After a week of low cloud and a slow thaw a few days ago there looked to be a brief gap in the dull weather before the next depression headed in from the
Atlantic. The forecast suggested some
sunshine – a rarity in recent weeks – though with cloud likely to remain on the
summits. Deciding climbing any of the high Cairngorms peaks could mean hours in
the mist I headed for the lower Monadh Liath hills – ones I have decided to visit
more often before Dumnaglass, the first of many proposed wind farms, is built.
From the road end in Glen Banchor there was a lovely sunlit view along the glen to cloud-covered, snow-spattered hills; a promising start to the day. Turning up the long side glen of the Allt a’Chaorainn the walking was easy until I reached an old wooden footbridge across a deep ravine. The bridge was mostly in shadow and partly-covered with snow and ice. Parts of the handrail had broken and the whole bridge looked as though it wouldn’t last long. On the far side the path leading steeply up a bank was a sheet of thick rippled ice. I edged across the bridge then scrambled up the steep heather beside the path. I could have used crampons but the ice was only some fifty or so feet long so I’d have been removing them within minutes. This set the pattern for the rest of the day. Large patches of snow remained after the thaw. These were mostly soft enough for my boots to bite into them. The problems came from stretches of ice on the narrow paths, some of it hidden in the vegetation, and I was glad of my trekking poles.
Higher up the walking was easier as the vegetation was low and the ice clearly visible. Although there was blue sky above and much sunshine the summits remained cloud-capped and shortly before reaching the big cairn on A’Chailleach the world faded away as I entered the mist. A cold wind blew across the slopes and the ground was frozen hard. The thaw here was over. On the summit I had lunch in the wind shelter by the cairn and watched the cloud thinning and thickening. Blue sky was tantalisingly visible for brief periods but the cloud never cleared. Nearby a family of four were poking round in the rocks. My look of puzzlement attracted their attention and one of them came over to explain that they were searching for a geocache, telling me that this was one of the remotest locations.
The Allt a'Chaorainn
Accepting that the cloud would not lift I left the summit, skirted the crags to the east and descended directly down to the Allt a’Chaorainn, a pathless, tussocky descent. Down in the glen I forded the stream on icy boulders, having decided I didn’t want to make the steep descent down to the bridge in the gorge. Here if I slipped getting a little water would be the only penalty. A rough path led back down the glen, sometimes climbing steep banks from which there were good views along the stream and back to A’Chailleach, a scene of wildness and lonely beauty.