The Winter Sports Weekend

27th February – 1st March 2015

This weekend was decided upon by the Events group some time in 2014 and therefore was a long looked forward to event.

Nancy Anderson was the arranger of the “bothy” and the coordinator of people who signed up for it. At the end of the day thirteen members signed up and arrived at the location which is Glassie Bunkhouse, high up on the hill above Aberfeldy. The group comprised of Nancy & Les Anderson, Andrew & Frances Norman, Lisa Norman, Christine Anderson, Ruth Longmuir, Charles Hutchinson, David & Trish Hunter, Michael Haywood and Pat & Ron Sutherland.

 

An aside from myself.

We came via Comrie. We therefore had to come to Aberfeldy through the Sma Glen but on our way our Satnav, backed up by reports on the radio suggested an alternative route. We accepted the new route and we were routed up Glen Quaich. It is a minor road with passing places but we pressed on up the glen, admiring the scenery of snow clad hills. As we progressed the snow began to encroach closer and closer to the road. Eventually we had to start the climb out of the glen and as we approached the pass over into the Tay valley the road cutting was filled with snow and there was no chance of getting any further. So, we had to turn back and admire the scenery again as we retraced our steps back down the valley.

We decided that we would just have to go on to Aberfeldy via the route with the traffic problem on it. And there was no problem getting into Aberfeldy. No traffic problem and no snow drifts. We now just had to negotiate Aberfeldy and get up to Glassie. Once through the town and into the turn off we thought that we were almost there but, as we drove up the forestry track it seemed to go on for a long way and steeply uphill. Eventually though we gained the dizzy heights and parked up next to Les and Nancy’s Discovery. Hooray, we had arrived. We thought that everyone would have been there already but as we pushed the door open it was just Nancy and Les eating their spaghetti Bolognese. Our immediate reaction to the bothy was that it was not quite what we had expected. Bothies are not centrally heated with great kitchen facilities and a spacious social space, are they? The accommodation was truly first class and it was clear that we were going to have a very comfortable weekend while in the confines of the accommodation.

As the evening progressed we got our luggage into the rooms and had a general chat and welcomed all the others as they arrived. David and Trish were not going to arrive until Saturday morning. Some preparation had to be made for the following day: such as fitting crampons to boots and transferring wet weather gear and packed lunches to day sacks. We also had to decide where the walk was to take place and eventually plumped for the two Munroe’s to the north of Ben Lawers: Meall Corranaich 1069m and Meall a’ hoire Leith 926m. Ruth,Christine and Michael were going skiing and they decided to go to Glenshee rather than Glencoe. Andrew, Frances and Lisa opted for some local walks including the Birks of Aberfeldy.

We had been listening to the weather forecast and it did not seem to suggest that it would be the best for winter hillwalking or skiing: heavy snow, windy and rain at lower levels. So to bed, probably later than was best for us.

Saturday

Getting-ready

We were all up and about just after 7am, breakfasted and prepared to do battle with the elements, which were raging outside. It had indeed been very windy during the night and the gale was now peppered with sleet and hail at times. Rucksacks were filled with hot drinks and sandwiches for lunch and added to the bag were crampons that added to the weight that was to be humphed up the mountain. Well, if you are to go out into the mountains in winter you should be well prepared. Chuck was our leader for the day and he had us well warned that he was going to practice on us for his Winter Mountain Leader course which he is doing. We bade our farewells to the other walkers and the skiers and set off in the Landrover for the Ben Lawers car park, or further along the road if possible. As it turned out there was deep wet snow on the road and in the car park it would have been unwise to attempt to go any further. Our stopping point is shown on the map below.

As can be seen from the map above we followed the snow covered road for a short distance looking for a suitable place to jump the ditch and take to the hill. Once over the ditch it was onwards and upwards but thankfully with the wind ion our backs which helped a little, I think. We were snaking our way between crags and sometimes through deep soft snow which does not make progress very easy. At one point we stopped and Chuck did a short brief on how to walk safely across a steep snow slope with use of the ice axe that we had strapped to our rucksacks. He was an excellent and very patient teacher, considering the quality of his two apprentices. He also showed us how to arrest ourselves using the ice axe if necessary. We hoped this skill would not have to be called upon on this occasion.

