Today the snow came. Heavy and wet in the glens, dry and windblown on the hills. Overnight a gusty wind rattled round the house and I woke to sleet falling and an edging of whiteness on the lower slopes of the Cromdale Hills, their summits shrouded in the grey clouds that ripped across the sky. I drove to Aviemore in squalls of heavy snow, huge flakes sweeping over the road and building up on the wipers even when they were moving. For three weeks the weather has paused, a prolonged autumn, sunny, calm and warm. Now perhaps winter is really starting.
After a morning meeting during which I could see snow driving past the windows of the Mountain Café I had a need to venture into the hills and at least feel a touch of this wintry weather. With only a few hours before dark I headed up the track known as the Burma Road that runs from just outside Aviemore over the eastern Monadh Liath hills to the Dulnain River and is the easiest route to 824 metre Geal-charn Mor, the highest hill in this part of the range. In the pleasant pine and birch woodland at the start of the climb wet snow was scattered over the vegetation, some sticking, some thawing. There was still colour in the landscape, especially the fading golden brown of decaying bracken plus the last few green leaves on streamside shrubs.
Soon though I was heading out of the trees into a monochrome world where sky and land were shades of grey, merging together in the frequent blasts of almost horizontal snow. The wind was strong and cold. The lying snow was still soft and gave gently underfoot, a welcome feeling. Ahead the track snacked up the hillside, a ribbon of almost unbroken white. Either side dark sprigs of heather still pushed through the snow, giving the land a pied look. Breaking trail through fresh, untouched snow for the first time since last winter was a joy, even if I was on a Landover track.
Between the snow storms I could see the hills, noting the waves of spindrift blowing off their crests and the build-up of snow on the lee slopes. The snow on the track became firmer and harder, packed by the wind. Puddles were lightly iced over, with snow flakes building up on the soft ice. At the highpoint of the route, at 700 metres, the track was suddenly bare gravel, the snow blasted off by the wind. Down below I could see the dark slash of the Dulnain glen. I looked across to the gentle slopes of Geal-charn Mor, only 124 metres higher and just a kilometre away. I knew it was not an easy walk though as there was no path and the terrain was a mass of heather tussocks. It was arduous in summer. With snow filling and hiding the spaces between the tussocks it would be even more so. I looked at my watch. Sunset in less than half an hour. Did I want a navigation exercise in the dark on snowy terrain in strong winds and probably a blizzard as well? I could feel spindrift blasting against my legs. Occasionally the wind whipped it up in my face. I watched the swirls off snow blowing off Geal-charn Mor turned and headed back down the track and into the darkening woods. A winter summit could wait. This was enough for today. I had ventured out into the snow and tested winter.
I would return here when the snow was deeper and ski over Geal-charn Mor, the easiest and most enjoyable way to traverse this hill. This won’t be in the next few days though. Winds gusting to over 100mph on the summits are forecast for the next two days, dropping to 80mph after that. More snow is forecast as well though so maybe in a week or so the first ski tour will be feasible. I hope so.