A washed out Christmas in Glencoe

Ok, I’m not stupid enough to expect perfect weather in Glencoe in December.

Perfect weather is awful for landscape photography anyway. Rain is lovely. Strong winds are.. er…  ok, as long as you can weigh the tripod down. The two together… well there isn’t a great deal you can do.

I managed a couple of shots from the Pap of Glencoe on the first day, but nearly all of the first four out of six were lost to such a delightful combination, with temperatures around 6c. That’s more like Glencoe in August not Glencoe in December. Still, at least there were no midges (I’m damn sure I saw some midges).

Christmas day gave the first hints of things picking up slightly, the sky only casually dripping, whereas previously it had been expelling the stuff that hits you twice, once on the way down and once when it bounces hard and high off the ground.

I’d promised Radio Cumbria I’d be up a mountain on Christmas day, and also promised myself a white Christmas, so I was going to have to head high. I aimed for Bidean nam Bian via Coire nam Beitheach – the route closest to where I was staying.

The camera was desperate to be shown some action, so shortly after wandering past the Clachaig Inn (closed for Christmas) the tripod was out on the banks of the River Coe, the famously toothy Aonach Eagach ridge doing the job in the background. (Photo below actually from Christmas eve, during a brief lull in the wind.)

I didn’t linger long, as daylight hours were short and there was some walking to be done.

Ascending the path above Loch Achtriochtan, things were most definitely calmer and drier than the previous day when I’d ventured a little way up, the waterfalls on the Allt Coire nam Beitheach once again tumbling directly downhill rather than being whipped skywards in huge arcs of spray.

The path for this route up Bidean is good, pitched a lot of the way, and my biggest headaches were the couple of stream crossings after so much rain and snowmelt.

Occasional small patches of overhead blue that had appeared earlier were now long gone, with rain once again beginning to fall from leaden skies as I ascended higher up into the corrie, the snowline finally in sight, but rocky tops fading away in thicker cloud.

Soon I was high enough for the rain to turn to snow, and then reached the snow on the ground, which was where the hard work started.

Now, I like snow. You may have noticed this. But we had a bit of a falling out over the next hour or so, during which time I managed to cover about 400 metres.

The thaw meant the snow was soft and deep and wet, and there was no sign of any other idiots having trampled the same route in recent hours.

With each step the surface offered a tantalising hint of resistance, before giving way and kindly allowing to sink up to the tops of my thighs.

It. Was. Hard. Work.

The camera had long been put away, and due to a subsequent phone malfunction I’ve lost all phone pics, but Instagram has preserved one, taken somewhere high up in the corrie.

A post shared by Stewart Smith (@stewyphoto) on

I persevered, the goal being to at least touch the top of the ridge, which I eventually did. I couldn’t see much from there (although there was only really one way to go) and everything I’ve read says Bidean’s a complex mountain, so as it was an unknown for me I decided to retreat. There wouldn’t be much daylight left by the time I returned anyway.

Back down in the glen I still found time for another shot by the river (the route just travelled passes the waterfalls high up on the right).

The forecast for Boxing day promised even more glimpses of holes in the sky, and even suggested I may stay dry…

Though under no illusions as to my ability to cope with exposure, I wanted to get a closer look at the Aonach Eagach just to, well, scare myself really. Happily the munros at either end are rather more easily scaled than the ridge itself, so I’d planned Sgorr nam Fiannaidh for my last day.

Heading out under clearing skies and emerging sunshine(!), the route took me the same way as the Pap of Glencoe on the first day, before veering right at the col before the final ascent of the Pap and then over Cnap Glas to Sgorr nam Fiannaidh.

I normally aim for lack of civilisation in most of my shots, but the shock of sunlight made me shoot the view over the village and Loch Leven with Garbh Bheinn in the background.

With the clearer skies it was a much colder day, and thankfully for my thighs everything was much firmer underfoot.

As if I wasn’t happy enough already, I surprised a mountain hare on Cnap Glas. I’m no wildlife photographer so didn’t even attempt to capture what would end up as blurred white streak. I just stood and watched him bounce off before finding another retreat in amongst rocks higher up.

The going was again a little slow higher up. It’s mainly rocky terrain and the cold cloudy night had left a coating of verglas over everything. Patches of solid snow appeared here and there, but there wasn’t enough of a link between them to make it worthwhile putting the crampons on.

I ended up aiming for these patches and cutting steps with the ice axe instead. Slow progress, but in a more fun way than the previous day.

The clouds had been regrouping during the morning, descending and hugging the summits on and off, and I wasn’t sure how much of a view I’d have when I reached the top.

Topping out on to the ridge… well it was a pretty damn good view considering what I’d had for the rest of the week! Right down through the glen to Rannoch Moor, and even a couple of patches of remaining sunlight.

There was possibly some overexcited jumping about like a loon at this point, but no one else was there so it didn’t matter. It was a fine end to the week.

I squeezed off a close up of the Aonach Eagach and then a panorama before the cloud rolled in, the light went and soon so did the views.

I never did get my proper close up view of the ridge, but it’ll be there another day. As will I.

You can see more Glencoe images from this and other trips in the gallery.

 

 

 

 

 

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4 Responses to A washed out Christmas in Glencoe

  1. I love your writing – informative but also makes me smile 🙂 Beautiful photos too of course and I absolutely love the one taken over the village.

  2. tookiebunten says:

    Can’t believe how unlucky you have been with the weather, well yes I can… however Glencoe is never a wasted trip 🙂

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