Friday, 6 March 2009
Bynack More: Snow & Helicopters
The morning after posting about the coming of spring and the first lapwings I woke to a snow-covered landscape. Across Strathspey Bynack More out on the eastern edge of the Cairngorms shone in the sun while the hills just beyond were cloud-capped, as is often the case when the wind is from the west. A few hours later I set off from Glenmore on a glorious morning through trees sparkling with fresh snow for Ryvoan Pass and the Lairig an Laoigh path over the shoulder of Bynack More. Long before I reached the high point the path had vanished into the snow, which varied in depth from a few inches to a few feet, making the walking rather stop and start – crunching across the surface one minute, floundering knee deep the next. Leaving the path I crossed the high moorland and climbed the boulder-strewn north ridge of Bynack More, pleased to find that the pink granite was warm to the touch even though the snow was not thawing. The ridge seemed longer than it should, a feeling that I always have here, even though I’ve climbed this hill many times.
As I approached the summit cairn I heard the metallic whirring of a helicopter approaching fast. As I looked up an RAF Search and Rescue Sea King flew slowly past, two figures looking down from the open door. As the helicopter slowed I stopped as the downdraft was already blowing light snow over me. One of the people inside was winched down and came running towards me. Two people had gone missing on Bynack More the day before, he told me. I’d seen no one except for a distant party of five descending towards Strath Nethy. Call 999 if you come across any sign of them, he said, before heading back to be winched back up. Within minutes the helicopter had gone and I was sitting on the summit in the sunshine imagining what it would have been like here in darkness and driving snow. (Later I could find no mention of anyone missing or a search so I presume they turned up okay).
Bynack More had held the promise of the morning, remaining clear and sunny along with Beinn Mheadhoin and Ben Avon. All the other summits remained in cloud that swirled and twisted into grotesque shapes but never quite dissipated. Firm snow led to Bynack Beg then increasingly soft snow in increasingly thicker heather for the increasingly awkward descent into the shadowed and cold cleft of Strath Nethy. It had been one of the best days of the winter. Maybe now spring will really arrive.
Photo info: Beinn Mheadhoin and a cloud-capped Ben Macdui from Bynack More. Canon EOS 450D, Canon EF-S 18-55mm IS@55mm, 1/640@F5.6, ISO 100, raw file converted to JPEG in Lightroom 2.