Friday, 5 February 2010
Lurchers Gully White-Out
Just a lowering of the cloud or a slight increase in the speed of the wind can make a huge difference to the weather in winter and a huge difference to a mountain experience. A few days ago I set out from Coire Cas in the Cairngorms on skis intending to climb up to the plateau and ski across to Ben Macdui or, if the weather wasn’t promising, along the edge of the Northern Corries. The forecast suggested some cloud, a little wind and brief snow showers but also a fair chance of good visibility. The high tops being hidden in cloud I decided to stay fairly low at first and cut across the foot of the Northern Corries before climbing up beside Lurchers Gully. The cloud, I hoped, would lift, at least a little. Even below the pale mist the light was flat and the snow covered landscape ill-defined. Orange goggles helped give a little definition to the terrain. In the mouth of Coire an t-Sneachda I brushed the cloud, losing sight of everything more than a few metres away. A slight descent and the hazy world reappeared. Still hoping for better conditions I took shelter behind a boulder while I warmed up with some hot ginger cordial and lunched on egg sandwiches and chocolate. The temperature was -3ºC. A few figures appeared out of the mist then quickly faded from view. A gusty wind sprang up and by the time I set off again my skis were half-buried in spindrift. Climbing the shoulder above Lurchers Gully I navigated from rock to rock as visibility vanished. Soon I decided there was little point continuing and started descending into the gully. The rocks slipped out of view. The snow and mist merged. Ripples in the snow just beyond my ski tips were all I could see. Edging down slowly I felt disorientated. Only the slow slipping of my skis told me I was descending. Keeping the speed low was essential in case of banks or drop-offs and my leg muscles strained as I held the skis back, turning into the hill when I hit patches of fast, icy snow down which the skis wanted to race. Time seemed suspended. I could imagine spending eternity just descending this endless, bottomless slope. Nothing else existed. Snow began to fall, blown against me by the strengthening wind. A sudden drop in temperature and everything damp froze, including my goggles. Iced-up and useless I took them off and strained to see into the clinging whiteness. But there was nothing to focus on, nothing solid or real. Finally, the mist thinned and shivered, dark patches appeared, the forest far below. The world grew and the white-out was over. The cloud was much lower than when I had entered it and the sky was dark and heavy with snow. I hadn’t gone far, just a few kilometres, but it had been an intense experience, alone in that unreal world.
Photo info: A walker in the mouth of Coire an t-Sneachda. Canon EOS 450D, 18-55@55mm, 1/400@ f5.6, ISO 100, raw file cropped and converted to JPEG in Lightroom 2.6