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Grey Corries trip - 1st March 2014

Given the right conditions a traverse of the Grey Corries would be one the highlights of any backcountry ski calendar, and so three of us, Richard, Gordon and myself, headed off early from Inverness. Roy joined us at Spean Bridge where we grabbed bacy rolls and coffee and drove up the bumpy track, halting when it enters the great swathe of Leanachan Forest.

The Grey Corries ridge loomed white and gleaming from morning clouds, racking up the excitement levels. I for one couldn't wait to reach the snowline, especially with the forecast suggesting the shutters were coming down in the afternoon. In an hour or so we had left the conifers and were sitting in a great wedge of the burn that drains Coire Choimhlidh, easing on our ski boots. Maybe we should have done that before getting our feet wet in the crossing, though Roy, the canny fellow, had stone-hopped a little downstream and stayed dry. A steep haul from the gorge and with every step snowy hill chains began to unfurl, especially the icy faces of Aonach Mor and Aonach Beag only a few miles to the southwest.

In late morning sun the Grey Corries ridge appeared smoothed and weighted beneath layers of winter snow, its crest and summit crowns overhung by huge cornices. But as we reached the snowline at about 450metres and applied skins cloud was building over the Aonachs, the wind picking up.

The forecast, so promising earlier in the week, had suggested conditions would to close in a tad by afternoon, and so our plans were fluid. After a hour of uphill I think we all realized a complete traverse would have to wait for a finer day, but we were still keen to reach the summit ridge. The way to Beinn na Sociach was heaped in a mixture of fresh and windblown snow then approaching the first top the slope became scoured and, noting the monster cornices that tottered over the east face, we all reached for our axes.

A brief window to the Mamores and south then the shutters came down. The last metres below Stob Coire Easain were steep, either icy or covered in loose windslab, so we shoveled a lunch pit, brewed coffee, munched snacks, and prepared for a huge 600 metres of descent. In a swirling spindrift and full white-out and with Gordon holding his compass and yelling directions we pointed ski tips down, at first giving the berg-like cornices too much leeway and slipping too far west, so had to kick into a long sweeping traverse and regain the shoulder.

For ten minutes or so I, and I reckon Richard and Roy as well, were skiing to survive, only Gordon went downhill with style and panache, making turns as if some stray official from Sochi might have appeared behind a rock to award marks. At some point we began to see further than our pole tips, then the wonderful unmarked snow ridge of ou ascent ran out below. We gathered, picked our line and carved it up. A mixture of styles to be sure but everyone agreed the best descent of the winter so far. It was a little disappointing we hadn't managed a complete round of the Grey Corries but given the quantity of snow I am sure IBSC will be back before the curtain falls on this remarkable winter.

Toll Creagach 3rd March 2014

By Donald Morris

Two club members left Chisholm's Bridge in Glen Affric on a pleasant promising day. We gazed at the hills to the south, covered in snow, and wondered if we had made the right decision - we had!

We walked with skis on our backs until after the deer fence and then for just another twenty minutes before we could strike uphill to the snow lines in the burn coming down from Toll Creagach.  Tom a' Choinnich looked great as did Sgurr na Lapaich.  In fact every hill looked in amazing condition. 

The snowline was very distinct on the hills; evidence of the weather this season, and once we hit it the skinning was easy straight to the summit of point 951. This day wasn't about tops, it was about descents. We dug a wee pit to check the snow pack before committing to the final slope.  

The conditions under ski and overhead were simply stunning. Blue skies, light winds, superb visibility and lovely soft, snow. We measured the depth at 155cm on south facing slopes.  

 So after the first descent, down the route we had come up, we talked about being satisfied with that as it was so good. However, we decided to head to the top of Toll Creagach and ski back to the burn that way. On the way Gordon decided to jump off the cornice over the burn. He nailed it!

Anyway, onwards and downwards from the summit of Toll Creagach 

So descent number two out of the way, with much whooping and hyperbole, we decided that the legs had enough in them for one more. Up we went to the sop between Toll Creagach summit and 951. Guess what?  More of the same great snow, views and skiing!

This time we headed to the lowest snow on the hill. 

In true club tradition, this meant skiing to the very last snow, across the heather and grass to get maximum value. 

After the snow ran out, all that was left was an hour's walk down the glen to the starting point.  Much fun in the hills!

I was going to type "if you like this, join us on the next event" but you would have liked this so no need to ask.  

Check out our Programme for more fun. At this rate we will be skiing in the summer!

 

Igloo camping trip to Glen Affric 15th February 2014

By Andy Ince
 
This years Igloo trip was planned for Glen Affric as an alternative to the usual choice of the Great Moss in the Cairngorms. Glen Affric provides a sheltered location with reliable snow and saves me a long drive to boot! The club ran a trip two years ago which was successful even if only three members took part. The burns on the slopes of Toll Easa and Toll Creagach act as excellent snow traps so even if snow cover is sparse there's usually snow for some skiing.

