Friday 12 March 2010

Skiing the West Drumochter Munros

The big rounded hills either side of the Drumochter Pass are some of the most well known in the Highlands, lying as they do above the main road north to Inverness, though they make for unremarkable hillwalking. Navigation can be problematic in poor visibility as the terrain is often featureless. When it’s clear there are good views, especially over Loch Ericht to Ben Alder, but these can’t be described as exciting hills. I suspect that if they weren’t so accessible they would only be climbed by Munro baggers. However when under snow this all changes and the hills seem much bigger, more mountainous and more challenging. On skis they are a delight. However deep heather on the lower flanks means that much snow is needed for ski touring. This year’s exceptional snowfalls seemed ideal and a few days ago I took my skis for a circuit of the three Munros around long Coire Domhain, which stretches into the hills from the top of Drumochter. The Allt Coire Dhomhain was half-frozen, gurgling through icy boulders and below snow bridges, and the hills above shone in the sunshine as I set off up the corrie. Climbing skins on, I ascended the relentless slopes of the first summit, A’Mharconaich, a steady plod that I remembered as much tougher and more tedious when walking. Across the corrie the long ridge of Sgairneach Mhor looked impressive. The high level ski from A’Mharconaich over Beinn Udlaimain to this final summit gave great views of the surrounding snowy hills, a real arctic landscape stretching to the horizon in every direction. The rippled snow was refrozen and wind blasted, making descents tricky and requiring concentration as my light skis bounced and chattered over the hard surface. The noise of the traffic on the A9 road soon disappeared and from Beinn Udlamain, the highest and furthest from the road of these hills, though also the least distinctive, it was possible to believe that there was nothing but mountains for many miles. I had the hills to myself too, seeing just one distant party descending Sgairneach Mhor. When I reached it that descent, all the way back into Coire Dhomhain, was long and engrossing as I searched out the smoothest slopes for the easiest skiing and then, lower down, snow-filled shallow gullies between the big moraines that line the floor of the corrie. A firm snow bridge led across the burn then it was a final ski down the corrie in the dusk at the end of yet another fine day out in this long and wonderful winter.

Photo info: On the summit of Beinn Udlamain. Canon EOS 450D, 18-55@21mm, 1/200@ f8, ISO 100, tripod, raw file converted to JPEG in Lightroom 2.6

1 comment:

  1. Indeed -- passing south through Drumochter on the A9 on Monday morning, the mountains were looking magnificent. A distant Ben Alder stole the show for me (its bulk looking for all the world just a 15-minute stroll up the valley in such crisp, clear conditions), but the hills immediately west of the pass were indeed very tempting.

    No time to stop for me unfortunately, but I'm glad you got out there and have shared what I missed. Amazing how quickly the snow disappeared as we headed south too.