Thursday 28 February 2013

Glorious Cairngorms

Camp on Mullach Clach a'Bhlair

Sometimes even familiar places can be breathtaking and so it has been in Glen Feshie and on the Moine Mhor over the last three days. I was in Glen Feshie for more work with Terry Abraham on the Cairngorms In Winter film. Terry had already been there for a couple of nights when I met him on a sunny day that down in the forest felt more like spring than winter. We wandered up the glen admiring the ancient pinewoods and the braided rushing river before camping in the forest between the steep craggy slopes of Creag na Gaibhre and Creag na Caillich.

Terry filming in Glen Feshie

Going down to the river for water we were surprised to see that the long thin waterfalls tumbling down Creag na Caillich were frozen into delicate traceries of silvery ice. There was thick ice on the edges of the river and round rocks out in the water too. At one point where the river slowed the ice had almost spread from bank to bank with just a narrow stream still running free. There was no feeling of spring here.

Terry photographing the icy River Feshie

That night we watched the stars come out in the black sky as the trees turned to silhouettes. Then the world lightened again as the moon, almost full, rose and cast pale shadows, turning the forest into a magical, mysterious wonderland. I fell asleep with the tent door wide open, wanting to remain in contact with this beautiful world. Dawn came in slowly, the sun touching the tops of the crags long before it reached the floor of the deep glen. The temperature was still below freezing – the overnight low had been -4ºC.

Forest camp

After a few hours filming and photographing we returned down the glen for the track up Mullach Clach a’Bhlair, the big hill on the south-west corner of the Moine Mhor plateau. The ascent began in the sunny warmth of the woods but finished in a strong cold wind on crusty snow. On the summit though the wind faded and we could look out across a huge panorama of the Highlands stretching out on all sides, a glorious vista. The light was sharp and clear, the sky an Alpine blue. We camped just below the summit. The situation was glorious and the evening light cast long shadows across the snow and picked out the shapes of the hills. The sunset was a red line across the western sky as the snow turned pink in the last rays of the sinking sun.

Terry in camp on Mullach Clach a'Bhlair

Again there was a wondrous starry sky, this time brilliant from horizon to horizon with no trees to break up the constellations. Then the moon rose, dark red as it crested the horizon then fading both in colour and, apparently, in size as it rose into the night. My tent door remained open again and I fell asleep watching the stars and the shimmering moonlight.

The moon setting over Creag Meagaidh

Although we were 600 metres higher than the camp in the forest and without the shelter of the trees the overnight low was again -4ºC. We were up before the dawn to watch the sky turn a brilliant red and orange over distant Lochnagar before the sun rose, turning the snow pink. Out to the north-west a pale moon sank slowly behind Creag Meagaidh with the air around it glowing a dull red.

Dawn over Lochnagar

There was no wind yet also no frost or condensation inside the tents. The air was dry. Soon we could feel the heat of the sun. We crossed the vast icy expanse of the Moine Mhor to the tiny cairn of Sgor Gaoith perched high above frozen Loch Einich with the massive bulk of Braeriach rising above it. The white rolling plateau really had a feel of the arctic. On Sgor Gaoith I left Terry, who was spending one more night in the hills, and descended back down from the snow into the glen, where the hot sun was blazing down.

The three days, and especially the two nights, had been majestic, awe-inspiring, tremendous – there are no superlatives adequate. Certainly this had been one of the finest trips of the many I have made in the Cairngorms.


  1. Hello Chris,

    It sounds as if you and Terry shared one of those "Absolutely Unforgettable Experiences" that only rarely occur in one's life time.

    Thanks for sharing your memories with us.

    Rex Baum

  2. Wow!!.
    Can't wait to see the film.

  3. Incredible conditions - still and so clear - and it's not been that cold given the clear nights. I would say you had the most perfect days to be in the mountains. As my old Mum would say "a Heaven Day."

    Another inspirational story Chris.

    Dave Porter

  4. Fantastic pictures - wonderfully clear shots too - it must be 30 miles or so to Creag Meagaidh.

    Everyone is really looking forward to this film!