Our blog - Blackmount Munros, 7-8 Apr'18

A blog of our mountain adventures in Scotland, hiking, biking, rock-scrambling and more !

Blackmount Munros

7-8 April 2018
Two guided days on the Munros above the Black Mount in winter conditions. John Walker was leading....

Despite it being officially Spring, the weather has been quite wintry still, with much snow on the hills making some judicious route planning necessary. Our plan this weekend was for the four munros that make up the Black Mount area - Stob a'Choire Odhair, Stob Ghabhar, Meall a'Bhuiridh and Creise. The forecast was warmer, and for light winds which was most welcome, but with variable cloud conditions, so whiteout was a depressingly likely situation as it has been regularly of late = Hard work navigating!

Day 1

Undeterred of course, we met at the car park at Victoria bridge, and smartly made our way up the stalker's path towards our first objective, Stob a'Choire Odhair. The first point of note was the very high river caused by the melt-water, so that set my mind off thinking of how to return safely. Also, as we ascended, the snow was very deep, but wet and unconsolidated. That gave some concern for how safe it would be to try to ascend Stob Ghabhar by the normal route which joins the Aonach Eagach - No, not the famous one I grant you, but narrow enough in near zero visibility, heavily corniced with wet snow.

We made our first summit easily enough, as the topography is straightforward and safe, leading you directly to the top. Mind, I had my work cut out breaking trail, and that set the scene for the rest of the weekend. Whereas days before I had the benefit of snowshoes in the Cairngorms, here it was tedious and strenuous post-holing hour after hour. Still, at least the cloud swirled a little and gave us some great moody views. The consolation was that the snow made the descent very easy and rapid, and we revelled in the support of gravity as we tramped downwards. Therein lay the rub though - We decided to drop back down into Coire Toaig (Toad Coire..... love it!), and contour round to pick up the broader SE ridge of Stob Ghabhar, which meant losing a good bit of height. Better to be safe than sorry though. It also meant tackling the swollen Toad Burn, which we did with aplomb and only a damp foot or two.

The ascent was then very straightforward, however there was sufficient ice under the slush to mean crampons were used as we picked our way in the gloomy flat light towards the ridge. Just as I was thinking 'we must be nearly there', there was an almost imperceptible change in the light, and there we were, only a few metres from the corniced edge! You have to be so very careful in these conditions, and despite a line of previous footprints, I was very cautious to ensure we kept a healthy distance from the edge, not easy in the deep drifts. After a while the angle steepened, and there was our second summit.

The descent was simply a case of following our tracks back until we got below the cloud, and then making a bee-line for the forest edge and the bridge over the Allt Toaig, as we were never going to be able to cross it. We couldn't resist a few bum slides to liven things up though :) A fairly long and challenging day given the wet snow, poor visibility and detour, but the group were fit, relentlessly cheerful and a pleasure to be with despite it all....roll on tomorrow.

Day 2

Sunday's forecast was much better, and we spent much of it in sunshine. Indeed, it felt fairly Alpine at times. There was enough cloud to make us work again at times, but the lifting and breaks make the views all the more pleasing. We walked up under the ski lift at the White Corries, and broke out onto the broad N ridge of Meall a'Bhuiridh to get away from the skiers. The aspect again meant crampons were in order for added security and efficiency, and we plodded to the top without incident. There were no views, so without much delay we set off down the ridge towards Creise.

This is quite a broad stony ridge in summer, with just a steep path through rocky outcrops as it rises onto Creise's broad summit ridge. Today it had huge snow aretes, cornices and all manner of route-finding challenges in the mist. For safety I kept broadly to the S side, where there was more available rock, but this did feel a little exposed at times. The team did fantastically, making their way steadily and deliberately, as is required in such terrain. Then came the steepening. Luckily I could see that the exit, whilst steep, was not corniced, despite immense cornices all along, so we checked our crampons and up we went.

I kicked deep steps to aid progress, and with a gentle tug on the rucksack straps, helped the guys make the last move onto the plateau. Exciting stuff. The 1k tramp to the summit was easy in comparison, though a tiny cairn had been built some way back from the gigantic cornice at the edge, and we were more than happy to call it a day there! We also got a break in the cloud, with extensive views over Glen Etive, Glen Coe and the Mamores.

So, now the descent. Climbing steep snow is one thing. Descending it is quite another. We discussed maybe setting up a rope, but as a group decided that it would be quicker and easier if I just climbed alongside everyone one at a time, giving instruction and a wee helping hand if required. So that's what we did, and with some careful foot and axe placements, we all got down to easier ground without much ado. It did mean I had to go up and down five extra times, but hey ho, the sun was out and it was fun. Talking of fun, we saw two skiers ascend it and descend it in their boots.....hats off!

The arete back to Meall a'Bhuiridh was now bathed in sunshine, so I was able to pick an enjoyable and less absorbing route back, though it was tough going in the deep snow at times. It was a tired group that made their second summiting of it that day, but again, the views were spectacular. Then it was crampons off and a really rapid descent back to the ski area, punctuated in my case at least by some cracking bum slides :)

At the lifts, four of us jumped on, whilst Vikki and Orion stoically decided to walk down. We waved teasingly as we glided by, legs quite happy with our decision. After waiting for the others at the bottom, we made our farewells. A really enjoyable couple of days with a very fit and motivated group. A pleasure.

More photos by John Walker are here on Flickr.

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