Glen Coe to the Great Wilderness - An impromptu 72 hour spring skiing tour of the Scottish Highlands

It was a midweek afternoon in early April and I was at a loose end in Fort William. Awaiting me back in Glasgow was a sizeable pile of pretty tedious admin work. In the back of my head I knew that I should get myself home and start making some headway through it all, but the weather was also sunny out, and I was right by the mountains, and I just so happened to have my skis with me. Quite a conundrum…

Within about 10 minutes I’d made an incredibly difficult decision and cemented plans to head up Stob Coire nam Beith that evening with Rob Kingsland (a skiing buddy who’s recently relocated up to Glencoe to run Glencoe Cottages, check it out if you’re looking for some ideally located accommodation in the area - Having seen that not one, but three different teams skied Summit Gully over the previous weekend (an elusive line that only seems to come into skiable condition relatively rarely) we decided to go and see what all the hype was about. Turns out, it was entirely justified.

Rob Kingsland hiking the final yards towards the summit of Stob Coire nam Beith.

Leaving the Loch Achtriochtan car park at 4.30pm, we reached the summit for 7pm just as the sun was beginning to set. From there it was skis on and straight into the gully, following an incredible 400m descent through the continuously interesting twists and turns of the gully, with incredible views out over Glen Coe the whole way. 

Skis on from the summit and straight into the relatively mellow top section of Summit Gully. The fun/slightly intimidating thing about this line (depending on your point of view) is you can't see most of it from the top, so unless you've climbed it beforehand then you've no idea what to expect from it on the way down (vs most Scottish gully lines which are either fairly short or dead straight so you can see down the length of them).

Into a slightly steeper mid-section. 10/10 Views!

Rob charging towards the narrows in Stob Coire nam Beith's Summit Gully. You can either go left or right of this big rock fin on the left, one of many variation options in this line that would make it worth going back for a second time!

There was more good weather in the forecast the following day and it was evident that Scotland could be hitting a sweet spot for spring skiing conditions, with lots of consolidated snow still left on the steeper lines and warm enough temperatures to render them skiable.  At the same time, that big pile of work at home wasn’t going to do itself, so another difficult decision beckoned. Never being one to pass up an opportunity to run away from real-world responsibilities, I drove north to the Great Wilderness.

Ever since seeing Craig Cameron's photos from skiing on An Teallach a few years back (which I still think are probably the best set of Scottish skiing photos I’ve ever seen), I’ve harboured a strong desire to go and ski there myself. An Teallach is a hard one to get right - for one it’s a long way to travel, and two the snow conditions are usually incredibly fickle. Buoyed from the evenings success on Stob Coire nam Beith, myself and Peter Mackenzie decided to take a punt on it the following day. Hiking into Glasgow Tholl, we climbed Hayfork Gully, before skiing directly south off the col down towards Toll an Lochain and the superbly impressive northern flanks of Sgùrr Fiona. With Pete needing to be back in Inverness for 5pm, we finished the day skiing back down Hayfork Gully, leaving me plenty to come back for to ski another day.

Pete Mackenzie approaching Glas Tholl, the northernmost of An Teallach's two main coires.

Boot-packing towards the foot of Hayfork Gully.

Not a bad spot for a warmup lap. Descending off the south side of Bidein a'Ghlas Thuill towards Toll an Lochain.

Arriving back at the col above Hayfork Gully.

Lap 2 - Into the mouth of Hayfork Gully.

It would have been easy to head home at this point, however I'd had a message from Scott Muir who happened to be driving north with Dave Anderson to try and ski on Skye. Just two weeks previously, myself and Scott had attempted to ski some of the impressive looking gully lines on Blà Bheinn. On that occasion the forecasted sunny weather never materialised (grey and overcast on Skye - shock, horror etc etc), so although the gullies still held plenty of snow, it turned out to be completely bulletproof. Scott managed to ski two of the gullies, however after putting in a couple of tentative turns on the completely inappropriate set of powder skis I was on (after predictably breaking my only sensible set of skis earlier in the season), I decided I wasn't really in the mood to chance my arm that day, so reluctantly climbed back out.

I had unfinished business, and Skye was kind of on the way home, so I of course headed west to join up with Scott and Dave in Broadford! 

Just over 36 hours in and we're onto Skye. Scott Muir hiking the southern flanks of Blà Bheinn. There was (slightly) more snow kicking about than this picture gives away, honest!

Conditions were looking warmer that day and we knew the Blà Bheinn gullies would still be holding more than enough snow. Round Two was definitely on! 

With the regular path up the east side of Blà Bheinn almost completely clear of snow we were able to set a quick pace to the summit, slowing only to answer the usual queries from slightly puzzled looking hillwalkers as to why we were carrying skis and where the hell the snow was. We kicked off by skiing the upper section of Summit Gully, to a point where it forks, with Summit gully continuing to skiers right and Pinnacle Gully breaking left. We skied down Pinnacle Gully (giving a total of 350m descent from the summit), before climbing back up to the fork and skiing the narrow lower section of Summit Gully, which unfortunately ended at a waterfall/cliff edge after another 100m of vertical. After climbing back to the summit, we skied down to the col between the north and south summits of Blà Bheinn, from where we were able to ski directly into Willink's Gully, another northwest facing line which offers superb views out to the main Cuillin Ridge. We were able to ski at least 250m vertical before the snow ran out, however earlier in the season you would’ve easily been able to continue much further. Climbing back up to the col, we then skied back out via Great Gully, which despite being SW facing took us all the way down to below the 600m line at the head of Fionna-Choire. I'd held ambitions to ski on Skye for a few years now so was very psyched to have finally managed to, particularly this late on in the season.

Dave Anderson in the lower section of Blà Bheinn's Pinnacle Gully.

Dave negotiating the narrows of Summit Gully.

Scott skiing off the summit of Blà Bheinn towards the col linking the north and south summits. (n.b. some of these photos were from my first attempt to ski here two weeks previously)

Skiing off the col into the stunningly situated Willink's Gully, a superbly situated line running down the west side of the mountain offering some impressive views out to Sgùrr nan Gillean and the northern half of the Cuillin ridge.

Dave lower down on Willink's Gully.

I knew how lucky I was to have crammed this much into two and a half days and I was more than happy to bank my winnings and head for home. During the walk down off Blà Bheinn I mentally prepared myself for the long five hour drive back to Glasgow and getting back behind a computer screen the following day. I was ready for it and absolutely nothing was going to sway me off course. At least that was until Scott and Dave dropped the bombshell that they were planning to ski on Beinn Eighe the following day.

Well, you can probably guess what happened next.

Amongst the giants of Torridon. Hiking up the south side of Beinn Eighe with the mighty ridgeline of Liathach behind.

Scott skiing the narrow upper section of 'Fuselage Gully' on Beinn Eighe. In 1951, a Lancaster bomber crashed directly below the summit of Còinneach Mòr, one of the tops of Beinn Eighe and the gully is named after the wreckage which now sits within it (some of which can be seen in the photo). In lean snow conditions, a large propellor which is part of the wreckage can require an abseil to bypass, however on this occasion it was completely banked out, with only the top 30cm or so visible.

Hiking towards Sail Mhor and Morrisons Gully, with views of Beinn Eighe's Triple Buttress, Fuselage Gully (the complete line running down the lookers right side of the buttress) and Liathach stretched out behind.

Dave skiing off the summit of Sail Mhor towards Morrison’s Gully on Beinn Eighe to round off a highly productive 72hrs!