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Saturday, 31 May 2014

The 2014 Challenge, day 4: One Munro but no Mamore (13)

The trouble I smelled will be immediately apparent from the photograph I took at the top of the unnamed 917 metre mountain. That's the summit cairn in the right foreground. In the left mid-ground is the ridge I needed to traverse to access Stob Ban. In the left background is Sgurr a' Mhaim. And in the right mid-ground is Stob Ban. The ridge I should need to ascent to reach the summit of Stob Ban and continue my traverse of the Mamore ridge is the concave ridge in the mid upper centre of the picture; and the backdrop of Stob Choire a' Mhaim makes it easy to see that there was a thin ribbon of white stretching all the way up that ridge. And that thin ribbon of white could only be snow.

On a knife-edge ridge such as this, snow means only one thing: trouble. I am a summer walker. I do not have winter skills. I do not have winter equipment. I had emergency snow spikes in my pack, but that snow field called for something considerably more substantial than emergency snow spikes - both in terms of equipment, and skills. I did not have the equipment to get up that ridge, and I did not have the skills to get up that ridge. Put simply, there was no way that I was going to get up Stob Ban. And that meant that my traverse of the Mamore ridge ended right here.

I did actually continue a way, more in hope than in expectation, to see whether the ridge looked any more viable closer to (after all, Meall a' Chaorainn had ...). However, the ridge between the two hills was decidedly dicey. The ridge line was very rocky and hazardous; the path below the ridge line traversed a very steep slope and was far from comfortable walking. The whole situation was a risky one. The risks were manageable ... but they were unnecessary. I already knew what I was going to find ... Stob Ban was in no fit state to climb. Traversing this ridge would merely enable me to confirm that even more definitely. Why take risks for the sake of confirming what I already knew?

I turned back, and paused at the summit of the 917 metre hill to take stock. It was 6 pm and I was at an altitude of 3,000 feet. I could retreat all the way back over Mullach nan Coirean and Meall a' Chaorainn, then look for a low level pitch somewhere along the West Highland Way. That would involve making a lengthy descent when tired and dispirited, late in the afternoon, and was far from ideal. Alternatively, I could look for a high-level pitch, and worry about the consequences of Stob Ban being impassible in the morning. I opted for the latter - not least because there was, in fact, a near perfect high-level pitch just to the south of the summit of the 917 metre hill. I texted Challenge Control to tell them of my revised plan, to camp high, retreat the way I had come, and use the West Highland Way to get to Kinlochleven in the morning. Then I set up my tent and took a GPS fix on the location: NN 1309 6543.

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