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Beinn a Bheithir

Mountain of the Monster, Sgorr Dhearg - Red Peak and Sgorr Dhonuill - Donald's Peak
Saturday 24th February 2001. uk.rec.walking expedition to Glencoe

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This was the last day of a great fortnight in the Highlands for me. For Martin, Jhimmy and Chris it was the begining of their few days. We had all met in the Kingshouse Hotel the previous evening and made plans over a pint or two. I'm not sure why it happened but the next morning we all met up at a different place to the one we intended, so finding ourselves in the carpark of the Ballaculish Tourist Information Centre we proceded to put on boots and consider taking things out of our rucsacs trying to keep the weight down to managable levels.

We set off through the streets of the town aiming for Gleann an Fhiodh. As soon as we were through the fence of the last field we headed up the steep slopes of the north-east ridge of Sgor Bhan. This gains 800m in the space of two kilometres and gets steeper as it goes so needless to say we spent a fair amount of time resting using the time to look at the view into Glen Coe and to wonder at the ugliness of the plantation opposite us and also to try to figure out why the group that we could see ahead of us were moving so slowly.

The reason for the slow progress became apparent when we reached the point where the ridge steepens. Not wanting to stick to the ridge in the blustery conditions we took to the alternative, the rather precarious ledges on the south face, which led us to steep snow slopes which we went up front-pointing and using the picks of our ice axes.

The angle of ascent was worryingly steep and we tried our best not to think what would happen if we came across an unstable patch of snow. All the time we were on this part of the mountain there were snow flurries blowing about us and covering the old snow with a few centimetres of fresh powder. Looking back in hindsight we ought to have used a rope at this point.

We made it to the more gentle slopes and proceeded through the gathering clouds to the top of Sgor Bhan where we stopped for lunch and re-arrange clothing as it was rather cold now we were out of the shelter of the ridge. Breaks in the cloud revealed the graceful curving ridge leading to Sgorr Dhearg along with its cornice, so keeping a safe distance back we made our way to the top where the only remains of the trig point were three bolts sticking up out of the snow. We didn't hang about here because the cloud was spoiling the view.

Those of us with a map to hand could see we had to go a long way down to the bealach between the two Munros before regaining all but 25 or so metres to get the second tick of the day. The bealach is in fact 250m below the tops and we were able to see all of them too as the clouds cleared as we got to the bealach revealing the view in all its beauty. Which was handy as it gave us an excuse to rest as we made our way over several false summits to the real one, which was guarded by a final steepening and a short snow arrete.

We had taken quite a long time to get to Sgorr Dhonuill and it was about 3:30pm before we made our way to the west to look for a descent route. Though the lateness of the hour made for stunning views over the glistening snow dusted with fluries of spindrift out to the shining sea. Views so good they demanded to be captured on film. We wandered round looking at suitable places to tackle the steep slopes into Gleann a Chaolain and found a gully that had obviously seen previous ascents and descents and we felt we could trust it not to avalance as we went down it.

There was much debate afterwards as to how steep this gully was some of us being adamant that it was as steep as 45° but when we eventually got the map out later and did a bit of elementary trigonometry it came out as nearer 30°. From the foot of the gully there was a path of sorts to the forest edge and then a rough path through the trees to the main forest road that lead on through the by now semi-darkness down to the road near to Ballachulish. It was fully dark by the time we got back to the carpark and a check of the GPS log showed we had covered 16.75 km in 10 hours.

Detailed map 1:50,000

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