Hill: Beinn a' Chaorainn (almost!)
Date: 1st January 2016
Company: Myself and Heavy
Distance: 19.7km, Ascent: 905m
Time: 7Hrs 15Mins

Following an outstanding Hogmanay feast, plentiful drinks and seeing in the bells in the company of the Moray Mountaineering Club, after a few hours sleep myself and Heavy were first up and out of the bunkhouse and onto the hills on New Year's Day 2016.

We set off with a view to ascending Beinn a' Chaorainn from the East; a fine rocky side to the hill not seen by walkers who undertake the standard circuit of Beinn a' Chaorainn with its neighbour Beinn Teallach (a bit like walkers heading up the Ben Nevis Tourist Path and missing out on seeing the Ben's fine North Face).

Click here to see a map of the route undertaken

The snow was down to road level when we parked at, and set off from, Roughburn. The walk up through the forest was fairly tranquil with minimal wind and surprisingly no bird song. The only wildlife we saw all day was two grouse.

The 4km through the forest passed in no time at all thanks to lots of very interesting conversation. Heavy's knowledge and experience of the hills is incredible. As well as having completed seven rounds of Munros and three rounds of Munro Tops, Heavy spent 36 years in RAF Mountain Rescue (many of which as Team Leader), has been on numerous international expeditions and has even been awarded the BEM and MBE for services to Mountain Rescue. He is also a really friendly top bloke.

As we approached the edge of the forest after c.4km of walking, we saw a number of sets of fresh footprints in the snow. Despite setting off fairly early, we were not the first on the hill! We soon caught up with and passed a group of six climbers who were walking in for an ascent of Beinn a' Chaorainn's East ridge. On clearing the forest we stopped for a short break to take some photos.

Looking towards Creag Meagaidh range:

On the track leading to Coire na h-Uamha:

As we cleared the next section of forest, we caught our first views of Beinn a' Chaorainn. There was much more snow on the Eastern flanks of Beinn a' Chaorainn than expected and all of the snow was fresh and unconsolidated.

We ruled out an ascent of the East ridge owing to the snow being unconsolidated, not having a rope with us, the fact we could see cornices already formed at the top of the coire and because we would not be first on the route; we could see a solo climber already on the East ridge. According to UKC, the East ridge is a Grade II* winter climb (and a Grade 2 scramble in summer).

Beinn a' Chaorainn:

We therefore continued along the track with a view to picking out a route up the edge of Coire na h-Uamha.

Coire na h-Uamha:

Climber soloing the East Ridge of Beinn a' Chaorainn:

On leaving the track, we made our way across towards Coire na h-Uamha at a pleasant pace.

Heavy ascending lower slopes of Coire na h-Uamha:

As we made our way up towards the coire, we could see that the six we passed on the track earlier in the day were now also on the easy lower section of the East ridge.

More climbers on the initial ascent of the East Ridge of Beinn a' Chaorainn:

During the ascent of the coire, we found many of the rocks were covered with a thin coating of ice. I was already glad we had decided not to attempt the East ridge unroped!

Heavy ascending Coire na h-Uamha:

Ascending Coire na h-Uamha:

Our route up the hill provided excellent views of the coire, a small unnamed lochan and the East ridge.

Great view ascending the rim of Coire na h-Uamha:

Ascending the rim of Coire na h-Uamha:

Looking towards 1049m top of Beinn a' Chaorainn:

On reaching a steeper section of the ridge, with an area of boulderfield, we stopped to put on crampons, get our axes out and put on our helmets. I temporarily stuck my bulky DSLR into the rucksack to allow me to see my feet. The next few photos are therefore courtesy of Heavy.

Ascending a section of boulderfield on the coire rim (Photo by Heavy):

Myself ascending the coire rim (Photo by Heavy):

Steep ground (photo by Heavy):

On stepping out of the coire and onto the ridge, the windspeed increased significantly. The wind was sufficiently strong to blow us about and the spindrift was limiting visibility. It was quite unpleasant but we continued on after I put on ski goggles.

Onto the wide ridge:

Getting blasted by spindrift (photo by Heavy):

However, by the time we reached a height of 1020m, and were just a couple of hundred metres distant from the summit of the Munro Top, the wind speed had further increased and the visibility further decreased to the point that we both thought, "sod this".

We had both done these hills previously and to progress further would not have been enjoyable to say the least. We therefore about turned and made our way back down the ridge heading for the Bealach a' Bharnish. Despite still getting blown about, it was much more pleasant to walk with the wind at our backs instead of walking directly into it. Heavy suggested the windspeed was gusting to 50-60mph.

On approaching Bealach a' Bharnish, we found the first potential shelter since going onto the ridge. We crouched down behind a large boulder to have some food and drink before continuing on.

From the bealach out to the car was straight-forward.

Descent from Bealach a' Bharnish:

Looking back towards Bealach a' Bharnish:

Again, I enjoyed lots of great conversation during the walk out. While it was a little disappointing not to have summited, it was however still an outstanding day out in great company. You can still have a great day out without summiting.

When I come back to re-do this hill, I will definitely head back round the Eastern side as it a far superior route to the standard route/circuit for this hill.

Cheers Heavy .