|Tim Gomersall setting off|
Setting off up Ben Nevis in the dark we were very excited - the forecast for the day was perfect, and the snow cover looked good too. We had debated whether to do the round as a run or a ski, and even now I am not sure what the fastest option would be. The benefits of running are of course lighter gear and less kit faff, whereas the ski mountaineering benefits would be ease of travel over (some types of) snow, as well as faster descents which would likely save the legs compared to running downhill. Snow conditions would be a huge factor as skis would have the edge in soft conditions, whereas on this day conditions were set to be fairly firm and scoured, so would the skis be a hindrance or a help? I have long been fascinated with the idea of doing this Round using skimo kit - would it be possible?
The problems of doing a round like this with traditional ski mountaineering kit are mainly the weight of equipment and also the faff time for 'transitions' from uphill mode to downhill; from skis on to cramponing, etc. With modern lightweight skimo equipment these problems are largely overcome as transitions can be made very quickly with functional 'race' systems, and also the skis are light and short allowing them to be easily carried on the back without much detriment.
First light on top of Ben Nevis. Perfect clear skies and no wind. Moonlight and stars. I let out a whoop skiing some nice snow down to the Carn Mor Dearg Arete. Crossing this on foot we continued into the rising dawn. Very firm down to the Carn Mor Dearg - Aonach Mor col. Steep cramponing up firm neve to the plateau. After this things started warming up a bit in the sun and we made steady progress along the Grey Corries, mainly on skis with some foot sections when steep or rocky. Off Stob Ban (Grey Corries) we had a fantastic spring-like ski down east of Meall a Bhuirich and grass hopped right to the river Abhainn Rath. A quick barefoot river crossing wasn't so bad as the sun was out and we got a breather and a chance to take on water.
|Tim skiing off Ben Nevis towards CMD Arete in the half light|
|Fast conditions on CMD Arete|
|Skiing down to CMD - Aonach Mor col by moonlit dawn|
|Up to Aonach Mor plateau|
|Approaching Aonach Mor plateau with Ben Nevis and Carn Mor Dearg behind|
|Sunrise: descending Aonach Mor for Aonach Beag|
|Stob Coire Bhealaich gully off Aonach Beag|
|Grey Corries traversing|
|Stob Choire Claurigh|
|Descent all the way to the river Abhainn Rath on ski|
Crossing ranges, we now skinned up the long and lovely northeast ridge of Sgurr Eilde Mor. From this summit we crossed to Binnein Beag and found a brilliant half pipe gully of soft snow near the crossing of the Allt Coire a' Bhinnein's southernmost fingers. For Binnein Beag we left the skis and bags for an out-and-back. Skiiing off Binnean Mor and traversing Pt 1062 to descent to the col east of Na Gruagaichean was rewarding, but the descent from Na Gruagaichean itself was icy and chattery on skis. Another out-and-back to An Gearanach as the evening light was deepening. From Stob Coire a' Chairn down was a fun ridge-ski, and up Am Bodach felt steep. The last out-and-back along the Devil's Ridge to Sgurr a' Mhaim was a final 'crux' and we again left the skis and proceeded on foot for this. Darkness finally descended on arrival back at the skis and a surprisingly good headtorch ski down to Lochan Coire nam Miseach and some opportunistic water.
|Looking from Sgurr Eilder Mor NE ridge towards Binnein Beag and Ben Nevis|
|Nice snow gully below Coire an Lochain of Sgurr Eilde Mor|
|Rising traverse towards Binnein Beag|
|Descending into evening light towards Am Bodach|
Skiing off Stob Ban (Mamores) was unconsolidated and rocky so we had a short walk, but then got skinning again along the final section to Mullach nan Coirean. Chat was fairly minimal by now with necessary information communicated in grunts. After descending down the final northeast ridge a ways on foot we had a nice ski down beside the fence and then switched to trainers for the final 4km run out to the Youth Hostel.
|Dark again: somewhere near Stob Ban (Mamores)|
|Finished: at Glen Nevis Youth Hostel|
This was another unforgettable hill day - for pure length; for variety and interest; for perfect winter weather. From being barefoot in the warm(ish) sun at the valley river crossing, to being fully layered in the dark with increasing wind going up Stob Ban (Mamores) many hours later. I had long thought that this Round could be done utilising skis as a tool for travel in the winter mountains, and I'm very pleased that we managed to turn this into a reality.
GPS trace here:
My watch battery was running low so I switched to my phone at Sgorr an Lubhair (being careful to take this into account in the timings). Annoyingly the GPS trace for some reason hasn't worked between starting at the Glen Nevis YH and Aonach Mor.
Split times to follow