Training Day on Buachaille Etive Mòr, Scrambling in Glencoe
‘You can’t eat a view, no matter how beautiful’
Most of our Guides working in Glencoe and Ben Nevis are members of the Association of Mountaineering Instructors. One of the main benefits is Continuous Professional Development. Often shortened to 'CPD"
We started off in the cafe at the Glencoe Ski Centre, sadly burnt down a few months later, before a sprint passed the Lagangarbh Hut, owned by the National Trust for Scotland, but it has been a Scottish Mountaineering Club hut since 1946. It was formerly a crofting home with two rooms up and down, the thick walls attest to the harsh weather it has had to cope with. It must have been a very tough life raising cattle and crops on the poor soil and even worse weather. I am not sure who came up with the phrase, ‘You can’t eat a view, no matter how beautiful‘ but it really applies this high up in Glencoe.
‘The Herder of the Hills’
We carried on over the River Coupall onto the classic mountain of Glencoe, Buachaille Etive Mòr or the ‘Herder of the Hills’. You often hear it called the ‘Shepherd of the Hills’, some Gaelic speakers object to this name as they felt that sheepherding was not a major Highland activity when the mountain got its name. Sheepherding, they argue, only really came to the Highlands during the ‘Clearances’ and that the original word used by those living in Glencoe would be ‘herder’ or ‘herdsman’.
Buachaille Etive Mòr has many world-class scrambles and climbs, many can be done in both summer and winter. But ‘the Buachaille’ as it is often shortened to, has a number of avalanche traps in winter and needs careful route choice to keep safe.
My favourite route is Curved Ridge as it can be climbed in virtually any conditions. One memorable day even the tips of my toes got wet. While the weather was wild the real problem was the prototype fabric I was testing for a world leader in outdoor fabric. Sorry, can’t say who as we had to sign a legal agreement not to name them. That rather wet day on Buachaille Etive Mor lead me to stop being a fabric tester as I felt after the total failure of the experimental fabric, being cold and wet high up on a technical mountaineering route created a genuine risk.
‘ …during my first climbs on Buachaille Etive Mòr the challenge was finding the routes’
I first climbed on ‘the Buachaille’ in the early 90’s as a teenager, with my then-girlfriend (now wife and mother to our two children) while we stayed in the Lagangarbh hut. The strong wind, heavy low cloud and rain meant that during my first climbs on Buachaille Etive Mòr, the challenge was finding the routes, rather than the technical difficulties of climbing them. Luckily the Lagangarbh hut has good drying facilities.
If you are using the ‘car park’ by the side of the A82 on the way to the hut, be warned. Over the last few years the potholes in the car park have become car eating monsters, the odd lump of tarmac, presumably left by opportunistic road repair teams at the end of a hard day have created sump crunching teeth to add to the trouble. Now I often park on the roadside rather than the ‘car park’, having to recently unload the car of the passengers to help it clear a particularly hungry hole.
On the AMI training day we did not reach the summit on this day, mainly as an increasing amount of ice higher up meant we would have to use the crampons and axes we had brought, changing the focus from purely scrambling and onto winter climbing, which while fun was not the aim of the day.
We literally ran back down the mountain and had a long chat back at the roadside while we watched people scrap the bottom of the pots holes the depth of a bath and then back to the cafe for tea and cakes!
I learnt a lot that day, especially about parking the car in Glencoe
Ben Nevis from Glencoe with the Devils Staircase in the mid-ground