School House Ridge and the Ballachulish Horseshoe
The forecast was good again so we decided on an outing to Beinn a’Bheithir above Ballachulish. My brother and I had done this in 2003 in great summer conditions and it was one of the first times I remember being up a mountain on the west coast with good weather. The views from the summit of Sgorr Dhonuil were amazing.
Anyway – Easter Day 2013 and winter is still in control.
We arrived at Ballachulish around 09.15 and I managed to get lost before even starting ! We were leaving one car at South Ballachulish and taking the other to Ballachulish as we had done 10 years ago to save the old legs a long walk back. However I managed to take a wrong turn and ended up crossing the bridge and being on the wrong side of Loch Leven!! Oops!
Anyway we finally found the correct parking spot and headed back to Ballachulish. Having never done this route in winter I had read a number of accounts which differed in their description of this outing in winter. Some classed it as a Grade II whilst others merely as a hard walk. We took a rope and rack not sure on whether they would be needed – always better to have these than not.
Forecast turned out to be correct and we were soon peeling the layers off not long after staring up School House Ridge (note – saw an amazing sculpture at the primary school of a Highland cow made from fabric- well worth a little diversion!!). As we made it past the heathry slopes the ridge became more rocky and as we hit the snow line it soon became obvious crampons were a necessity. We put them on and got the ice axes out – however as we hit the first rocky step it became apparent that the rock was dry and it was actually easier scrambling up with two hands free – so the axes went back in the pack. The scrambling was great fun and the rock was dry. No rope was needed although there were a few exposed steps. I can see how this might get a higher grade when covered in ice and snow. Today however it was the ground and foot placements which required extra thought with the crampons on – the rock was probably drier than our summer ascent all those years ago (although perhaps a little colder!).
Upwards and onwards and soon we had finished the scramble. This is a fine ridge and looking back down towards Ballachulish gives fantastic views.
Onto Sgorr Bhan and the snow was thick, but compact on the ground. We then headed onto Sgorr Dhearg and then onto Sgorr Dhonuil (this final ridge to the summit is slippy and exposed and I would recommend a set of crampons and axe here). On our last visit we had continued on the ridge west and descended into Coire Dearg. Given the strong east and south easterly winds in the prior week I was not too keen to descend it this time. We instead retraced our footsteps and headed back into the Corrie between the two Munros and back to the car at South Ballachulish. It was now 15.30 and I was feeling tired! The clocks had gone forward the evening before so the hour less in bed was telling!!! However it was a quicker time than ten years ago!! (this maybe due to the fact that we parked the car down at Loch Leven last time and had longer to travel!!).
Great day out though.
Beinn a’Bheithir 1024m/3360f(107) 20/09/03 Climbed these with Ross. The forecast b4 leaving the house was
Sgorr Dhonuill 1001m/3284f(137) 20/09/03 for light cloud, but on awaking in Perth it was over cast and
Raining. I was to meet Ross at the car park looking over Loch Tulla just before Rannoch Moor. By the time I met him the weather was clearing and by Glen Coe there was a cloud in the sky. I decided to walk this not by the suggested route up and down the same path through forestry commission, but by leaving one car in South Ballachullish anf the other in Ballachullish. We left from the school and climbed Sgorr Dearg and this route provided some nice scrambling and the weather was till good although some more cloud had rolled in but still 90% sun as it was for the mosty of the day. We left the car car around 10.45 and were at the top by 1 pm . It did not take long to get to Sgorr Dhonuill, the second munro and third top of the day, around 45 minutes. From here there were fantastic views over towards Mull and Ben More . We then continued West and dropped down a a red scree slope where some interesting scree running was had. Eventually we gained the forestry road and got back to the car at just before 4 oclock. So
When I was a lad .......... every year we had our summer holidays 40 miles to the south - in Elie.... And every day du the the summer hoiliday we went to the beach - come rain , hail or shine. The fact that the beach hut had been paid for the season ensured this and many hours were spent making dams on the beach with cheap buckets and spades, or volcanoes for the "grey and green army toy soldiers" to fight on!! Sometimes it was cold and wet other times sun cream was required. I can even remember donky and pony rides in the early years and trying not to dig a pit where there was pony poo!!!!!! Anyway - so what has all this got to do with my usual posts..... well every one of those days on the beach I looked over the Forth and my imagination was always taken by the East Vows Beacon!! A metal almost triangular structure with what looked like a cage on the top!! What was this !! Later on - on walks round by Chapel Ness i would be amazed at how much closer it looked. Anyway - recently we took our new kayaks to Elie on a family trip and I finally got up very close to the Beacon!! The video above tells the tale better than my ramblings.... However before watching here is some history on the Beacon and the cage!!
"Archaeological Notes NT49NE 143 48220 99003
Beacon [NAT] (accurate location not apparent).
OS (GIS) MasterMap, October 2010.
For closely-comparable structure on Halliman Skerries (off Lossiemouth, Moray Firth) at NJ 2141 7227, see NJ27SW 119.
(Location cited as NT 48220 99003). East Vows Beacon: this structure is believed to have been raised by local petition, and possibly subscription. It is noted as a 'Chair of Refuge' on the 1st edition of the OS 1:10,560 map, the cage structure on top of the legs evidently having the dual purposes of a daymark and a shelter for shipwrecked mariners.
Information from Mr S Liscoe, Professional Assistant (Archaeology), Fife Council, 12 October 2010.
