Saturday, 14 January 2012

Exploring Beinn Fhada's West face (posted by James)

Approaching the "Bad Step" on the Beinn Fhada ridge after climbing Summit Buttress

After days of thaw and rain, yesterday's clear skies and hard freeze were my cue to get out this morning and take advantage of some nice consolidated snow. And I'm very glad I did too, as I ended up having a really good mountaineering adventure in a rarely visited part of Glencoe.

One of the highlights of last winter for me was a real battle of a solo up the Grade III "North Face Direct" on Stob Coire Sgreamhach. This area holds the largest and deepest snow accumulation in Glencoe, and after a thaw and re-freeze it feels more Alpine rather than Scottish. Crevasses, snow-bridges and avalanche cones can be constant obstacles up here, such is the depth of snow that accumulates.

I've been wanting to go back and visit this area, and I felt really keen to do some exploration this morning and to get out and climb something obscure. So I set out in the direction of Beinn Fhada's Summit Buttress, a bit to the north of Sgreamhach's North face.

Summit Buttress freezing up nicely in yesterday's clear skies

It's slightly bizarre, breaking off the well-trodden track up The Lost Valley, and suddenly being on pathless and steep terrain that is actually quite serious. The whole West flank of Beinn Fhada is divided by many deep gullies and chasms, and crossing these can take some careful route-finding.

When I came to cross the deepest gully, I found myself crossing a snow-bridge over the debris cone from a large avalanche. After one too many creaks and groans from the snow beneath my I inched my way to some close-by rocks and had to go a fair way up the side of the debris to find a way to cross.

A necessary crossing of a gully filled with avalanche debris

After this some steep scrambling up very slippery frozen turf and iced slabs, and I found myself using an ice axe in order to make progress up ground that hardly had any snow on. I think this might be the most adventurous approach to a winter climb I've ever done in Glencoe, and it is not for the unfit.

Approaching Summit Buttress from below

Eventually I was at the base of Summit Buttress. I did a bit of nosing around for routes, and it looks like with some fresh snowfall there are a few mixed lines that could be pretty fun. Not enough snow on the rocks today to justify a mixed route though, so instead I stayed on the hard and perfect old snow in the gullies on the buttress.

I made my way to the top of the Buttress via the rarely climbed Grade II* gully called "The Ramp". Solid nevé all the way - great! The Ramp is a really natural line, and seen from the Aonach Eagach or even the road, it is a quite attractive route too.

The lower sections of "The Ramp"

At the end of The Ramp there was 20m or so of easy mixed climbing to reach the crest of the Beinn Fhada ridge, and I made my way to the summit of Stob Coire Sgreamhach and descended down the Lairig Eilde.

Looking down "The Ramp"

I had a lot of fun today. The route I climbed didn't challenge me at all, but I wasn't looking for that this morning. I wanted to go climbing somewhere remote, rarely visited and requiring good mountaineering sense to get there at all - and that's exactly what I got.

Plenty of rime ice forming on the rocks

There are many of these areas in Glencoe…quite obvious crags and cliffs but which people seldom climb on, opting (understandably) instead for the well-known and easily accessible routes. A good sense of adventure and exploration can still be found in this popular glen if you know where and when to look.


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