The Weather Thieves

Outside the window I’m watching occasional flurries of snow build, then vanish as if they’d never happened.  We had a “dump” of the white stuff overnight but luckily it only built up to about 150mm max.  It’s a novelty in this part of Scotland so anarchy reigns here every time it appears in any quantity.  With snow very much in mind I thought I would once again dig into the back catalogue and rework another of my favourite hill days – the day myself, Cap’n Jack and the Fatdog tackled the Corbett, Mam na Gualainn, above Loch Leven.  Snow, sunshine and amazing views – what could be better.  It was February 2010 – it was bloody cold!

The Weather Thieves

It was hard to believe, as the light faded to darkness and saturated horizontal sleet slapped into my face, that a mere 24 hours before The Fatdog and I had been standing under clear blue skies, gazing at a stunning 360 degree panorama of white clad mountains from the summit of Mam na Gualainn.  Now we scuffed through thick heavy slush as we trudged a world of dull dreary housing estate grey, only a stones throw away from the roaring of the M876 motorway. At least FD was waggy-tailed happy, this was her sort of weather. 

Sunny walking days on a Scottish February are neither common nor predictable. The probability of being able to take advantage of one comes into the category of slim to remote.  Just three days previous FD and I had grabbed a stunning blue sky day and tackled a couple of Drumochter Munros.  Managing to grab two of those winter rarities could justifiably be defined as theft. So that’s precisely what we did…we stole a sunny day!

Rannoch Moor was sitting at a spectacular at -10C as we drove past.  Eastwards, towards Schiehallion, lay a frozen plain of ice and frost covered scrub. There was not a trace to be seen of the dun coloured bog land with its short stunted trees and stagnant pools. Rannoch Moor was sparkling pristine white. Glencoe was also white, but that was a massive sort of white, even more dramatic than its usual dark foreboding self.  Once over the Ballachulish bridge we turned right and drove a few miles along the B863 to a small parking spot on the north side of Loch Leven and from there headed up the hill.  Worst thing about starting at sea level – it’s always a lot of ascent.  Today it would be about 790m (2592’) with a chunk of it in snow.  It was only about a 4km hike to the summit from the loch side but still it was going to be a decent work out.

Please remember to click on the photos for full screen.

An early view across the water to Beinn a Bheithir

The walk up the first section of hill was fairly uneventful. Once past the narrow band of native woodland the path had difficulty making up its mind whether to be grassy, icy or snowy but in the end magicked together a frustrating combination of all three. One of the burn crossings proved interesting. At the crossing point we were faced with a sheet of ice with no stepping stones. There was no way I was going to try to step on that. I slid the poles across then crabbed my way over until I reached the half way point  By this time I had lost any momentum I began with and was making no forward progress my feet constantly slipping away from me. I inelegantly bum-slid the rest of the way.  With the potential for disaster being fairly decent I had the camera ready to record for posterity Cap’n Jack’s crossing attempt – but was left disappointed when all seemed to go according to plan.  Oh well (sigh), maybe next time.

By the time we reached the bealach between Mam na Gualainn and Tom Meadhoin we were into proper snow. We had a choice. We could either follow the path as shown on the map, which meant dropping down the far side of the bealach for a way before ascending again, or we could head straight up the slope. Given that we couldn’t see the path for the covering of snow the choice became academic. I set out in front following a clear set of prints which provided a sensible trail up onto Mam na Gualain’s west spur. The fact that the prints weren’t human seemed unimportant.

Up until now the weather had been relatively benevolent but, as we gained the ridge, the biting east wind picked up. The effect on my mouth was similar to that achieved by a visit to the dentist’s surgery, cold and numbing. By now we’d gained enough height to see a bit of distance in most directions.

Cap’n Jack looking back to Tom Meadhoin – our second possible hill of the day and thinking “Not a chance!”
Looking north up the last leg of the West Highland Way to Fort William
The Fatdog wonders what is taking him so long? And, more importantly, is he carrying Bonios in that pack?
Yes, we can make even a relatively simplistic day in the hills look like we are taking on a major Alpine peak.

The ridge was split by a fence – but we found a gate. The bulk of the tracks seemed to go through the gate so we followed suit. A couple of hundred metres later I wasn’t so sure we’d made the correct decision. The ground on the opposite side of the fence was definitely higher than what we could see on our side and we wanted to be on the high side for the summit approach. The Fatdog was unceremoniously picked up and tossed over.

We were almost at the top of what appeared to be the rocky “summit” when I looked back across the fence to see a trig point and a cairn on the other side! “Oh b****r!”  Much to her disgust the Fatdog was picked up and tossed across the fence once more.

Between the fence and the true summit lay a deep pocket of huge ice crystals. It was akin to wading into a tank of polystyrene beads. Oddly enough the icy breeze, that had terrorised us for most of the ridge, had dropped to the tolerable but we didn’t hang around at the top. 

Now that we have reached the summit there will be a brief intermission. You are invited to view some of the photographs taken on the trip while we wait for the descent to begin.

(click photos for full screen)

The pocket of ice crystals

Ice crystals close up

The Mamores

The summit of Mam na Guallain

Somebody’s happy now we’re finished all the up parts.

Facing into the strong easterly the Fatdog prepares for take off.

Thank you for your patience Ladies and Gentlemen – the descent will now begin.

We took a short cut on the way back down, following the ridge to its western limit, which dropped us just below the icy burn crossing (of which I’d made such a dog’s dinner earlier in the day).  Luckily the sun stayed with us as we strolled back down the hill to the car.

Today’s Puzzle

What on earth is Maisie actually doing!?

There was a noticeable change in the weather as we drove back over Rannoch Moor. Gone was the bright sunshine and blue skies. The cloud was building with some determination from the east. I knew from the forecast that snow was on the way but my goodness when it did arrive that night it was impressive in its intensity and volume, managing to shut nearly all the roads north. The Weather Thieves had stolen a day out by the narrowest of margins, but with this new snow I was wondering when we would be able to steal another.

The End

The Encore

Today’s music choice? We all knew what was it was going to be. Just had to be Mr. Blue Sky by ELO.

That’s all for today folks. My posts are put together on a PC and designed to be viewed that way. If anybody is having trouble reading them on their phone or tablet please let me know and I’ll see what I can do in future post design to make things easier to view.