Thursday, 27 January 2011

A superb day climbing on the North-East face of Bidean nam Bian (posted by James)

Bidean nam Bian in perfect conditions.

"North-East Face" (Grade II), Bidean nam Bian.

I had one of those days today when everything came together so beautifully, that it really reminded me just why Scottish winter climbing is so ridiculously enjoyable. Because despite the regular bad weather, thaws and disappointments, when things turn good, they turn really good. On a day like today, Scottish winter climbing most be one of the most satisfying forms of mountaineering in the world.

The North-East Face. My route took the gully in the exact middle.

At the head of Glencoe's Lost Valley, two giant mountain faces dominate the view and dwarf everything else in sight. On the right is the North East face of Bidean nam Bian, and this is where I headed today.

A self-portrait under Lost Valley Buttress

The face can be climbed by various gullies and couloirs, ranging between grades I and III. However in the guidebooks there are no distinct recorded routes, and is simply logged as "North East Face".

My choice of where to climb today was spot-on. The North East face holds the most snow in the entire of Glencoe, and whilst Stob Coire nam Beith, the Aonach Eagach and the Buachaille are all looking depressingly black, Bidean still holds huge quantities of snow.

And the snow conditions were some of the best I've ever seen in Scotland. Weeks of thaw and now a re-freeze has produced solid nevé perfect for climbing.

The unrecorded gully I climbed...for now I'm calling it "Gateway Gully" (grade II)

Looking up at the face, I could see a very tempting steep gully in the middle. It currently has no name and isn't recorded as a climb even though it is a fine looking gully. The entrance is guarded by gigantic pinnacles on both side, giving it the appearance of a gateway. So this is what I climbed. Near the top of the gully it narrowed considerably to a small chimney, before fanning out onto the steep snow-slopes underneath a small cornice.

The gully goes at about Grade II, and as it is unrecorded for now I'm calling it "Gateway Gully".

The narrows in "Gateway Gully" (II)

Topping out onto the summit was brilliant. The sun was so warm I could feel my skin starting to burn, and the entire Western Highlands were cloud free. It genuinely felt like days I've had mountaineering in the Swiss and French Alps, but when it is like this in Scotland it is so much more satisfying, as you have the knowledge that many winter climbers will never see weather so good.

Where I'd come up....looking down the vast North-East face of Bidean nam Bian to the huge snowfields beneath.

So….a brilliantly fun way to climb one of the most impressive mountain faces in Scotland. There was such a sense of freedom simply following my nose and climbing what looked fun and within my limits, and not once referring to a guidebook. Days like today make all the rain and thaws seem like distant memories.



  1. Hi James; looks good!
    I take it routes like Curved Ridge and Sron na Laraig are pretty bare just now?
    We were hoping for a nice short day (from Edinburgh!) on sunday but may be a non starter?
    Any info would be great, if you can.


  2. Hi Tim, I believe these routes are pretty bare at the moment--gullies are looking like the best option!

  3. Yeah ditto what Alex says...Curved Ridge especially is very bare, and Sron na Lairig looks very black indeed. Most of the ridges and buttress routes aren't in good nick at all, but the snow in the gullies is in superb condition.