Saturday 22 September 2012

Mists & Softness: A Quiet Walk on Cairn Gorm

On the north ridge of Cairn Gorm

The autumn equinox came during a period of unsettled weather. The winds were too gentle for it to be called stormy but there were clouds down on the summit and many heavy showers. On the tops these were falling as snow according to reports and hazy images of lightly snow-spattered misty hillsides appeared on websites. To see just what it was like I wandered up Cairn Gorm on a chilly, drizzly day. I went via the long unfrequented north ridge, a lovely wild place with only sketchy paths and a delightful mix of granite boulders and rich vegetation. 

View over Strath Nethy to cloud-capped Beinn Mheadhoin

 A line of broken crags lines the steep slopes above the deep valley of Strath Nethy and I followed the edge of these, staring down into the depths and across to the dark wedge of Bynack Mor, its summit draped in drifting clouds. 

Strath Nethy
With distant views non-existent and even the middle distance quite hazy the pleasures of the walk were in closer details. The rough textures of the quartzite- streaked rocks, the rich colours of the autumnal vegetation, the tumbling burns. Ptarmigan, not yet in winter plumage, fluttered low over the ground. In boggy areas the marsh plants glowed in the soft light.

Bog vegetation

The ridge led up to the summit of Cnap Coire na Spreidhe, a minor top marked by a tiny cairn atop a jumble of stones. It’s hard to believe that this lonely, wild spot is only a short distance from the top of the Cairngorm ski resort. Passing above the Ptarmigan Restaurant at the head of the ski runs I saw the first other people of the day, a few hooded walkers on the waymarked path leading up to Cairn Gorm.

Snow near the summit of Cairn Gorm
I continued up the pathless slopes away from the resort, soon entering the mist. The drizzle that had been falling on and off changed to sleet and light snow that drifted down slowly in tiny white specks. On the ground patches of windblown snow lay amongst the rocks and clumps of fading grass. The summit was thick with cloud and the air was cold. Half a dozen walkers were studying a map. Feeling damp and chilled as soon as I stopped I didn’t linger but was soon heading back down out of the mist and down the ridge above Coire na Ciste.

Soon the hazy views opened out again. To the north I could see sunshine and blue sky over the Moray Firth. Maybe I should have gone to the coast. Maybe not. It had been a gentle day but as always the Cairngorms had given much. The subtle beauty of the landscape was enhanced by the mist and the soft light, giving yet another perspective on these marvellous mountains.

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