The weather over the weekend had been absolutely stunning, but this also happened to coincide with the family visiting to take in the Scotland vs Ireland Six Nations Rugby game at Murrayfield on Sunday. After a great weekend of Rugby and catching up, I had an extreme feeling of FOMO
building inside me! I cheeky call to the boss and I had the day… and a plan to make the most of the stunning weather forecast. I had been saving a winter traverse of the Meall nan Tarmachan ridge
for just such a day.
An early start from Edinburgh saw me gearing up and departing the car before 10am. I crossed the bridge to the private track, just South of the Lochan na Lairige Reservoir and gazed up at the mighty Tarmachan. It was a stunningly fresh blue sky day - not a cloud and hardly a breath of wind. Magic.
I made good time up the track before making a sharp right; leaving the track and heading straight up the shoulder over the snow-clad grassy slopes. The snow was solid and I crunched my way up to the spot height of 923m in no time at all. By the time I got there, I had a bit of a sweat on to say the least - the hot sun was relentlessly beating down on my back and reflecting back at me from the snow all around - was very glad that I had remembered my sunglasses! I took a breather and paused to admire the views of Beinn Ghlas
and the Ben Lawers
ridge - stunning.
I descended to the style and then attacked the steeper slopes that lead up underneath the main ridge of Meall nan Tarmachan
. These slopes were quite steep in places (possibly grade I due to the amount of snow) but with all the footprints and the high-quality of the hard snow, I was up without much effort. It was then a short walk up to the summit on good névé
At the top, the first breeze of the day greeted me - not much to distract from the views for as far as the eye could see in every direction. I gazed all around and tried to name as many of the hills that I recognised: Ben Vorlich
and Stuc a’ Chroin
to the South; Ben More
and Stob Binnein
to the Southwest; Meall Ghaordaidh
to the West; and the Mamores and the unmistakable Ben Nevis
to the Northwest… an unbelievable vista. It was simply breathtaking and it had a definite Alpine feel to the landscape.
The breeze was quite chilly, so I didn’t hang around too long and pressed on Westward along the broad snowy ridge. As I looked down to my left, I could see around six other teams heading over the spot height of 923m towards the summit. It was nice to have the open hills in front of me all to myself and I felt good that I had beaten the crowds to the first top. It was then that I noticed just how spectacular Meall Garbh looked before me. The snowy cone looked not-unlike the Matterhorn
in the current Alpine surroundings - out of this world.
I didn’t waste any time in attacking the mighty inviting peak and, after kicking into more good névé, was soon approaching the summit. At the top, the view of the surrounding peaks seemed even more impressive - the Ben was now particularly clear and didn’t appear very far away at all. Looking back to Meall nan Tarmachan, I saw that the other teams were descending the ridge after bagging the main top - from now I had the whole ridge all to myself… fine by me!
The next section proved to be the narrowest of the day but didn’t offer any difficulty due to the excellent conditions - just a tad slightly more exposure. After the narrow arete, the descent became quite steep and I had to down-climb a grade I snow slope (cutting steps) before I was able to traverse across to easier ground a join the main trail of footprints along the ridge once again. I found a lovely sheltered spot in the blazing sun and looking across towards the impressive ridge of Creag na Caillich and Beinn nan Eachan (my next target); I stopped for a munch and to enjoy the scenery.
After a lengthly pause, I headed on towards Beinn nan Eachan. On the way I spotted some good-looking ice that had cascaded down a large crag on the ridge. The ice was solid so I had a bit of a ‘play’ and climbed up to the top of the crag - great fun. There was a great deal of ice around and all looked to be of the highest quality - conditions must be fabulous on the Ben right now.
I was soon approaching the top of Beinn nan Eachan - just in time to see a raven leave the summit cairn - much to my delight. From here I was treated to a fantastic view of the East face of Creag na Caillich
. I knew there was the option to descend from the col before heading up to the fourth and final top, but I was having so much fun that there was simply no way I was doing that - I wanted the complete circuit. Looking across at the wintery crags, I could see that they were heavily filled out with plenty of snow and I spotted an easy-looking diagonal line of descent; just along towards the end of the ridge after the final summit. A plan was now hatched.
It wasn’t long before I was crunching over more hard snow to summit cairn of Creag na Caillich and looking East to a majestic-looking Meall Ghaordaidh
and a green Glen Lochay. I headed along down the final part of the ridge a peered over the small solid cornice - I could see the line sweeping down below to my left. After a bit of hacking, swinging and digging I was through the cornice and bounding down the solid slopes towards the corrie basin - only pausing to check out the ice conditions above. I could see that Great Gully
looked in excellent condition and there was a large icefall directly above me that was as white as milk - begging to be climbed. I suddenly found myself wanting for a longer day, more reserves of energy and my technical climbing axes. Another time.
I traversed the grassy slopes over the soft snow and headed for the old abandoned quarry. With plenty of daylight left, I made the most of the large boulders and stretched out as I ate the remainder of my food for the day. I sat for around an hour, soaking up the rays and reflecting on what an amazing day it had been. I was totally elated and thankful for such an experience, as I know only too well that: you don’t get many days like this in Scotland in winter.
All that was left was to get the poles out and power back along the track to the car. The track was firm so I made swift progress and was back at the car before 5pm.
A truly special day.