Hillwalking

Glen Coe’s Lost Valley winter traversal



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A DREICH START TO THE DAY

Arriving at the large car park overlooking the Three Sisters in Glen Coe, the rain that had been threatening to fall all morning finally burst through the clouds. Looking up to the Lost Valley, all we could see was clag hiding the rugged beauty of the Bidean nam Bian range behind it. We’d come this far though and had four days of hillwalking planned. Hesitantly, we stepped out from the warmth of the car and into the cold spring morning to prepare for a grim and gruelling day.

The plan for the day was to head through the Lost Valley to reach Bealach Dearg on our way up Stob Coire Sgreamhach. I had previously been up both Munros here; Bidean nam Bian and Stob Coire Sgreamhach. Dyan had only been up Bidean nam Bian before though so we were here to rectify that.

The further we walked into the Lost Valley though, the worse the conditions looked up ahead. Low lying cloud hung over the whole range and a huge cornice of snow below Bealach Dearg looked extremely dangerous. Without crampons with us, it was looking like we weren’t going to make it. We spotted two fellow walkers halfway up the gully towards Bealach Dearg so kept an eye on their progress. Nearing the cornice, they seemed to stop for an eternity before finally turning back to make the slow descent towards us again. That sealed the deal for us then, we couldn’t risk attempting it.

Staring up at the Three Sisters as we started our day.

Staring up at the Three Sisters as we started our day.

Reaching the Lost Valley with poor conditions up ahead.

Reaching the Lost Valley with poor conditions up ahead.

LOST FOR WORDS IN THE LOST VALLEY

Not knowing whether to call it a day, Dyan then came up with a great idea to push north-west onto the bealach just below Bidean nam Bian. We would use that to reach Stob Coire nan Lochan instead which would be a lot safer but still provide us with stunning views. The weather was beginning to clear by this point so this was now a very enticing option for us. It seemed that with every step we took the weather and conditions were improving considerably more. The clouds began to shift, making way for blue skies and warming sunshine. And the damp grass and mud made way for crisp and clean snow that hadn’t long fallen. Suddenly, out of nowhere, we were in a winter wonderland.

It was worth the wait when we finally reached the snow.

It was worth the wait when we finally reached the snow.

Heading for the bealach between Bidean nam Bian and Stob Coire nan Lochan.

Heading for the bealach between Bidean nam Bian and Stob Coire nan Lochan.

Looking pretty chuffed with ourselves for not turning back earlier.

Looking pretty chuffed with ourselves for not turning back earlier.

A REWARDING CLIMB

With a new lease of life, we pushed higher and higher towards the bealach. The near-perfect winter conditions and complete lack of any other walkers now made us feel like we were in another world. Some deep rumblings in the distance broke the silence. We glanced up to see a small avalanche in one of the eastern gullies below Bidean nam Bian. We were feeling very happy with our decision to not only stay out when the weather wasn’t great but also to have avoided the steep and clearly dangerous gullies.

The final climb to reach the bealach was some of the most exhilarating winter mountaineering I’ve ever experienced. The great wall of snow ahead of us was forever rising, getting steeper and steeper into the sky. For every step I made forward, it seemed to multiply in height above me, making it impossible to progress higher without taking great care to kick steps into the soft snow. I was enjoying the moment so much that time passed by in an instant and with my next step, my head was over the top. The wind hit me like a tidal wave as I clambered onto the bealach to be greeted with stunning vistas every way I looked. The knife edge ridge of snow to my left leading up to the summit of Bidean nam Bian looked extremely inviting. We kept our plan to play it safe though and made for the simpler ridge on our right leading up Stob Coire nan Lochan where two skiers were just reaching the bealach from the other side.

The view up towards Stob Coire nan Lochan from the bealach was worth the effort.

The view up towards Stob Coire nan Lochan from the bealach was worth the effort.

We were't fully prepared to tackle Bidean nam Bian on this day.

We were’t fully prepared to tackle Bidean nam Bian on this day.

STUNNING VIEWS OF GLEN COE

The views continuously improved as we fought the wind on our way up the ridge, finally opening up completely when we reached the summit of Stob Coire nan Lochan. The sun was peeking in and out from behind the clouds but visibility was still fantastic in all directions. I do take great satisfaction from looking out over an area to see many summits I’ve stood on before. When I last stood on this summit seven years ago, I was en route to my first Munro in Glen Coe. Now I stood there having been up everything in the area with a wealth of memories surrounding me. We could have sat there for hours picking out distant hills in the skyline and reminiscing on past experiences. With more hills planned the following day though, we didn’t want a late one so it was time to descend back down to normality for another day.

Extensive views back across the whole Bidean nam Bian range from the summit of Stob Coire nan Lochan.

Extensive views back across the whole Bidean nam Bian range from the summit of Stob Coire nan Lochan.

Standing on the summit with the elusive Stob Coire Sgreamhach behind me.

Standing on the summit with the elusive Stob Coire Sgreamhach behind me.

THE ONLY WAY DOWN

On the way down we passed the two skiers from before who were sitting with their legs dangling over the edge of a perilously steep gully. They seemed to be preparing themselves mentally and physically for something amazing. We never stuck around to watch though as they weren’t quite ready. We were really feeling the harsh bite of the wind on our faces so continued downwards. The next section down the north ridge of Stob Coire nan Lochan was the most tricky of the day. We hadn’t needed crampons until now but the cold wind had blown the exposed snow into solid ice on top. A few slips and trips later, we were past the worst of it without any real danger and down into another calm corrie.

And the reward for our patience was the largest and smoothest slopes of fresh snow we’d seen all winter, perfect for sliding down. We spent the next short while effortlessly glissading down towards Glen Coe. A welcome break for our weary legs and a great way to end a spectacular day.

The quickest way back to Glen Coe? Glissading of course!

The quickest way back to Glen Coe? Glissading of course!

This herd of deer grazing in Glen Coe was a nice end to the day.

This herd of deer grazing in Glen Coe was a nice end to the day.

And so the day finished without us reaching our planned Munro of Stob Coire Sgreamhach. Or any Munro for that matter, which we found quite ironic considering we had ascended all the way to 1115m. But we didn’t care. At one point we were almost turning back. We even questioned whether to bother getting out of the car at all in the beginning. And now here we were smiling from ear to ear after an unforgettable day out in Glen Coe. Even to this day, Scotland stills blows my mind.

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    Big Bad Bill
    30th March 2018 at 1:36 pm

    Great to see the pen back in your hand Highland Wanderer. As ever, a fantastic report along with stunning pics.

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