Sron Gharbh - 873m
A' Chailleach - 903m
Tuesday 3rd February 2015
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Weather/Conditions: Great winter weather - blue skies and a great quality of light. Light breeze all the way form bottom to top, windier (20mph?) on summit. The snow was hard going though - lying thick almost to sea level and in almost every consistency, changing every step of the way - verglas, bulletproof, soft and deep... hard work!
Distance/Ascent/Time: 10.6km / 550m / 6h 20m
A' Chailleach is one of them. Well I say A' Chailleach, but the mountain itself is an unnamed top, rising to 903m (metres short of Munro height) above Glen Coe. From the Bidean 'massif', its a prominent hill and worth a look. But few come here. Unnamed and somewhat unlisted, it remains in the shadows. But I always knew that I'd get around to walking the neglected ridge crest that runs east east from the ever-popular Aonach Eagach.
Two things came together to get me up this hill. First, I was in Glen Coe to go to the single Clachaig Winter Lecture I could make (they do them every Tuesday in February). Second, I wanted to have a go at the Aonach Eagach in winter condition. The previous day I'd cast around for partners, but I'd been in need of someone more experienced than myself, and eventually elected to go alone and thus entirely self-reliant.
A quick morning drive up Loch Lomond brought me into the snows of the Highlands (first time driving the Crianlarich bypass). It was entirely white all the way, Rannoch Moor especially bleak under this quilt of desolate monochrome. The drive north never gets old and the sight of the Buachaille doesn't gets old either. Often by climbing mountains, I diminish their stature in my head. Not so with the Buachaille. Despite Curved Ridge being my trade route, the sight of that east face never, ever diminishes, nor by now I suspect it ever will. There's something about the Buachaille I can never get a handle on and I like it that way.
Aonach Eagach (not quite...!)
I pulled into the Aonach Eagach layby in the half-light of morning. Various vans were parked around the place, their owners obviously spending the night in the car park like I've so often done myself. The glen was under a complete winter coat of snow, even low-altitudes rock walls were blasted by rime-ice. I was keen to get off, so packed my stuff and starting waking in the wake of three guys up on holiday from England. They looked like they really knew what they were doing, I felt more like a punter just up for a look-and-see. For good reason I've wanted to get my winter climbing on the go but partners haven't been forthcoming. I don't mind - I've got plenty to keep me occupied, but it'll happen at some point.
I caught up with the three guys on the flank of Am Bodach, then passed them. Then I was saddled with the burden of ploughing a route! They were obviously here in a "climbing" mindset, but it was times like this that reminded me that my strength was in the cardiovascular effort of ploughing up a mountainside. I'm starting to think I'm built for long, drawn out effort lasting, hours days or weeks rather than the immediate, high-intensity world of climbing.
I got to the summit in good time and got a summit panorama. The Aonach Eagach stretched out ahead. My plan was to do the Am Bodach step solo, and if I could do this I would be happy to complete the ridge. I wouldn't abseil past it as I had no intention of getting committed to the ridge, despite bringing the rope along.
Once on my way, I put crampons on and brought the axe out. The conditions were great, in fact the ice was bullet-hard and as an unfortunate consequence my crampons (blunted) just did not bite. In fact on the downclimb, I never felt totally attached to the hill in a way that I'd like. I made it a small way down but it didn't "feel" right. Having a partner of course changes the dynamic when you're roped up so that may have changed things. Funnily enough, I wasn't too bothered that it wasn't the right time. I headed back up the slope to the Am Bodach summit where the three guys were no doubt wondering what I was doing back so early.
Sron Gharbh & A' Chailleach
But it changed my options again. I had my second plan and headed off in the direction of Sron Gharbh on virgin ground with skies opening up to sun. Conditions were pretty wild: the cold and dry conditions of recent times meant spindrift. Lots of it, flying everywhere. Over the cairn of Sron Gharbh, I continued to A' Chailleach where the Glen Coe peaks opened into amazing sunlit vistas. What a place! And to think this is such an anonymous peak.
It's one peak I'm really glad I visited, one of those ones that's always been there in the back of my mind. In one sense I want to get back to the Munros and finish my second round (which is going sloowwlllyy), but in another sense, I've discovered I much rather seeing new places! Even if they aren't as 'good', I love to find new terrain, new mountains and experience them. If they're great, I'll be back. But the buzz is in the discovery. Since I've done all the 3000-footers (asides some notable omissions - Glas Leathad Beag/the Affric Sgurr na Lapaich anyone??), new terrain is made up of the Corbetts, the Grahams and other interesting places.
From A' Chailleach I headed along broad snow slopes back in the direction of the car. I cut some snow pits to check the snowpack, but I knew there was some "Considerable" avalanche hazard in the mix somewhere. So I crossed my slopes with caution. At one stage I almost began heading straight down the buttresses of A' Chailleach, so headed further west into safe terrain and in a beeline down the hillside to the road. Around about, the wind whipped up tornados of spindrift, the ridges billowed with the stuff. As the sun crept behind the Bidean massif, I retreated to the glen. The Aonach Eagach glowed above in the glory of the suns afternoon rays. I was back in the shadows, and out of that world which burned in the snows above.
I headed off to the Clachaig for food, (having eaten almost nothing) then time for one more hill before the Clachaig Winter Lecture... it was a wonderful, multi-dimensional day, and somewhat unexpected. As for the Aonach Eagach... next time...
A' Chailleach, 903m
A' Chailleach, 903m - 230° Detail
(0.00) 9.40am Parking, A82
(1.30) 11.10am Am Bodach
(2.10) 11.50am Back on Am Bodach
(2.55) 12.35pm Sron Gharbh
(4.10) 1.50pm A' Chailleach
(6.00) 3.40pm Parking, A82