This structure was built by Alan Stevenson for the Commissioners of Northern Lights. Trinity House had made an appraisal, in 1841, of the proposal to erect a beacon at the Vows and were of the opinion that it was not necessary. However the local worthies of Elie and Earlsferry then petitioned the NLB Commissioners in 1843 and again in 1846 for a beacon to be placed on the Vows rocks, but without immediate success. However upon the recommendation of Stevenson, and the NLB Commissioners, Trinity House gave their consent to a beacon being erected in December 1846
In February 1847 Stevenson landed on the rock to assess the possibility and by May of that year the foundation had been lined out and dressed into the rock and the work was apparently completed by September of that year.
The rapid construction of the beacon was expedited by using the cast iron components from another beacon that was already under construction at the foundry of the Shotts Iron Company at Leith. Total cost for the project was £483 13s 10d.
This structure appears closely comparable to that (NJ27SW 119) on Halliman Skerries, off Lossiemouth, Moray Firth. It appears that this latter beacon was also constructed by Shotts.
We had actually planned to kayak round to the chain walk but decided against going all the way round due to time and tidal flows! The trip to the Beacons secured, we then paddled round some rocks at Craigforth then headed back to the harbour. At this point we made the decision to head round to Lady's Tower - another familiar site and a much visited building right throughout my life - never seen it from the sea's pointof view though!! Had a great trip round there and back - all within two hours - best kayaking trip yet (only been out four times bear in mind!). Anyway - a snippet below re the history of the tower - this feels like a history blog his week!!!
"In the 1770s the Lady's Tower was built in Ruby Bay, on the east side of Elie Ness, as a changing room for the Lady Anstruther. It is said that Lady Anstruther would bathe in the waters next to Lady's Tower, a servant ringing a bell all the while to ensure locals stayed away"
With the weather conditions continuing to be fantastic I decided to may it out for the second week in a row!
Another Corbett would be excellent, however on examining the forecast, there was a high uncertainty regards cloud layers and it seemed the further North would be more likely to have less cloud. So I initially decided on a Corbett round in Ardgour. However later in the day the forecast changed – the layer of cloud may extend further north !!! hmmmmmm . What clinched the route change though was that it was now mentioning that the cloud would be a layer between 700m and 1000m! So a high likely hood that a Corbett’s summit would be misty!! Decision made – The Ben –might even get an inversion J I had done the CMD Arete back in 2006 on route back from a May trip up Castle ridge (made memorable by great weather oh and me losing my cars keys somewhere up there!!). I was keen to try it under a covering of snow and a Winter trip had been on my tick list for some time.
Last week I went up Creise and Beinn Mhic Mor in what was perfect conditions and I questioned whether this was one of my finest days in the hills, perhaps even better than my trip to Torridon! Well today went one better and this trip was at least on a par with my Torridon Traverse!
Up at 04.00am and away by 04.30, I arrived at the North Face car park around 06.40. It was relatively busy – not unusual as the climbing conditions were perfect (a little jealous!). Climbing today would have been great and I did ponder heading up No.4 gully, but I don’t think it would have given me the same panoramas as the Arete. Due to this itch I had also decided to head up toward the CIC hut then pick a steep gully/runnel to climb up and at least get some use of both axes (I have packed the Grivel Axes as opposed to my walking axe for this reason, I was unsure as to how steep exactly it would be).
Anyway I set off around 07.00am after some faffing at the car and headed up through the forest, the views back down towards Fort Bill were great. A thick layer of fog was sitting in the Glen and I was soon above it starting to see an Alpen Glow on the mountains in Ardgour. Ahead of me The Ben was crystal clear and looking majestically white with a stunning blue background.
The nearer to the CIC Hut I got – the more climbing parties I could pick up – most seemed to be heading around the Douglas boulder and into the Tower Gully area. I decided at this point to strike diagonally uphill to try and find a suitable runnel to ascend. I found one which was unbroken all the way from top to bottom (top 2/3 of mountain plastered in snow anyway). The snow was solid, fantastic neve. I stuck on the crampons and got the axes out and headed up. Initially it was not too steep and one axes was enough but it eventually steepened the higher I got and some front pointing was required. This was hard work and my calves were burning- out of practise me thinks!!:) Anyway – this was a good excuse for lots of mini breaks, and lots of taking in the view across to the North Face!
The runnel popped me onto the ridge between Carn Dearg Meadhonach and Cran Mor Dearg, and it was a couple of minutes to reach the Munro. Can’t really explain how good the views were and the video and photos don’t do it justice. This was one of the clearest days I have had on the hill, the visibility was superb in all directions. You could easily see from one side of the country to the other!
At the summit the views were soaked up, but soon the sweeping Arete below me took my full attention, it was covered in snow and I was soon pulled onto it and off tramping along the summit crest. The going was easier than my previous visit due to the snow cover. However the arête does fall away rather steeply on both sides so you do have to remain alert when cross some of the boulder steps (very hard when your eyes are constantly being averted from your feet to take in the views!!). After a memorable traverse I reached the new Cairn at the top of Coire Leis and had some food. I looked around and could see no one. I had met one couple who were heading for Ledge route and returning via the CMD arête but apart from that I had not spoken to anyone. Here was no one on the CMD Arete or on Carn Mor Dearg- had the whole place to myself! I reckoned this would change when I reach the top of the Ben however!!
One final steep pull up and I found myself on the summit of Britain with only two other people – the same couple I had met on the walk in – they had experienced a cracking trip up Ledge route J When they left, the summit was empty. Strange on such an awesome day – it was now midday.
I descend back down the Zig zags to the half way lochan then back to the car (down to T shirt by this time!!). The mountain was empty – even the Zig zags were quiet!
I got back to the car for 13.30.
Described as a classic mountaineering route in many of the books and also as possible the finest walk (and ridge walk) in the UK, I had caught this in perfect conditions. Could this be the finest walk in Britain- fine views, an airy ridge walk some easy scrambling? Seems to have it all!
Some thoughts and reports from my outdoors activties...