 
This year the forecast for the Saturday was not ideal and to be honest building in whiteout conditions is not much fun so the Igloo build is postponed until April. However myself and Roy went for a very enjoyable ski tour in Glen Affric on the Sunday which was forecast for some sunshine and much less wind.

The road up Glen Affric still had remnants of snow which was very promising as I have yet to ski from Chisholms bridge car park. I was to be dissapointed again but the snow cover above 500m was the best I'd seen. Although we had to walk about 2km along the path it was possiblke to ski with care from the second deer fence gate and we make coffee break at 11am just before the long climb up the slopes of Toll Easa. We headed for the Bealach and stopped for lunch just below the summit of Toll Easa. A quick bit of shovel work resulted in a comfortable sheltered snow bench for lunch and we relaxed in the sunshine and snow showers enjoying the view. 

Just before setting off for the summit of Toll Easa I decided to dig down and check the snow pack for any weaknesses. All the layers were reasonably well bonded and there were no signs on the slopes of any slips, slumps or other avanlanche danger. The slope had a southerly aspect  which lately has been the safer side but its worth checking. Interesting was the depth at this height amounting to about 1.5 to 2 metres. It was obviuos from looking around that there were drifs many times deeper than this.

The push up to the summit was short and steep and made a little difficult by the size of the sastrugi formed by the wind. This made skiing off the summit a tad interesting! Not having skied this year it took me a while to get my act together and link some turns. Skiing off the east towards Toll Creagach took us down to Coireachan  Odhar which provided us with a wonderful mini bowl to link some telemarks in good smooth snow.  We followed Allt a Coire Odhar down being quite cautious near the burn due to steep cornices on the burn itself. Visibilty was quite variable but with enough brightness to cast shadows and enjoy the skiing. That is until we hit the sticky, heavy wet snow on the lower slopes. We started a count of falls competition with my count exceeding Roys until about 7 or 8 after which we lost count with the laughter and frustration. We did make it all the way down without injury but dare I admit restorting to traverses and step turns. Always a good safe stategy when your legs are tiring.

From the valley bottom we were able to ski back along the path, carefully avoiding the occassional rock until reaching the deer fence gate. Discretion at this point prevailed and we restorted to walking out and thus saved our ski bases for another day.

It was dissapointing not to have camped and I'm determined to do at least one Igloo camp this season. If you're interested in a camp I hope to do one in April probably about 12th/13th. Let me know and we'll see what conditions are like nearer the time. The alternative would be to take a tent which is something we enjoyed last year on the Great Moss in March. A tent trip is certainly on the cards for a high level May Tour.

Corrour Weekend 2014

By Peter MacKenzie

Spirits were high as the tourists on board looked at us with a mix of amusement and intrigue, though it was quite clear that Scottish trains aren't as geared towards skier-traffic as their Swiss cousins... 

Tulloch Station

We stepped off the train into a blizzard, and quickly drybags were strapped to sledges (the Highland "pulk"); but within 10mins, the sun was out and the mountains displayed their pristine grandeur, blanketed with inches of the fresh stuff we'd come here for. The couple who run the station-house restaurant had just returned from a holiday in warmer climes, and generously offered to take our bags from their to the hostel, so we were off to a great start.

After a quick kit-swap and David's arrival (he was on the later train from the south), 9 optimistic tourers left the hostel and headed towards the SW slopes of Beinn na Lap, in a variety of touring, tele and other gear (Mike's 1996 three-pin tele-binding snapped about 50m from the hut...). Progress was quick, on dry, soft and falling snow, the stiff breeze blowing us up and across the hill, but as we ascended, visibility dropped, winds picked up and quite quickly we were in full-on Highland winter-conditions. We moved as a group of 9 for the first hour, before the group split into a descent-group, bound for tea in the hostel, and a punishment-group, heading further into the fray. The winds got more and more fierce, and after it became difficult to stand, beyond the point where we couldn't hear each other without shouting and once visibility had closed down to about 5 metres, the remnant finally called off the summit-attempt. Taking skins off in those conditions was a matter of lying on top of kit to stop it blowing away, and when skis were finally on, Fee found that the force of the wind blowing her uphill was more than that of the gravity she had been hoping to assist her passage to the bottom.

Still, once off the ridge, the snow was a mix between wind-packed powder, neve, well-caked heather and, eventually, partially frozen bog covered in a skiable layer of slush. The middle section was a delight to ski and everyone was in high spirits at the bottom. There was a crevasse in the peat though which two members managed to inspect in closer detail.  

Some enjoyed it so much they skinned back up the hill for a second descent. Others went to the hostel for lunch. 

Simply being in this amazing place was special. The train access and overnight in the youth hostel really added to the feeling of being in the wild and we were so lucky with the snow that first day. Skis on at the train and skining up from the hostel to the top for some great descents.  

