|Cairn Toul from Ben Macdui|
I started the new ski season as I ended the last one – with a ski tour over the Cairngorm Plateau to Ben Macdui. Back in May the snow was deep and the skiing easy. On this December trip there was continuous cover but the snow was thin in places and care was needed to avoid the rocks just breaking the surfaces. Elsewhere the snow had piled up in great drifts and was soft and deep – as could be seen by the knee-high holes made by walkers.
|Enjoying Stob Coire an t-Sneachda|
The day was fine with thin clouds streaking the sky and barely a breeze blowing. The low sun gave no heat though and the temperature remained below freezing. Unsurprisingly, given the weather and it being a Sunday, the Northern Corries were well-populated with climbers, ski tourers, snowshoers and hillwalkers. Once away from these easily accessible hills there were far fewer people, though plenty of tracks. The snow came in many varieties – dull packed powder that slowed the skis; refrozen icy ripples across which the skis skittered and skidded; breakable crust that held then gave way then held again, making for awkward travel. There were wind blown ridges – sastrugi – too, some soft and easily skied through, others hard and icy, scraping and deflecting the skis.
|The Summit of Ben Macdui|
Arriving late in the afternoon (3pm at this time of year) I had Ben Macdui to myself. The light was softer now as the clouds had thickened in the west. There was a touch of colour in the sky but no real sunset. The white winter wilderness stretched out all around, the Cairngorms at their best. Skiing back across the Plateau I watched the sky turn an amazingly deep blue over Cairn Gorm, where the clouds were still thin and intermittent. Jupiter rose, sharp and bright.
|Cairn Gorm at Dusk|
I descended via Lurchers Gully, a lovely ski run. The stream was open but the banks were deep in soft snow and I skied down by the light of my headlamp, making slow turns then relishing the joy of simply letting the skis run across gentle slopes.