Bidean nam bian, December 1984

1/12/84 Bidean nam bian from Glen Etive

Route: Bidean nam bian (3766’) starting and finishing at Inbhir Fhaolain (Grampian Mountaineering Club hut in Glen Etive) 7 hrs, 9 miles approx. 

Myself, T. Walmsley, Alister and Fiona, were accompanied by four others – a large party. Eight of us left the excellent Grampian Club hut. I was the Club secretary who had booked the hut. We struck up the mountainside at the edge of a plantation, to the right of a gully. Extremely steep. We gained the summit after 90 minutes.  Along the ridge the north-facing slopes were slightly corniced. We saw the Lost Valley. In the distance, Nevis, with a light stripping of snow on the shoulders. Good ridge walking.  

The weather went from good to merely OK, though visibility remained. It was biting cold. I suffered from terrible cramps in the hip on the second top, Stob Coire Sgreamhach. From here to the highest top was the best bit. The snow curved away steeply for nearly a thousand feet on the North side. Our ice axes were as yet unused and still strapped to the back of our rucsacs. Don’t slip here! 

From Bidean nam bian we took ice axes in hand and descended over icy rock and scree and the occasional snowfield. The snow was safer; there was insufficient ice and snow on the rock for crampons, but boots alone were not adequate on the icy rock. We were happy to have axes for security.  The slope grew steeper and steeper, ever icy, and turned into a series of gullies. I would have roped up here and incurred some serious delay in exchange for security, but we all descended that gully free without mishap, but causing a good deal of rockfall. The gully took an hour or more of serious effort; so concentrated an effort that we didn’t notice how tired we were. We cleared the gullies in a long line, Tim at the front, and Ian far in the rear.  

As we descended, we saw a strange effect at the col far below (Bealach Fhionnghail). Clouds materialised (or perhaps “condensed” is the better word) in the left-hand glen, and flowed like a river over the col into the right-hand glen. This was picturesque in the extreme, especially at the start, when streamers of cloud (presumably resulting from a temperature inversion) swirled at speed over the col. It increased in magnitude until the col, and in due course both glens, were lost in a swirling, seething mass of white cloud. The beauty of it! It was too big to be photographed. It was a remarkable sight, deep in the mountains.  

We stopped for a bite to eat, descended to a col, and from there over extremely difficult ground down the very steep river valley of Glen Fhaolain. The low clouds had cleared, and we walked in winter afternoon overcast through a trackless valley. The valley and the forest beyond it fell to brute effort, though our party got split up in the woods and we spent some time in failing light pushing through pine trees, branches and twigs whipping at us. We came to a weir on the river, crossed the river and met up with the others. We reached for headtorches, and continued back to the Grampian hut as the sky faded to blue.