We could not fault, only praise the SYHA and Jan the hostel warden. Loch Ossian was the second ever SYHA hostel in Scotland and what a treasure it is. Amazing location and pretty good facilities. It will soon have mains electricity which is a good or bad thing depending on your point of view. Either way we spent some happy hours in this great place. 

The next morning the weather seemed to have abated slightly but you could still see a large plume of snow being blown off the summit of Leum Uilleim. Various options were discussed including a traverse back to Tulloch via Chno Dearg but it was decided that Leum Uilleim just looked too good to miss.  

There had been a slight overnight thaw which meant we had to walk to the station along the easy track. This only took about 20 minutes though and we started putting our skins on just at the station itself. It appeared quite wild when we were sheltering to put the skins on but once on the moor it started to clear and the hill began to come into view. Leum Uilleim is a superb ski hill with lots of features and it was holding a huge amount of snow also. We skied directly towards the easterly ridge which we knew to be rocky but with the amount of snow it was an easy and pleasant ascent into the ever rising winds.  

Weaving up through gullies and features the snow got better but was still pretty heavy. Just like the day before, the wind started to really get up also and there was a huge amount of snow being transported onto lee slopes. We did a wee transceiver check and continued upwards. 

Shouting over the maelstrom, we concluded that the first 3 metres of height was probably full of snow and above that there were blue skies but as we got higher the cloud also came in.  Poor Mike had earlier on managed to fix his bindings but years of ski touring had taken their toll and they finally gave up in a fitting place with some great terrain all about. He had to walk down unfortunately. 

The descent was excellent but the first skier had to be careful as we were on a ridge with steep sides and it was hard to get an idea of distance and slope angle. Nevertheless, we made the most of it and club president charged down the hill in typical style. The strength of the club was really obvious on this descent - people on alpine gear, teles and so on.  A great range of equipment but one great descent!

 

We got down quite early and the train north wasn't til after nine pm but we went back to the hostel leaving our skis and rucksacks at the station. No one would steal them! Back at the hostel the craic was good and the super noodles flowed liberally. Jan once again made us feel very welcome. We walked back to the station with our Highland Pulks strapped to rucksacks but we all commented on what a great experience this trip had been. Wild land, great company, drams, laughs, great skiing and wild weather. What more, really, do you want?

If you liked the sound of this trip and are not a member click here to find out more: Membership.  Our next trip should be pretty special - 15th February 2014– Igloo Trip

Ben Wyvis 18th January 2014

By Donald Morris

Optimistically, we headed up Ben Wyvis on a wet and warm day. This trip had been changed from A' Chailleach near Newtonmore to Ben Wyvis on account of the poorer weather forecast further south. However when we were driving over from Tore the south side of the Ben didn't look too promising. There had been a lot of snow loss but keep the faith, we said.  Well Mike said actually and continued in this positive theme throughout the day.  

After nearly two hours of walking we still hadn't seen any snow but the ever present cry from Mike was that snow, and lots of it, would be in the gully coming out of Coire na Fèithe Riabhaich.  There was snow but it had turned to the liquid form - water.  We stopped to take stock and it was no hardship to be out in the hills with others and the craic was great.  Apparently there is a Highland version of James Bond called Angus Bond.  He lives near Gairloch somewhere.  

We continued uphill, still carrying our skis, until snow appeared in the form of large, wet patches.  Peter and Mike were so keen they immediately put their skis and skins on and started heading uphill.  The other three continued walking.  It was really starting to snow by this time and the landscape was transformed from brown with some white to white with a wee bit of heather poking through.  

The rest of the party put skins on and we continued uphill in full winter conditions.  It was amazing how much the landscape changed in the space of half an hour.  We were by this time skinning in a whiteout and it was hard to judge slope angle when out front as there were no features to act as a reference.  The ground began to steepen in front of us and we concluded we were on the final haul to the summit ridge just NE of An Cabar. There was no point in continuing upwards in these conditions so we did a quick changeover and got ready for the descent.  

There must be something about skiers in Scotland but everyone loved skiing down the changing slope angles and variable snow.  Mostly the snow was lovely and we were able to descend much lower than had been possible earlier in the day as it was still dumping snow heavily. Sorry but no photos of the descent were taken as it was such good fun but you can see how keen some were in the picture below. Still scouting for a line after most of the snow had run out.  

Once down into the heather again (Ben Wyvis is great as it doesn't have many rocks), we took skis off and all of us were mentally preparing ourselves for a good old Highland trudge down the glen in the dark with skis on our backs. It was not to be though and kind soul deprived us of this experience by offering a lift in his argo cat. We had seen him from a distance when coming out of the coire and it looked like he also had a pair of skis on his back. It turned out to be a gun and he had been after hinds but had no luck. 

We strapped the skis onto the back of the argo and three people on the back discussed an evacuation plan should the vehicle roll whilst traversing the bog. It didn't and we got down safely and not that tired due to the kindness of a stranger in the hills.  

If you like the sound of this please have a look at our Programme for more fun.  

   
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