Sunday 13 December 2009

Frozen Cairngorms

Today the Cairngorms were a frozen mountain world, a pale shimmering expanse of icy snow. All was held fast in the hardness of winter. Days of sun and nights of frost had thawed and refrozen the surface of the snow, turning it into a hard crust through which crampons and boots crunched satisfyingly. I crossed the Cairngorm Plateau to Ben Macdui revelling in the return of winter, the sharpness in the air, the piercing thrust of the north-east wind, the scouring of my face in the cleansing, abrasive air. Across the Lairig Ghru Braeriach and Cairn Toul were monochrome; just black rocks and white snow. Beyond them the sky held hints of pink and orange and yellow even in the middle of the day, the low sun of mid-December lighting up a thin layer of cloud. The clarity was immense and distant mountains stood stark and clear on the horizon. Only towards the coast, to the east, were there thicker bands of cloud. That way the snow comes, as it is forecast to do this next week. Few people were around on the mountains despite the fine conditions. I met only a handful returning north across the plateau and had the summit of Ben Macdui to myself. I turned back at dusk as the sky started to darken and colour and the sun slipped down behind the western mountains. Cairn Gorm was an unreal dusky white with a soft pink sky wrapped round the summit. In the west the colours were harder and fiercer, bands of deep red, searing orange and greenish yellow streaking the sky. The constantly changing glorious sky stayed with me as I traversed the slopes of Cairn Lochan then climbed over Stob Coire an t-Sneachda where the last ice climbers were coiling their ropes. Only on the final descent did the light really start to fade and the black of night sweep over the mountains. The first stars were shining as I finally switched on my headlamp, removed my crampons and left the snow for a final walk down to the car park on a dry, frosty track. A real winter day at last.

Photo info: Dusk over the Fiacaill Ridge, Stob Coire an t-Sneachda, Dec 13. Canon EOS 450D, Canon EF-S 18-55 IS@ 55mm, 1/15 @ f5.6, ISO 400, raw file converted to JPEG in Lightroom 2.5


  1. The photo is wonderful. Your words told of a majestic landscape and your travel through it. In someways the photo was not needed. The words do justice to the place on there own. Thanks for that it was very good.

  2. As always Chris a wonderful photo, thanks.

  3. Chris

    Change of subject. You Have probably already seen Lars Monsen. He spends 365 days in the arctic wilderness. Most of it backpacking or canoeing. There are 24 episodes, a couple are not my cup of tea; he meets up with friends and hunts elk. Also 2 or 3 on dog sleighing. The rest are brilliant. If you have not seen him the address is


  4. Thanks Greg. I hadn't come across Lars Monsen before. Looks interesting.