Hillwalking

A classic winters day on the Tarmachan Ridge



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ANOTHER WINTER ADVENTURE

Another sunny day, another winter adventure in the mountains of Scotland. This time we were heading for the Tarmachan Ridge. After doing three walks in four days the previous week in fantastic winter conditions, we were becoming a wee bit addicted to it. A bit late in the season to be just getting into our winter stride but better late than never.

Fresh off a night shift, Dyan was adamant she could manage this walk without any sleep. Anything less than eight hours sleep for me and I can barely function just sitting at a desk so I wasn’t sure we would complete the day as planned. A wee kip in the car on the journey up though and she seemed fighting fit for the day ahead. I was already impressed! Meall nan Tarmachan was the Munro we’d be tackling, it was one I’d completed six years ago but it was new for Dyan. I always fancied revisiting it in better conditions and this seemed like it would be the perfect day for it.

As we left the car park, there was barely a breeze and within five minute we were already shedding layers due to the unexpected heat. We pushed straight west to begin with to get onto the southern ridge of Meall nan Tarmachan. As we reached it, the views of the full Tarmachan Ridge ahead of us came into view fully and it looked spectacular. Scanning our eyes across the full ridge, we couldn’t see a single person up there. It seemed that if we made it up there, we could have the place to ourselves. We were in no rush to get there yet though. Now that the lighter nights were upon us, we had hours of daylight ahead so were just taking our time and enjoying the views. With Ben Lawers towering above us to our right, and a snow-covered Tarmachan Ridge stretching out to our left.

The views quickly open up over Lochan na Lairige and the Lawers Range.

The views quickly open up over Lochan na Lairige and the Lawers Range.

Looking across to the Tarmachan Ridge with Meall nan Tarmachan summit on the right.

Looking across to the Tarmachan Ridge with Meall nan Tarmachan summit on the right.

CLAMBERING PAST THE CROWDS

The car park was absolutely mobbed with people and cars when we started off so we weren’t surprised when we finally caught up with the crowds further up. There were large groups of walkers and a few smaller groups of people lugging skis up on their backs. It seemed that almost everyone was turning back at the final ascent to the summit of Meall nan Tarmachan though. A steep wall of snow near the top was turning a simple walk into quite a tricky winter climb. Although we didn’t have crampons with us, the final ascent wasn’t as bad as expected. There were steps already kicked into the snow which wasn’t too hard or icy. We had our ice axes to help and the runoff below wasn’t steep or rocky so it was worth a go. And what fun it was!

Dyan somehow still standing without any sleep!

Dyan somehow still standing without any sleep!

Well deserved views over Loch Tay after climbing past the crowds.

Well deserved views over Loch Tay after climbing past the crowds.

The final push to the summit of Meall nan Tarmachan was an exciting climb.

The final push to the summit of Meall nan Tarmachan was an exciting climb.

TARMACHAN RIDGE TRAVERSE

As we scrambled over the small cornice atop the final ascent, we looked up to see a simply awesome view of the Tarmachan Ridge ahead. The blue sky above us peppered with light, fluffy clouds and the horizon filled with snow-topped peaks. It was bliss. The only other signs of life were two skiers who had also pushed their way up past the crowds to reach this snow-covered plateau. We would pass each other several times for the rest of the day as it seemed we were all happy to take regular stops and soak up the scenery.

The sharp triangular peak ahead of us was Meall Garbh, which was our next port of call. On the way there, we decided it was the perfect time to stop for lunch. With no people in sight and not even the slightest hint of a breeze or sound to hear, we felt like we were alone in another world. It was a stark contrast to the ferocious winds we braved on Stob Coire nan Lochan in Glencoe just seven days previously.

After lying in the sun for not nearly enough time, we reluctantly pulled ourselves to our feet and sprang back into action. Meall Garbh was on our radar once again and being quite a short ridge, wasn’t far away at all. Before we knew it, we were on its summit and looking across the narrowest section of the Tarmachan Ridge ahead of us. After spending some time here to enjoy one of the best parts of the day, we continued down towards the bealach between Meall Garbh and Beinn nan Eachan.

We were rewarded with this spectacular view of the Tarmachan Ridge from the summit.

We were rewarded with this spectacular view of the Tarmachan Ridge from the summit.

Elated to be out in such amazing conditions.

Elated to be out in such amazing conditions.

Dyan eyeing up the approach towards Meall Garbh.

Dyan eyeing up the approach towards Meall Garbh.

Soaking up the views from the Tarmachan Ridge.

Soaking up the views from the Tarmachan Ridge.

DODGY DESCENT

It was here we met our first real trouble of the day. The previous scrambles on our ascent of Meall nan Tarmachan paled in comparison to what lay ahead of us now. The route seemed to disappear below us steeper than anything we’d seen before. I carefully shuffled my way along the ice, closer to the edge. For every step I took, the hill disappeared below me ever steeper. I couldn’t see the bottom of the slope and every footprint we followed on the way stopped abruptly here. It was not looking good. We searched the area for alternative routes but were surrounded by steep drops in every direction. I never like turning back but it was the smart choice this time. Without crampons, we would be asking for trouble in trying such a dodgy descent.

So for the second week in a row, we changed our plans due to severe winter conditions. Having already done the most enjoyable part of the walk though, we weren’t too upset. It also meant we were able to walk the narrow ridge section again. Once back atop Meall Garbh, we opted to descend directly from there down its south ridge instead of going back towards Meall nan Tarmachan. With steep cliffs down to our left, we were sure not to step too close to the large cornices overhanging the corrie below.

After turning back, we opted to descend via the south ridge of Meall Garbh.

After turning back, we opted to descend via the south ridge of Meall Garbh.

Looking back up to the Tarmachan Ridge and Lawers Range.

Looking back up to the Tarmachan Ridge and Lawers Range.

Still very large and deep cornices even into April.

Still very large and deep cornices even into April.

A GREAT FINISH

As we neared the base of the ridge, just before it flattened out, there was a long sweeping slope below us. Perfect for one final glissade. Having done a lot of them recently, I’ve fine-tuned my technique using an ice axe to control my speed and direction. My GPS recorded me as reaching a top speed of 18.6mph on this particular slide. Surely a new record for me.

After some final sliding down the last few slopes, we met up with the main track back to the car park. There was still some heavy snow filling in the track here so the walking was quite tough for the last mile or so. It was made easier though by the fine views across Loch Tay looking up towards Ben Vorlich and Stuc a’ Chroin.

One final gigantic glissade to finish the day off.

One final gigantic glissade to finish the day off.

Picking on speed on the final descent.

Picking on speed on the final descent.

Ben Vorlich and Stuc a' Chroin providing the views for the return walk.

Ben Vorlich and Stuc a’ Chroin providing the views for the return walk.

By the time we made it back to the car park, the masses of crowds had left. Considering how busy it was at the beginning of the day, we only passed nine separate people along the top of the Tarmachan Ridge. A pleasant surprise to have such an amazing place in such perfect conditions basically to ourselves. With spring just around the corner, that will probably be our last walk of the season in full winter conditions. And what a walk it was to finish on!

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    Big Bad Bill
    3rd April 2018 at 1:02 pm

    Majestic….

  • Reply
    david mackenzie
    3rd April 2018 at 9:51 pm

    A stunning narrative of a hill and ridge I plan on climbing very soon.

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