Friday, March 28, 2014

Beinn Dorain in Winter

Unusually this post features a photo of me, rather than one taken by me (above). I'm on the right looking Southwards towards the summit of Beinn Dorain, admiring the significant cornices on the ridge.

Anyone who has driven Northwards from Glasgow to Glen Coe will recognise Beinn Dorain. As the A82 runs from Tyndrum into Glen Orchy it fills the view ahead, towering above the West Highland Railway line, like a giant cone, which in summer looks like this:

My previous ascent of this peak took place on a warm, cloudy, rainy, day on which my slogging over Dorain and the adjacent Beinn an Dothaidh was rewarded with precisely nothing in terms of views. Yesterday's climb was quite different, and a first for me - a Winter Munro ascent, over snow and ice, in high winds but with magical views over all the surrounding mountains. My family had bought me a pair of crampons for my birthday in February, and I had been keen to give them a try, only lacking some suitably experienced people to walk with in these unfamiliar conditions. This all changed last week with an unexpected phone call and invitation to join a couple of friends on one of their regular Winter walks.

Looking down to Bridge of Orchy Station and Hotel from the Coire an Dothaidh

The track begins at the Bridge of Orchy Station, where an underpass takes pedestrians between platforms and provides access to the far side of the line - where the track continues Eastwards and upwards into Coire an Dothaidh. In summer, I had continued to the cairn marked on the 1:25000 OS map at the head of the col before turning Southwards onto Dorain's main ridge; but seeing this in deep snow, we turned right 'early', and approaching the ride up a little valley, meeting the 'path' at around 900m.

The snow-blasted summit cairn.

The valley also provided some shelter from the wind which was powering into us from the NE, and really began to hit us once we made the Am Fiachlach ridge itself. It was here that I saw for myself, many sights which I had only previously read about, or see photos of. White spirals of snow being whipped up into 'twisters' by the ferocious winds glinting in the sunshine in front of blue skies; previous walkers boot-marks standing like little towers above the rest of the snow, great cornices leaning madly over precipitous cliff-edges beckoning the foolhardy into their avalanching grip; and the sight of countless peaks in snow - viewing not from the floor of the glens - but from above: all this was breathtaking. 

It was also absolutely freezing! While the air temperature was below freezing point, the wind-chill factor reduced this to nearer -8'C. I discovered that some of my hillwalking gear wasn't really up to the job. Some of my stuff (from the discount end of the market, it has to be said), did not perform as well as expected or marketed in these more extreme conditions. Of particular concern were my hat and gloves which while they provided sufficient protection for safety purposes certainly didn't satisfy the desire for comfort.

The crampons were a different matter. Having never walked in them before, I was amazed at how effective they were. I probably delayed putting them on for too long, hoping they would not be required; however strapping them onto my boots on the ridge, increased my range considerably. The funny part was that on the way down, as soon as I took them off - I took one step and fell straight over as my un-spiked boots slid away from under me.

I'm looking for an excuse for another Winter walk soon; but some new pieces of equipment will be needed first.

(Final photo also taken by one of my walking companions)

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