Saturday, 12 February 2011

The East Ridge of Beinn a Chaorainn (posted by Alex)

It's not often that I do a new Munro these days (I've only done 46 but that includes almost all the mountains immediately surrounding Clachaig). Beinn a Chaorainn lies West of Creag Meagaidh, in a region I have never visited but travelled through often enough by road. Its lengthy and impressive East Ridge is a route often favoured in high avalanche conditions, and although today's forecast could have been worse, a dump of new snow overnight meant that James and I were keen to get onto a safe ridge.

Some other people had the same idea. Although we were the first team to leave the car park, we bumped into a group of three lads several times during the day as we kept overtaking each other! Plenty more people were following not far behind, and I think in balance an avalanche-safe ridge was a good choice for the day, given the unstable new accumulations of snow (and some evidence of avalanches already).

Despite signs that the cloud might lift, it never properly dispersed until we were well on the way down. Consequently the ridge took on a mysterious, atmospheric character as we began to weave our way between the steep rock towers. Conditions underfoot were very good, with nice hard snow underneath a thin layer of powder. Although lower down the turf was mushy, on the ridge proper we found it to be well frozen, making it easy to find a good placement for the ice axe.

It's classic Scottish mountaineering terrain: never very difficult, but varied enough to make you think about route finding and with some steep snow and steps of mixed climbing. I enjoyed it tremendously. This is the kind of climbing I like most!

Upon reaching the summit we found ourselves in a complete whiteout. Our first plan was to follow a ridge back down into the coire, but the threat of cornices vetoed that plan, so we decided to follow the South Ridge back to the forest road. This slightly longer descent was accomplished initially by taking bearings and leapfrogging across the featureless plateau as we tried to concentrate on which way was up and down ... if you've been in a whiteout you'll know what I mean! Although my navigation is a little rusty I'm quite pleased that when we dropped out of the cloud, we were exactly where I expected us to be.

The sun came out on the walk back, and all that remained was to squelch our way through the bog back to the car. A good day out!

Photos from today

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