaig Lodge; it was also (relatively – it was a matter of degree) sheltered from the hurricane force southerly winds. ‘Wee’ Dave and Jan had eyed a couple of lines that headed north-east from close to the summit of Sgurr a’ Chaorachain whilst walking in on Friday afternoon. The snow conditions were not the best, but some of the north and east facing gullies had filled in with snow down to about 600 metres or so.
There was much debate over breakfast as to whether to ski or not to ski. Some club members thought that the conditions were just too wild to venture onto exposed rides. In the end, only Jan and Dave headed up to the summit ridge for what turned out to be a superb adventure on some steep terrain and lines above Lochan Ghaineamhaich. The rest of us observed from the frozen fringes of the lochan as Jan and Dave gradually faded into black dots on the northern face of Sgurr a’ Chaorachain. The conditions were described by Jan and Dave as “windblown powder”. The rest of us had a fine day walking around the corrie and then being blown back down towards the lodge. At one point David and Monika had to hold onto one another to avoid being blown downhill.
We were met at the lodge by Adam, who had generously brought not champagne, but some very fine French cremant for sharing. After hot(ish) showers and baths, we enjoyed some delicious melt-in-the-mouth lamb prepared by Jan. Indeed, because Jan and Monika were on the trip, good food and coffee was very much on the menu, and we were all of us treated to some culinary delights (with thanks to Zoe and Aurelien as well).
Sunday was blustery and a bit milder, with heavy sleet and then rain overnight. None of us felt particularly inspired to head out into heavy grey skies and rain, especially as the forecast was for more storm force winds on Sunday afternoon. Some of us had to head out to civilisation (and work) on Monday morning and left on Sunday afternoon, pushing our bikes most of the way downhill against an unforgiving and violent wind and torrential showers. Somehow on Sunday afternoon Adam found his way, by bike, to Lochcarron and Coire Lair, and (more importantly) back to Glenuaig.
Jan, Monika, Dave and Adam stayed over until Monday. It was windy and quite wet again on the Monday, and they all headed out in the late morning.
It was an excellent weekend, almost because the forecast was so horrendously bad that expectations (for everything other than good food, coffee and company) were very low. No-one thought that skiing would be a remote possibility but, as the pictures show, some of us had some good and adventurous skiing on lines that have rarely been skied.
We are already looking forward to 2021. For the first time, there could be champagne and powder …
David Findlay Feb 2020