Progress was slow, but sure. The wind was now whipping the snow into our faces and near the top it was time for goggles, which made a fantastic difference to comfort and visibility. We teetered close to the eastern edge of the ridge at times and tried our best to get a view of Ben Lawers and Beinn Ghlass but these were hazy at best. We made good time to arrive on the first top, which is Meall Corranaich. Here the weather was very windy and snow and hail were intermittently stinging our exposed skin. We discussed whether to carry on to the next top or to head back down. We decided to go for the second Munro and it was a bit of a relief to now be heading downhill gently. The underfoot conditions were now much harder and as we crossed a flattish area of frozen snow Nancy decided that les was taking steps that she could not follow, so we strapped on our crampons, which made footholds much more secure and added a great degree of reassurance to us as the incline of the slope became steeper. There was some discussion at this point about walking like cowboys and Pat lowered the tone by suggesting we should walk as if we had wet our pants!

On our way to top two we got a good view into the corrie to the east and Chuck pointed out an avalanche that had happened all the way from the top to the bottom of the sheer back wall. It was interesting also at a point in the procedure, as we were in a complete whiteout which Chuck and Les consulted on and found our way safely to the destination intended. It was easy to see however, how easy it would be to go over the edge and through a cornice if your navigation skills were not up to scratch. Well done the leaders. On the top we decided that it would be better to descend some distance to get out of the wind and sleet before having something to eat. The conditions had precluded that joy earlier, as they were just too severe and wind chill would have soon made us very cold, if we had stopped long enough to eat properly. On the journey we had to be satisfied with a sugary bite of jelly babies and for me, my favourite, a Bounty.

The downward and homeward journey involved a diagonal and quite steep descent, into the wind, and across deep soft snow which made it a bit of a trudge at times. However, we managed to find fairly sheltered spot to sit for a while to have our coffee and sandwiches.

By this time we were all very wet though still warm.  I could make a grip with my hand and squeeze the water out of my “waterproof” gloves. Once on our way again we passed through the Shielings marked on the map, but it was not easy to see any evidence of these, except what we assumed was a small hydro dam on the small stream.

At last we made it onto the road that runs along the eastern edge of Loch Lairige. As it had been when we started, it was covered in some feet of snow in places, so what I had thought would be easy, turned out to be a wriggly path on and off the road, walking where the snow had been blown off making progress easier. Arriving back at our transport we discovered that we were the last to return. The cross country skiers and the other walkers had all been and gone. It was only at this point that other parts of our clothing started to feel wet, I suppose due to cooling as we struggled to divest ourselves of waterproof trousers and boots. It was with some relief that we got into the warmth of the Discovery and headed back to the bothy.

The Skiers
Lunch-stop
Three of us headed to Glenshee to ski and were rewarded with a typical day’s skiing in Scotland: wind, rain, above freezing temperatures and patchy runs!  A sign at the foot of one of the tows summed it up, “It can only get better!”  We thought of the others, halfway up a Munro somewhere to the west, and we all agreed we were much happier being on skis in this weather because, despite the rain, we had a great day!  A return trip the following day afforded much better snow conditions and even some sunshine at points.  Scotland has a lot to offer in terms of snow sports and it just goes to show that the conditions don’t need to be perfect to have fun!

Back at the Bothy

Back in the central heating we all got rid of our wet clothes and got showered as soon as we could. It was only really after the walk, in the warmth that we really felt wet. But, after a shower we were all glowing from the change in temperature. Everyone had brought something with them to have for our meal on the Saturday night so we had an excellent menu to look forward to and it really was all very delicious.

After the food we sat down to chat over the events of the day and we did a quiz towards the end of the evening, but I could see that many of us were flagging from our efforts during the day. It was not long before our small groups drifted away to our rooms to get a well-earned rest.

The Sunday was a much more leisurely day for all. We went our separate ways with intentions of walking again, but perhaps tackling something less strenuous. Chuck and Michael however were bound for Schiehallion. Ruth and Christine returned for more fun on the slopes as indicated in their contribution above.

I am sure that everyone enjoyed the physical activities and the fellowship in the bothy, so I am sure that it is an event that could easily be repeated next year.

Ron Sutherland

Future events/dates  

  • Sunday 26th of April, walking the Borders Abbey Way from Selkirk to Hawick, starting at 11a.m. in Selkirk.  Meeting point to be confirmed.
  • Sunday 7th of June, Tower Trophy Challenge.  See the BEG website for details.

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