Monday, 21 November 2011

The snow hole that never was (part two). A retro blog.

..................Fast forward almost two years and we were once more planning a snow hole trip on Bein Ime. This time we were better prepared in every respect. Heavy snowfall had been followed by a thaw then a prolonged period of high pressure and freezing temperatures. What this meant was that I'd seen exactly how much snow was on the hills and knew that although the snow cover was patchy there were deep snow patches remaining which importantly would be frozen hard and would be really safe for digging into. The weather was forecast to break but we hoped to grab the last opportunity to get out beforehand. 
We parked up in the same lay by as the previous igloo trip and started getting ready.
Shuzzy had learned the lessons of the previous trip and now had a good quality down sleeping bag and Goretex bivi bag and some more techy clothing including a down jacket. He'd elected to make the ascent with a new split snowboard (we'd acquired one each to use for back country tours). I'd explained to him that there wasn't going to be much snow but he was keen to try out the split board for the first time. I decided to save the weight and just walk.
As you can see we also set off in the daylight this time as well!
As we got a bit further up the hill the cloud inversion that had kept our hometown of Helensburgh under a blanket of cloud for days came into view.
We had to stop briefly while Shuzz tended to a blister caused by his snowboard boots rubbing his heel (if you will go hill walking in snowboard boots!)
Chance for me to have a rest and take in the view then it was onwards and upwards to the top of the corrie head wall as the sun started to drop below the hills.
The light from the setting sun was stunning as it lit Bein Ime in it's glow. I think by now Shuzz was beginning to realise the folly of bringing his snowboard.
As we reached the bealach the sun dipped below the hills and we could tell we were in for a spectacular sunset.
There was no question of stopping lower down the hill this time, we knew the only chance of finding decent conditions for a snow hole were right on the northeastern flank of the summit so after a breather on the bealach we set off again.
This view is back down towards the bealach with the Cobbler behind and the flank of Ben Narnain on the left. 

The mountains poking through the clouds in the distance are on the Isle of Arran.
We could also just make out the red light on top of the chimney on Inverkip power station sticking through the cloud far to the south.
We were now high enough to have increasingly large patches of snow to cross.
Shuzz finally had the opportunity to deploy his split board and try skiing on climbing skins for the first time in his life!
He was able to ski to quite close to the summit before the slopes became too rocky and the snow too patchy so we found a level area so that he could remove the skis.
After that it was a short climb up to the summit cairn (and a new Munro for Shuzz).
With the obligatory summit photo out the way we sauntered over to the northeastern aspect of the summit cone where I'd spied a big patch of drifted snow through the binos whilst at work. This area had looked promising for digging a hole and sure enough the gully on that side of the summit was loaded with perfect hard neve snow (ideal for digging a snow hole). At this point though we decided that it would be sacrilege to spend the night below the surface when the sky was so crystal clear and the stars so bright. We elected instead to build a wall to act as a windbreak and bivi outside so we could look up from our sleeping bags and admire the heavens! We started cutting snow blocks which proved much easier with the hard snow (compared to the slush we'd had to use to build the igloo).
Although it was easy to form the blocks it was still hard work and Shuzzy had to have a lie down once we'd finished!
We moved into our shelter and got into our sleeping bags to keep warm (a few hundred quids worth of North Face down ensured there would be no repeat of the igloo experience for Shuzz!)
Once we'd settled in it was time for some food. As we were only out for one night there was no need to skimp on convenience food so we had salmon fillets with spicy couscous and sweet corn. The only problem was the speed at which it cooled down while we ate it (a sure sign of how low the temperature was).
After dinner we settled down to chat and stargaze until we fell asleep.The night sky was incredibly clear with the lack of light and atmospheric pollution and we were treated to quite a show with satellites, shooting stars and other celestial bodies.
The night passed without any dramas this time (other than the daunting task of answering the call of nature in such freezing conditions!) In the early hours the sky started to cloud over and the wind started to pick up as forecast. As soon as it came light we ate a hurried breakfast, packed up and prepared to descend before the inevitable precipitation arrived.
Shuzzy balanced precariously on the frozen snow with our shelter and the summit cairn behind.
Once we descended a little Shuzz strapped on his board and put in a few turns on the iron hard snow. It wasn't too pleasurable with the snow conditions so he soon resorted to walking again.
We were soon far enough down the mountain to be certain we could make it back to the car before the rain started.
In comparison with the igloo trip this one went off without a hitch and it really was a privilege to be in such a place on such a stunning night.
I still want to sleep in a snow hole at some point though!

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