Monday, 18 April 2011
Quick Cairngorm Overnight
A sudden opportunity for an overnight trip combined with fine weather and a good forecast saw me hastily packing gear and heading for the Cairngorms late in the afternoon. As I climbed up to the Cairngorm Plateau the shadows were lengthening and the low sun was highlighting the cliffs, making the always dramatic rocks look more jagged and splintered than usual. Once on the tops the stones were glowing gold, the snowfields shining white and the darkening blue sky streaked with fine tendrils and smears of cloud. There was no wind and the air was warm. The last few day walkers started their descent and I was alone, in sole possession of the vastness and space. Dodging round the soft and slippery snowfields I took a circuitous route to the heart of the Plateau where I camped beside a still half-frozen lochan, settling into the tent just as darkness fell. Then as I lay looking out at the silent hills the sky started to brighten again with a yellowish hue on the clouds and a pale grey-blue cast on the snow. A sharp curve of light edged the clouds and slowly an almost-full moon rose over a distant ridge. As the moon crept up the sky I fell asleep to be woken hours later by a restless wind rustling the tent and blowing cold damp air over my face. Zipping up the tent door shut out the breeze and I was soon snuggling deep in my sleeping bag and sinking back into sleep.
Waking again to the very different pale grey of dawn I looked out to see clouds covering the summits. The temperature was not far above freezing and the wind, sweeping over the snow, was chilly. Coffee and muesli set me up for the morning and I was soon climbing the snowfields to Ben Macdui. The summit was cloud free but there was little in the way of views as all around the clouds swirled and surged. Then as I returned across the plateau the clouds began to dissolve, revealing summits and snowfields. A great sweep of shattered blocks and cracked slabs of snow marked avalanches on the Great Slab in Coire an Lochain. The burns running out of the corries were heavy with snowmelt, taking away the last of the winter.
Twenty hours after it began my trip was over, a short but intense immersion into the wild world of the Cairngorms, a familiar landscape but one that never fails to impress with its power and beauty.
From the top the pictures are:
Evening light on the Cairngorm Plateau, April 17.
Early morning at the Lochan Buidhe Camp, April 18.
Across Lochan Buidhe to Cairn Gorm as the clouds clear, April 18.