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Lawers & Tarmachan

5-6 December 2015
This weekend John was leading our event on the Lawers 7 and the Tarmachan Ridge from Killin. We'd been watching the weather forecasts on the leadup to the days - cold and unsettled, breezy and snow falling. Here's his tale of the days...

A cold summit Not to be daunted by the forecasts, we (Blair, Helen, Ewan and myself) trimmed our 7 Munro objective for day, and decided to use the tail wind and go initially for Beinn Ghlas and Ben Lawers, then see what would happen. After passing a couple of cars that were using the passing places to park for fear of getting stuck, we tucked in just inside the car park gates, thankful of our four wheel drive, and set off in maybe 15cm of snow. The ascent went well, the snow getting deeper and the ground more frozen as we climbed. The wind wasn't really troublesome, and after getting out our axes and having a little refresher on moving over consolidated neve which had been exposed, we made the Beinn Ghlas's summit without needing crampons.

After a lunch stop in my emergency shelter, (which was a bit of a contortion act as usual!), we started our ascent of Ben Lawers. Visibility was poor, with a lot of spindrift and hill fog leading to occasional whiteout conditions, but they were only momentary, and by avoiding the iced rocks, we made the summit no problem. Then, as we opted to turnabout for a descent, the wind really picked up, making standing very difficult, and movement impossible without goggles. We had to crouch and help each other get them out before we could move off. It was then a case of avoiding the ice again, and picking our way back down to bealach. Poor Ewan struggled, as his hat blocked the vents on his goggles, and he misted up, so had to remove them, and his eyes took a good old stinging. Always difficult to prevent that.

Ice axes out Once past the bealach we took the contouring route back around the North coire of Beinn Ghlas, regularly up to our waists in the deep drifts. It was hard work, band unfortunately continued right back until the fence at the Nature Trail, as the snow had drifted over all semblance of the path, and the new drainage ditches were a real trap. Time and time again we found ourselves waist deep and floundering. It was hard. physical effort, but also very funny - we giggled and teased each other as we slowly descended. We were plastered in ice and snow, and most happy to get back to the car in the encroaching darkness, and make a bee-line for the roaring fire in the Bridge of Lochay hotel. A full-on winter's day on the mountain, which proves judicious route choice can ensure rather than feeling you have only achieved a third of your objective, you have actually feel like you have really triumphed.

The other good thing about the roaring fire is that it allows you to assess the next day's forecast and review again - the ridge was obviously out, but in the conditions, even the one Munro summit of Meall nan Tarmachan would prove a worthy objective.

Deep snow Sunday began with a drive up to the car park, which was even snowier than Saturday. We were joined today by Glen and Katie, who had driven their X3 up and was strategically parked to allow an exit as the snow continued to fall. We set off along the track, and found the post marking the path west that sets off up the hillside towards the south ridge of Meall nan Tarmachan. That's all we saw. It was very hard going in the deep snow, and got harder as we climbed. We helped each other by swapping trail-breaking, but it has to be said Blair did the lion's share, thank you from all of us!

Winter After the 923m point, I started fretting over the amount of snow that was being moved about by the wind, and did not like the loading on the route. After floundering in snow up to my chest, Blair again did a sterling job of breaking trail to the top of the shallow gully, but my unease continued. I instructed him to go from the few boulders that were showing, as 'islands of safety', but as he did, we were startled by a small avalanche of snow from the buttress apron above, maybe 15cm deep and 15m across. That was enough. Down!

Our group We scuttled off down in good order, until we knew we were definitely out of objective danger, and then we bum-slid and wallowed in the drifts to the bottom, where we were astonished at the amount of snow that had been blown away from the ridge in the strengthening wind - In the hour or so we had been on the steeper ground, 30cms of snow on average had been scoured and dumped on the Eastern slopes, which was of course our descent.

There was nothing for it but wade downwards. At least we were assisted by gravity, but it didn't prevent numerous face-plants and sinking in to your waist time and time again, which was hard to extricate from. We giggled and joked all the way down, and were treated to a gap in the snow and even a few shafts of sunlight too. We got to the cars plastered in snow and ice, having had a real snowy adventure. OK, we didn't get to the summit, but that is the reality of winter in the mountains - sometimes it goes, often it doesn't. We just have to ensure we obey the signs, and come back again later eh?

Thanks to the guys for a great weekend - Blair, Helen, Ewan, Glen and Katie, who never stopped smiling once, amazing for a teenager! ;)

More photos are up on our Flickr site !

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