Date: Saturday 20th January
Distance: 19 miles
Munro Count: 1
Munro: Bynack More (and A’Choinneach (1017m)
Who with: JP
We arrived in Aviemore on Friday afternoon, after a very snowy drive up from Lancashire! A stunning drive, once we had cleared the blizzards around Glasgow, with some stunning views across Perthshire all the way to Aviemore. Conditions were looking very good indeed.
We had an early start to the day, setting off from our cottage in Aviemore at 6.30am, before parking just past Glenmore Lodge, alongside a number of camper vans, who had picked a lovely spot for an evening stop-over. We donned our gear, whilst trying not to wake our neighbours and left the car at around 7.10am, with our head torches on.
On a lovely cold (-5 degrees C) and crisp morning, we made our way on the footpath heading towards Ryvoan, through the lovely woodlands surrounding the Glenmore Lodge training centre, with only the crunch of the snow underfoot for noise. As night was slowly turning to day, we headed through the silhouettes of the surrounding hills, passing the small loch on the right, before following the right-hand fork in the path (the left heading towards Ryvoan Bothy).
The silence was deafening, and we heard a number of deer in the woods, snapping branches as they moved. Our path started to gradually climb, south of Loch a’ Gharb-choire, and the light started to increase, leading to a beautiful vista across the Eastern Fells, a number of miles in the distance. A stunning morning indeed, and with only a light wind at present, it was looking good for the day ahead.
We reached the footbridge, which offers a dry crossing of Strath Nethy, which are two features that will be prominent in this blog post! Upon crossing the footbridge, we made our way up the path in what was soft snow, but relatively good conditions. We were lucky enough to see a Ptarmigan and a few mountain hares on our travels.
As we gained height, the snow started to get a bit crisper, as we ascended the path on the East side of An Lurg, which leads on towards Bynack More. The wind was increasing steadily as we gained height, and the conditions were glorious, as we ascended. We stopped by the distinctive rock, in the shadows of Bynack, to put on our crampons, in preparation for the ascent.
It was here we had a bite to eat, and met three ill-equiped (in my opinion) walkers, who had spent the night in Ryvoan Bothy, and were planning to ascend ahead of us. They had no winter gear on, and they lacked crampons and ice axes, which I would have said were a MUST in the conditions. They were not for heeding our advice though, so they pressed on.
We made our way up the steep, final section of Bynack More (1090m), before summiting, where the conditions were starting to worsen, as the winds were increasing and the clouds starting to move in. This brought visibility right down to only a few metres at times.
Conditions were far too windy to hang around, and we still had a good bit of the walk to go, so we crossed the plateau towards A’Choinneach (1017m), after passing the Barns of Bynack. It was here where the snow was sitting at quite a depth and progress started to significantly slow, in what were now white-out conditions. After a very slow slog up our next summit, the wind was gusting at over 60mph (I estimate), and the light was beginning to go, with us having about 2 hours daylight left.
We had our head torches though and are confident with a map and compass, so we were not worried, instead making a call to my wife to inform her that it would be a late finish! We followed the path on the map that dropped down off A’Choinneach (1017m), to the Saddle, at the top of Strath Nethy (I said this would be a prominent feature in the blog post!), above the loch.
We soon realised that the going was to be very slow, in what was very deep snow, in the valley. Even with our best efforts of picking our route, the snow conditions were hard going, and we still had about 7.5km to get back to the footbridge! This was somewhat de-moralising, and we pain-stakingly followed the River down to the footbridge over boggy, snowy and wet conditions.
We FINALLY, albeit extremely tired, made it back to the path by the footbridge and retraced our path, along the 4-5km path back to the car, under a fantastic night sky – full of stars, and constellations. We saw numerous shooting stars, which would have been enjoyed much more, if it hadn’t been such a long day!
We arrived back at the car at midnight, so a VERY long day, considering we set off at 7.10am! It was now -6 degrees C, and our neighbours in the camper vans were back in bed. I put the car on to warm up and de-ice the windscreen which was frozen solid. I had taken off my crampons a while back, after reaching the footbridge, but JP kept his on, and they were now frozen solid. He ended up taking his boots off with his crampons still attached until they defrosted. All good fun!
JP and I, both consider ourselves to be experienced in the mountains, and have a good deal of experience in winter, but as we ‘slogged’ our way through the valley, we discussed how others may have panicked or been tempted to call Mountain Rescue, knowing that darkness was approaching. It raised the question of the chaps we met earlier who did not have the correct winter equipment with them, instead having small rucksacks, which couldn’t possibly have had everything they needed for a ‘just in case’ situation. Would they have been ok? Could they have navigated in the dark, or with literally no visibility in white out? The easy thing to do is panic, or to call Mountain Rescue, but for us, it just raised the question of being prepared (both equipment and skills wise) before venturing into the mountains, not just in winter, but anytime, although winter makes the hazards and consequences far more real.
We knew that we had the skills, and it was just a case of getting our heads down and trudging on, but even for us, who were experienced, well equipped and with the right skills, it was a very tough day. For others it may have not been such a positive ending, and even during the week we spent up in the Cairngorms, there were three major Mountain Rescue call outs, with at least one fatality. Even reading these stories, people still take unnecessary chances in winter, and venture onto the fells ill-equipped. Accidents happen to the most competent, but some situations are very much avoidable.