My question – ‘Anyone want to go for a last slide of the season this weekend?’ – to my Ski Independence team last week was met with blank stares and hoots of derision. The old man of the mountains had finally gone mad apparently. But I had a plan, and a cunning one at that.
Glen Coe in Scotland had just had an epic winter for snow, and despite the ski area being closed, they were still operating their main access chairlift for mountain bikers and hikers. The top of the mountain still had ribbons of snow in the deeper gullies and they were talking of a 1300ft vertical on spring snow. The webcams showed a least 2 or 3 good long potential descents on Fly Paper and Spring Run. The only downside was how to get to it.
With the ski lifts closed, the only option was a long hike in and then a lengthy climb. So, one day before mid-summer’s day off I set off for Glen Coe to have my last slide of the season. After a quick coffee and obligatory bacon roll, the Glen Coe staff sold me the cheapest lift ticket I’ve ever purchased at a bargain £10, and I was then onto the access chairlift and away up the first part of the mountain.
There was no wind (surely a first for skiing in Scotland), and it was lightly raining, but this was all tempered by the views out over Rannoch Moor and Glen Coe itself. The task at hand really only hit home as I got off the chairlift and had a first proper look at the climb ahead – it’s a pretty straight forwards walk over the plateau (a beginner area at mid-mountain in the winter) although the ground was pretty wet with all the snowmelt. After about 30 minutes I reached the bottom of the climb, which was now confirmed as a scramble rather than a walk. The rain had stopped and the cloud was coming in and out – I was hoping that it would burn off completely. One thing that did strike me was how heavy alpine gear is when you have to carry it.
Eventually I reached the snow line and the bottom of the Spring Run – the snow looked really nice. A layer of sweet, sugary, hero snow on top of a hard base – I was amazed at the depth of the snow for this time of year. No rocks, no thin patches, no heathery, granite scary bits, just a beautiful long consistent pitch about 200ft wide and 1300ft vertically. The climb up was a scramble over heather and rocks with a few airy bits and on one section where I had to cross the snow, a gap between the snowpack and the rock I needed to get onto which was at least 15 feet deep – a wee Scottish crevasse! Who’d have thought?
I finally reached the top and cleared the snowline. I thought I’d just get right to the summit and bag the Munro (Meall a’Bhuiridh 1108m) while I was at it. In the low cloud I was sure I’d snagged it, but looking at the map afterwards I missed it … doh! After a few minutes waiting for the cloud to clear, the sun finally came out and I was ready to shred the Spring Run.
The whole valley vista opened up below me and I could see that the slope was clear, steep and straight. There was not a soul about, but that was really one of the best parts of the day. The descent was sublime – 60 steep fall-line turns on some of the best spring snow I’ve skied. Before I knew it I was back at the bottom of the snow line wishing I had the energy for another go. In the end I called it a day – a day to remember for a long time. Maybe, just maybe I wasn’t so daft after all.