White Out in Glencoe


White Out in Glencoe


White out conditions after a climb in Glencoe
White Out in Glencoe 

White Out in Glencoe

Story by Andy Luke



As we'd just finished a climb up Stob Coire nan Lochan in Glencoe, it started to snow heavily. There was already a good covering of snow on the ground and we were in the cloud. Visibility was extremely limited and there were few features. At the top we saw another walker, and he told us that he'd just walked up to the summit and had planned on visiting the top of Bidean nan Bien, but had decided that the safest option was to leave Bidean nan Bien for another day and descend to the safety of the Hidden Valley, as visibility was awful. Jim and I had planned to leave the summit by the north west ridge, but given the visibility the descent to the Hidden Valley was probably the safer option, as the north west ridge lies at the top of vertical drops for several hundred metres of lts length.

The other walker was experienced and led the way, having first taken a bearing from the summit towards the ridge that runs between Stob Coire nan Lochan and Bidean nan Bien. It's easy to become dis-orientated in the cloud. The ground was covered in compacted snow with no colour poking through from the ground below, thus making it difficult to work out exactly where the ground was, as it was white-on-white. I stumbled slightly and over-extended my knees on a couple occasions as I mis-judged foot placement due to the white-on-white conditions.

After a few minutes walking the gradient levelled off, and it was around here that the route would take us to the east of the ridge and down into the Hidden Valley. Despite knowing that we were in the right location, i.e. flatter ground, it was impossible to work out the edge of the ridge, as it was white against a white background. This was a proper white out, and not a nice experience.

The danger in this situation is that one of us could easily have walked over the edge thinking that we were placing a foot on solid ground, so we had to be extra certain before venturing over the edge, which we could not see.

Visibility was between 20 and 30 metres, and through the low cloud and snow I could just about make out a rock ahead to the east - which must have had a vertical face - as it was dark in colour and not covered in snow. As I bent my knees to try to get a distance perspective on the rock, it disappeared. Standing up again, it re-appeared. What was happening was that the rock was disappearing below the edge of the ridge, and re-appearing when I stood up straight. That rock was the only visual reference to enable us to know with any certainty the location of the edge of the ridge. The edge was only a few metres away.

Still wearing crampons from the climb, and ice axes at the ready, one by one we took tentative moves over the edge, with the relief that there was no cornice and solid ground was right below. Although the ground was quite steep there were no more problems associated with the descent and we all made it back to the car park in one piece. It was a valuable experience that I'll never forget.


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