Having arranged on UKC to meet Steve for a few days of walks/ easy climbs over Christmas, I drove north to Glen Shiel on the morning of the 23rd and myself, Steve and Lorenzo set out through soft powder to get to the start of the lovely mountaineering line that is Forcan Ridge. Fortunately for us, we had had a somewhat later start than planned as Steve's car had been stuck in the snow - this meant that someone ahead of us had forged a line of footsteps up the path as far as the start of the ridge proper, easing our workload somewhat! We were hoping that the wind may have taken some of the powder from the ridge, but this turned out not to be the case so much digging was needed to find holds. This was Steve's first winter route, so we roped up and moved together when the ridge narrowed, which I think we all appreciated. The downside to the late start was that we were running short on daylight by the time we got onto Sgurr nan Forcan, so descended via a gully on the left before the usual abseil to continue onto the Saddle itself. A bit of sliding later and we were traversing back round to re-join our trail from the morning. The moon, although only a crescent, was so bright we could see our shadows in the snow and didn't need headtorches to walk off at all. A perfect end to a great day on the hill!
Basing ourselves at Gerry's Hostel in Craig (near Achnashellach on the Kyle - Inverness road), Steve and I opted for a walk the following day. Setting off from Achnashellach station under eggshell blue skies, we headed up the track towards Beinn Liath Mhor - not that we could see the path, another day of powder-bashing was ahead of us! The sun shone all day, and there was very little wind which made it feel much warmer than the -5 the thermometer was reading. Following a tiring walk up to around 600m and some doubt about snow stability on the side of the hill, we opted not to go to the top. It was one of those days where the top doesn't matter so much as being out on the hill is so enjoyable by itself. Looking at the stunning views of snow-cloaked pristine landscapes in the fading afternoon light, we headed back to the hostel.
On Christmas Day, I was very keen to get to the top of something big-ish and after some debate we decided that Ben Wyvis might be a good option as there may be some tracks up it already. There were, up to around 400m, where people had been out skiing on the lower slopes. Once again, we were treated to blue skies and sunshine and we had a stunning panorama of Scotland in winter raiment from the top. Heading back to the hostel once more after my whitest Christmas to date, we finished the day with mince pies and a wee dram (or two) or Glenrothes. Mention should be made of Gerry's Hostel here - a 'proper' hostel, with lots of character (and a real character of an owner too!), a log fire, random furniture and a great atmosphere - highly recommended.
Now back to reality and some busy times for both the Ice Factor and the Clachaig over Hogmanay!