Evidence that it’s Spring in the Lowlands isn’t hard to spot when I’m out with the dogs at the moment but, as Cat and I took advantage of an encouraging weather forecast to head up Ben Cruachan on Sunday, it was clear that winter is still in control on the upper reaches of the mountains.
There were another couple of cars in the layby when we parked by the station by the power station visitor centre, but that was the nearest we came to encountering anyone on the hill all day. Conditions were absolutely fantastic, with only the occasional high level cloud in the bright blue sky. The sun was warm enough to necessitate stripping a layer or two on the way up, although the wind was bitingly cold when we left the shelter of the corrie floor.
Snow conditions were pretty mixed; we began the climb up to the main ridge on sun softened spring snow, which changed to a shallow layer of consolidating slab sitting on a hard icy layer higher up near the bealach above Coire Dearg. High up on the NE aspect of the coire, there was evidence of a fairly large cornice collapse, and old debris from snow melting off the crags littered our upward path. Cat found the upper section a bit intimidating, so rather than try and fiddle about putting on crampons mid-slope, I opted to demonstrate my step cutting ninja awesomeness. I treated myself to a new axe as a reward for passing my Winter ML, and, having opted to switch back to a longer 65cm length for hillwalking, was instantly reminded why a longer axe is preferable for this kind of general mountaineering as I dropped into an easy rhythm of slashing steps and improving them with my boots, giving Cat a nice secure staircase to follow.
Conditions along the main ridge between Ben Cruachan and Stob Daimh are beautifully alpine at the moment; a mix of firm snow and rocky steps which allow for fairly effortless progress, although it was important to keep a wary eye on the cornices which are still in place all along the north facing aspects. The views all around were pretty stunning, although the sheet of cloud which was blowing in from the east gradually obscured everything in that direction. One or two blobs of cloud made it as far as our location, coinciding with our arrival on Stob Diamh and Stob Dearg, and requiring a little bit of micro nav off the latter summit to make sure we didn’t stray onto the wrong ridge and end up down in Dalmally.
A quick stop in The Real Food Cafe rounded off an excellent ‘alpine’ day, but make no mistake folks – you still need to think ‘winter’ when you’re planning and packing for a day in the hills at the moment!