Having not been well the past couple of months and only recently recovering, I needed to get out. Rather than the traditional Meal a' Bhuachaille I chose the somewhat further munro of Bynack More. I hadn't been up it for many years and would give me a good work out. The past 2 days had seen close to zero temperatures and rain at Nairn. Hopefully I might get some snow. Feeling significantly down on fitness I opted to forego the ironmongery - ice axe and crampons. With the clocks changing I made use of the extra hour in bed which made the alarm in the morning slightly less unwelcome.
My early start rewarded me with a parking space at the end of the Glenmore Lodge Road. Given the temperature when I got out of the van, and the amount of snow I could see on the journey down, I opted for my original 'winter boots', the Aku Super Alp. Heavy but dependable and I'd be able to walk in them without too much bother on the gravel and stony tracks. I chatted to the guy parked behind me. He had a boxer dog, and was part of a large group. All going in my direction. As I passed by, An Lochan Uaine was looking lovely as ever. The surface completely calm with clear reflections of the scree and trees on the steep slope behind. Continuing on, at the path junction I took the right hand fork towards the Lairig an Laoigh and Bynack More. Reaching Bynack Stable, which used to have a small hut but no remains now exist, I looked up towards the hills. The picture was grim. Low cloud hung around, grey and cold. Same for Strath Nethy. The paths were clear but slushy snow covered the heather, hiding all hint of colour in the landscape.
Early morning sun just touching Meal a' Bhuachaille
I was there for a workout, so I crossed the bridge over the River Nethy and picked up my pace. Soon I had to open zips and vents to keep cool enough. I kept up the pace as best I could. As I gained height slush became thicker snow even on the path. The sky cleared to blue, and the sun shone. What a glorious morning to be out! Such a contrast to less than an hour earlier. The guy I met at the road end came past me heading back. His dodgy ankle was playing him up. I'd also been passed by a lady who was also with his group.
Cloud clearing over Sron a' Cha-No
Heading for the summit ridge on Bynack More
Above the first ridge is a wide plateau with An Lurg to the north east, and the 818m top on the way to Bynack More to the south. Here the snow was quite deep, maybe 6 inches overlaying the paths and heather. Another junction and fork right for the hill, I followed the line of footprints ranging from a mere 4inches deep to post-hole knee height with a slushy burn or drain in the bottom. Progress was now slow and very hard work. Ahead the summit ridge of Bynack More dominated the skyline. Presenting a steep sided triangle it looked formidable. I regretted leaving my ice axe at home. The snow was too powdery for crampons, but an axe would have given better security on the steep climb to the summit ridge proper.
View across Stac na h-lolaire to Meall a' Bhuachaille
Summit ridge of Bynack More
The line of footprints made for a collection of rocks where two people were chatting. Another two members of the group that set out ahead of me. We chatted, and they recommended just following the footprints straight up the end of the ridge. They had seen their friends climb it without much bother. The trail was easy at first, then getting much steeper and in places exceedingly precarious. At this point I was really regretting not having an ice axe. A walking pole is no substitute for the stability of a good axe placement. Reaching the edge of the summit ridge I still had about 750m still to go. Along the ridge lay rocks and boulders. Immediately I was struggling to step up and push off to get on the rocks. I used my knee to get over the first, then found some sloping rocks with no foot or hand holds. No matter what I did I could not clamber up. I had run out of power in my legs, muscles turning to jelly. Without an axe I was again in a precarious situation. Unable to hook the pick over a rock and use my arms to pull myself up. I diverted from the footprints and scouted round for an alternate way. More obstacles lay to either side, but I managed to get over a rock and proceed back to the trail. My legs were done in. I could see ahead there was more of the same. With me getting clumsy I figured it was time to stop before I pushed my luck too far. I slid back down over the rocks I'd fought to climb, to a small flat area. Stopping to catch my breath, I had a drink, and took a few photos. I knew it was the right decision to head back.
Looking across to Cairngorm
Snow and sunstars on Bynack More
Returning without touching the summit is always a disappointment. Just this was one of those times pushing on tired and out of power would have been dangerous. Even on the return, steep rock obstacles, and an even steeper slope off the end of the ridge where a too tired or misplaced step would send me sliding at speed into the rocks below just wasn't worth the risk. I'd achieved my day's objective. Now to get home in one piece.
Looking back to Bynack More