Monday 3 November 2008

First Snow on the Cairngorms

Last week’s storms brought the first heavy snowfall of the winter to the Scottish Highlands. Yesterday I welcomed the return of winter by walking over the Cairngorm plateau to Ben Macdui. The snowline was well down the hills and above 600 metres the cover was complete and deep, more snow than I’ve seen this early in the winter for many years. The walking was arduous as the snow averaged two feet deep, though the tracks of other walkers eased the going in places. Initially a warm sun shone in a clear sky and I walked with sleeves rolled up and collar unzipped. To the south and east there was no sign of cloud and the hills were sharp and clear. However north and west a haze shrouded the summits and tendrils of clouds were drifting towards the Cairngorms. As I crossed the plateau a curving cloud spread over Braeriach across the deep pass of the Lairig Ghru and sent fingers of cloud down between the ridges, as if a giant beast devouring the mountain. Ben Macdui was still cloud-free as I wandered west of the summit to gaze at the great wedge of Cairn Toul rising out of the Lairig Ghru but as I headed back north the mist slipped across the snow and the world turned grey and insubstantial. Fine drizzle fell and the snow felt heavy and sticky rather than dry and crisp. There was no colourful sunset and all was dull as I descended below the cloud in the dusk to Coire Cas. The first winter hill walk was over. I hope there will be many more this season.

Photo info: Cloud crawling over Braeriach. Canon EOS 450D, Canon EF-S 18-55mm IS@55mm, f5.6@1/320, ISO 100, raw file converted to JPEG in Lightroom 2.


  1. Wow - that's like a fine oil painting. Nicely captured.



  2. Hi Chris

    Great to read about the early winter snows, I'm currenty rcovering from a slipped disc so the internet is playing a major part in retaining my sanity until I can get back into the hills.

    A question, I know you are a Brasher boots fan, what do you wear in winter as I have found them brilliant in summer but very poor on snow of any sort.

    Regards Geoff Edwards

    PS just reading your Munro's book for the 5th time.

  3. Glad you like the photo. It was a superb day.

    Geoff, I'm pleased you like my book so much!

    Current Brasher Boots have different soles to the ones I wore on the Munros walk and I haven't used them much in winter. The last few years I've mostly worn Keen Targhees in the snow. Yesterday I wore Inov8 Roclite 390s, which were fine. If the snow is deep I'm usually on skis anyway (yesterday I wanted to try the boots in snow plus some crampons - which I didn't need)so the boots I wear most are Garmont Xcursion ski touring boots.

  4. That makes a great photo, shame I left 2 and a half weeks ago, mind you I missed the snow and ice on the roads, so not too sorry!

    How do you manage up there, or do you stay in and camp by the fire ;-) ??

    I too wouldn't wear boots, sorry to all the boot fans, but I just couldn't now! Mind you I don't go near snow! If Chris can wear crampons on trail shoes, I am sure we all can - bring it one - one day...

    If I am walking on Dartmoor in the winter and it is wet and boggy - what would you recommend I wear and why?? I am tempted to stick to trail shoes, Gore, but fear a flooding of them and the water not escaping, or non Gore and SealSkinz... or staying in and watching Heroes ;-)

    I spoke to an outdoor lady shop keeper the other day about trail shoes, she thought I was mad to not be in boots, said trail shoes don't give ankle support....

    Have you worn the eVent out on the Keens yet?

    I have worn through the Gore on 2 pairs of Montrails, over the last couple of years, and I haven't done that much walking recently. Trying Scarpa trail shoes now!

    Anyway - great shot - did you use a ND filter?

    Thanks for a great blog, Chris,

    Best wishes


  5. What a lot of questions Tony!

    This was a day walk but I do camp in the mountains in the winter. The beginning of this week would have been ideal for camping but I only had one day free.

    The Inov8 Roclite 390s are boots in fact - though lighter weight than most trail shoes. I had Kahtoola crampons with me but didn't need them.

    In wet, boggy winter conditions I wear the Roclites or Keen Targhees by choice - and often whatever I'm testing! If the bogs are deep gaiters keep the water and mud out. As the snow was deep I was wearing gaiters on the day in the Cairngorms.

    The eVENT hasn't worn out on the Keen Targhee Mids yet but I suspect the Keen Targhee shoes, which I wore all last winter as everyday shoes, may have sprung a leak.

    I used a polarising filter but not an ND one.

  6. Bedford, MA, USA
    That spectacular photo inspires me to wish to see that area for myself, Ron Strickland