Climbing into the freezer

Beinn a’ Chaorainn (1052m); Beinn Teallach (915m)

  • Pronunciation:           Bine uh Chooereen; Bine Chyalloch
  • Translation:                Mountain of the Rowan Tree; Mountain of the Forge (or Fireplace)
  • Total distance:           17.9km
  • Total time:                  7hrs 50mins
  • Total ascent:               1214m
  • Weather:                     Perfect. Beautifully clear and sunny all day. Very light to no wind. Cold at start -11.5°C and -6.5°C at end.
  • Start / end location:  1.2km beyond (east of) Laggan Dam (on A86). [Grid Ref: NN 380 814]
  • Map:                              A map of route can be found here– it may take a few moments to load into a separate window.

    Sunrise from low on Beinn a' Chaorainn

At 08:00 it was minus 11.5°C as we were putting on our boots in the lay-by at the start of the climb. It had reached -14.5°C on the journey over from Fort William earlier in the morning. It would be like climbing into the freezer with the snow lying thickly right down to the roadside.

Elaine trudging up deep snow on Beinn a' Chaorainn

Actually, the air was so dry that it didn’t feel too cold at all. There weren’t even any clouds of moisture as we exhaled. Such intense cold and dryness generally catches on your throat and makes you cough a bit when you get back home – which it did.

The route began with just over a 1km of walking along a forestry track. By the looks of it a few days earlier two people had skied along this track with wide touring skies. We were grateful to be able to use their compacted tracks. The track eventually came to a T-junction and we took the turning to the left. After only about 80m a small track led off to the right through a cutting or narrow firebreak in the forest, eventually leading out onto the open hillside. The start of this track was marked with a very small cairn and for 50m or so the ground was very muddy. The tree canopy covering the track seemed to have prevented the frost from penetrating the ground and turning it rock solid.

Looking towards The Grey Corries and Aonach Mor from Beinn a' Chaorainn

Once out of the forest a large stile lifted us over the tall deer fence and from this point the whole length and width of the SW ridge of Beinn a’ Chaorainn was laid out in front of us.

As the snow was very thick, and there was no indication of where the path was meant to be on such a broad expanse of hillside, all we could do was to trudge ever upwards. For the first 30 minutes it felt okay, but after an hour it just became a drag and it couldn’t have ended soon enough. Breaking trail in such deep snow is a real chore!

Cameron on summit ridge of Beinn a' Chaorainn

Beinn a’ Chaorainn has three peaks on its long summit ridge: with the middle one at 1052m or 3,452’ being marginally the highest. At the first and second peaks the wind was blowing just a little bit, but at such cold temperatures it quickly started to chill us: especially if we had halted for a lunch stop. Our aim instead was to do the third peak before descending to the col with the next Munro before stopping for tea and a sandwich. However, after as we dropped down between the second and third peaks the wind died away and we were able to stop for a brief lunch break.

Looking towards Beinn Teallach from Beinn a' Chaorainn

From the summit ridge of Beinn a’ Chaorainn we had a fabulous view in all directions. Immediately to the NE was the huge expanse of Craig Meagaidh – with its long smoothly slopping SW arm extending from its huge summit plateau right down nearly to the roadside. The conditions looked perfect for a fantastically long ski touring descent. The other side of Craig Meagaidh provides the usual approach to this mountain, which shows off its steep NE cliffs – loved by ice climbers.

Elaine, Cameron and summit cairn on Beinn a' Chaorainn

After lunch we ascended to the third peak of Beinn a’ Chaorainn before continuing in a NNW direction down a broad open expanse of hillside to reach the plateau at Tom Mor. There were a few sections on the descent that we were able to slide down on our behinds! This dropped us down to a height of about 625m, from where we had to ascend up the NE ridge to the left of Coire Dubh Sguadaig to reach the summit of Beinn Teallach (915m or 3002’). The summit is the second cairned top as approached from our direction of ascent.

Arctic shapes on top of Beinn a' Chaorainn

The descent route from here was once again “pick your own” through the deep snowfields on the south flank. At least on the way down we could take giant plunging strides – which saw us quickly back down to rejoin the forestry track: this time being able to avoid the muddy firebreak route through the trees.

Back at the lay-by and the temperature gauge was still only reading -6.5°C: it had been a cold outing in the freezer!

Elaine nearing summit of Beinn Teallach

Summit cairn on Beinn Teallach with western mountains in the background

About Cameron Speirs

Born and brought up in the Scottish Highlands, Cameron, has been interested in outdoor pursuits since he was a wee lad. Over the last few decades he has climbed extensively in the Italian Dolomites as well as summiting the Matterhorn and several other 4000m alpine peaks. Closer to home he has spent many wonderful weekends mountaineering and biking in Snowdonia, Cairngorms, Glen Coe, Skye and Lochaber.
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1 Response to Climbing into the freezer

  1. Dave Palmer says:

    Good going in those conditions; judging by how high the snow was on Elaine’s legs and the temperatures. The sky over The Grey Corries and Aonach Mor is awesome, real ice blues.

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