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 - http://glencoe-cottages.co.uk). 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.