THE FOLLOWING is an account of a day spent splitboarding in the Ben Lawers range on the north shore of Loch Tay in mid-January 2015. Not everything went according to plan…
10:02am: S and I arrive at the turning for the Beinn Ghlas access road to find a white Renault Clio fishtailing wildly in a doomed attempt to get up the snow-covered hill. Decide to park a little way down the main road and walk back.
10:34am: Return to start of Beinn Ghlas track. Meet a snowboarder lashing his board to his backpack with a length of rope. Wish him luck with his knot-tying. Wind is from the north, perhaps 10-15mph at this level but forecast to be 30-40mph on the summits. Not a good day to have your snowboard come loose and blow down the mountain. We split our boards into skis, put skins on, get poles out and start climbing.
11:07am: Wind starting to pick up. Almost knocked off the bridge over the Burn of Edramucky by an unexpected gust. Leave access road and head for the plantation beside the banks of the stream in the hope of finding some shelter among the trees.
11:21am: The big plantation access gate is snowed shut and a faff to climb over with all our gear. Never mind, we’ll go around. Wind seems to be easing off a bit anyway.
11:22am: Wind not easing off – getting stronger. Begin ascent towards Coire Odhar on an exposed slope, wading directly into a knee-deep river of blowing snow. Goggles on. S also puts on facemask. Realise I don’t have facemask. Never mind – facemasks are for wimps.
11:23am: Sore cheeks.
11:24am: Ditto nose, mouth and chin. Recall that Mountain Weather Information Service report said “will feel as cold as minus 19 degrees Celsius directly in the wind”. Make mental note to remember facemask in future.
11:35am: Decision time. Beinn Ghlas doesn’t look like much fun – stripped bare of snow in places and with clouds of spindrift whipping along its flanks. A distant group of skiers scrape their way down its west face. Judging by the slow speed, hunched postures and tentative turns, they must be on brick-hard ice. Opt to explore the east and south-east-facing slopes of nearby Sron Dha Mhurchaidh instead, in the hope of getting out of the wind and finding softer snow.
12:02pm: Stop for lunch. S has hot coffee. Legend. Resist temptation to rub some on to my frozen face.
12:33pm: Reach the bottom of a fun-looking east-facing slope. Snow seems to be accumulating nicely in here so we decide to take a look. Start to climb.
12:47pm: Is that a grouse at the top of the gully?
12:48pm: Nope, it’s four. As we get to the top they take off and try to fly into the wind. Then, realising the error of their ways, they change course and are slingshotted south at 40mph. Must be fun being a grouse.
12:52pm: First run of the day, and just as we’d hoped the snow in here is beautifully soft. Already glad we didn’t go over to Beinn Ghlas. Still a bit breezy, though, and visibility isn’t great as the air is thick with blowing snow, so we decide to look for something more sheltered.
1:20pm: After a short traverse we come to the bottom of another inviting slope, this one facing south-east. Another boarder and a skier are already here, and it looks as if they’ve already done a couple of laps. We decide to join them and start to climb.
1:40pm: If we’d stumbled upon this little face in the middle of the Alps we’d be delighted. Forgiving snow, lots of interesting contours to explore – a couple more laps I think.
2:50pm: Thighs burning from all the climbing, but there’s enough fuel left in the tank for one last lap. I’ll just put my board down for a second and grab a quick snack…
2:51pm: Whoosh! A gust of wind rips along the mountainside, flips my board off its bindings and on to its flat side and rockets it down the hill. I set off after it with all the elegance of a sprinter dressed as an astronaut.
2:52pm: Board still going.
2:53pm: Board finally comes to rest about half a kilometre away. This is going to take a while. Commence plodding.
3:05pm: Retrieve board. Feel somewhat less energetic. Decide it’s hometime. Make mental note to never, ever let that happen again.