Friday 26 January 2018

Past Winter Days: Garbh Bheinn of Ardgour

The summit

Looking through old files I found this story of a long ago winter visit to Garbh Bheinn  of Ardgour. I really must go back one day.

Garbh Bheinn of Ardgour is one of the great neglected Highland hills. Many will have looked west to its dramatic dark ragged pyramid from Glencoe and Ballachulish but far fewer take the Corran ferry across Loch Linnhe and set foot on its rough slopes, even though it’s one of the finest hills in the West Highlands. The reason is simple. Garbh Bheinn misses Munro status by just 30 metres; enough to explain why it’s disregarded by most hillwalkers. 

Garbh Bheinn

I first headed to Garbh Bheinn early one year. As often on short deep winter trips with brief daylight hours I planned on setting up a wild camp below the hill one afternoon, climbing the peak the next day then walking out that evening.

The forecast was for cloudy weather with temperatures around zero at night in the glens and perhaps a little snow high up with light to moderate winds. The weather had been cold for several days and I knew there was snow and ice high up. My gear was selected for the likely conditions on the hill and with long winter nights in mind, when I like to have enough warm clothing that I don’t have to lie cocooned in my sleeping bag all the time plus a gas or candle lantern for a little warmth and to light up the tent porch.


My camp was in Coire an Iubhair, a fine curving corrie between steep mountain slopes. From here I climbed up the steep rocky side of the long ridge of Sron a’ Gharbh Choire Bhig and then to the summit of Garbh Bheinn. It was a very rough ascent. Low down the ground was frozen in places though soft in others, and there were patches of ice. Above 450 metres everything was frozen with increasing snow cover as I climbed. Mostly this snow was quite thin but there were some deep drifts and I went thigh deep into one. In places the snow was packed hard by the wind and I had to kick steps. Otherwise thin ice glazing on rocks, frozen icy turf, burns frozen into slippery bobbles of ice and skims of snow hiding sheets of ice meant constant care was needed. Slipping was easy; staying upright a little harder. There were many small crags and big boulders that might make interesting scrambles in summer. Alone on a cold January day they seemed best avoided so I wound a way up shallow gullies and between the rocky outcrops into the cloud swirling round the summit. The SW wind was cold and the temperature on top -1°C. I had intended descending the north ridge to the head of Coire an Iubhair but this is steeper and rockier than the ascent route so, given the mist and the ice, I decided it was prudent to return the same way. 

Loch Linnhe from the Corran Ferry

The piece first appeared in TGO magazine,accompanied by a much longer one about the gear I used.

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