The new year period in Scotland is traditionally a time of unsettled weather, but this year was different. We enjoyed some of the best conditions of recent years, especially for walking, though the climbers managed to find a bit of ice to play on.
The highlight for me was finally completing the Ballachulish Horshoe (Beinn a' Bheithir, comprising the two Munros of Sgorr Dhearg and Sgorr Dhonuill). I started it once many years ago, in my first ever week in the Scottish Highlands, but abandoned it after the first summit due to miserable weather, and have promised myself a rematch ever since. And what a rematch it was - clear blue skies, light winds, perfect visibility, and snow cover most of the way down to the glens.
We opted for the NE ridge of Sgorr Bhan (described in the guide as difficult in winter). On several occasions I thought I was going to regret the decision, as we tried to find a way round some of the harder sections instead of tackling them direct - but in every case the confident approach turned out to be the easiest. Tough going breaking trail through deep snow along the corniced ridge of Sgorr Dhearg was followed by a delightful stroll up and down the ridge until we eventually cut down through the forest into Gleann Chaolais just as the sun was setting.
The following day's weather was not due to be so good, but of course we went out anyway, and were rewarded by conditions even better than on Monday. Carmen, Charles and I went to to the hills just north of Bridge of Orchy - the sort of thing that not many people would do if it weren't for the Munro ticks. However, contrary to the rather dreary lumps predicted by Butterfield, the whole day was superb. We started with a long walk in by the river, made more interesting by crossing a river in spate but at the same time half frozen: I opted for the socks-off-boot-on wading option, the others went for the walk-half-a-mile-upstream to a crossing point manouevre. I reached the other side fractionally ahead!
Then it was up through a delightful patch of Scots Pine forest, and on to the main ridge by way of a fine corrie. A short detour to the first summit (later discovered to be on the list of sub-McTavish's or something like that, much to Charles's joy) was followed by Beinn a' Chreachain, a fine traverse of the long wide ridge of Meall Buidhe, then over Beinn Achaladair to begin the descent, again just as the sun was setting. Interest was maintained by the frequent water ice on the paths down the glen, particularly tough going in the fading light.
The next day was New year's eve, and the threatened deterioration finally arrived. Peter, Annie, carmen and I took the opportunity for a "quick" ascent of the Pap of Glencoe. Ice on the path to the col slowed us down, and then high winds and deep powder made for an exciting ascent of the final section. A quick photo stop at the summit was followed by an equally exciting descent, and we returned to the car just before the heavens opened.
Graeme and Rob took the opportunity to play on some ice in the Lost Valley.
Most of us stayed on for New Year's eve, and most of us even managed to stay awake throughout the festivities, the main exceptions being Simon F (unless he censors this from the newsletter) and, uncharacteristically, Graeme.
New Year's Day was a day off due to hangovers, bad weather, and the climbing wall being unexpectedly closed!
As a fitting end to the week, the weather improved again. Simon, Debra, Peter, Carmen and I walked up Sgor na h-Ulaidh, the 'hidden' Munro of Glencoe, and well worth the effort for the views. A planned continuation over the Corbett of Meall Lighiche was abandoned as it was clear of snow (after the previous days' rain) and looked rather dull. Graeme and Rob meanwhile took in a couple of the summits of Bidean nam Bian.
In summary - one of the best New Year trips for quite a while.