|Terry beside the Allt Druidh|
The big storm came in hard and fast, with the winds increasing earlier than forecast. I went out anyway as I’d arranged to meet Terry Abraham for more work on the Cairngorms in Winter film and he was already in the hills. However the Sugar Bowl car park on the Cairngorm Ski Road, where I’d planned on starting, was blocked with snow – I nearly got stuck on the edge of the road turning the car round – so I ended up walking in from much lower down and farther away. Terry would have to wait a while.
Walking through Rothiemurchus Forest I admired the pines, which down here were shining in the sunlight. I couldn’t feel the wind but I could see white clouds racing across the sky. There was only a thin covering of snow at first but as I climbed towards the mouth of the Lairig Ghru pass, where I was to meet Terry, the snow grew deeper and I stopped to put on my snowshoes. Even wearing these I was occasionally sinking in knee deep as the fresh snow was dry and unconsolidated.
As the trees thinned out the wind hit me, cold and sharp. Ahead I could see dark clouds filling the big defile of the Lairig Ghru though to either side the hills were still in sunshine. This is often the case here, the high narrow pass acting as a funnel for winds and clouds.
|The Lairig Ghru|
By the time I joined Terry the wind was even stronger. Clouds of spindrift were hurled into the air, whirling and swirling in spinning columns or racing across the ground in shimmering sheets. We headed on towards the stormbound Lairig Ghru, though my confidence in reaching it was rapidly dwindling. On the snowshoes I made good progress through the thick snow and was soon beside the half-frozen Allt Druidh stream right in the jaws of the pass. Terry had no snowshoes though and was finding the going slow and arduous.
|Terry filming beside the Allt Druidh|
A quick discussion and we decided retreat was a sensible option. The wind was now bitterly cold and the lashing spindrift painful. There was still over two hundred metres of ascent to the top of the pass. The wind would be stronger there and the snow deeper. We’d be in the cloud too. And the storm was forecast to grow in strength the next day.
With relief we turned our backs to the wind and descended to the shelter of the trees. Our upward tracks had already disappeared in the blown snow. Terry did short bits of filming, made difficult by the wind and the spindrift, which kept covering his lens even when the camera was pointed away from the growing storm.
Once down in the trees we found a good campsite on grassy ground in a grove of magnificent and massive ancient pines. Situated in a shallow wooded bowl it seemed sheltered. When we pitched the tents there was only the occasional gust of wind though we could it roaring high above.
|A sheltered site?|
Late in the evening though the wind began to increase, buffeting the tent. As the night went on so the wind grew stronger, blasting down in great gusts that shook the tent. I could hear the roaring as the wind approached before each wave hit. Light snow began to fall too; cold, dry snow that was picked up by the wind and blown through the tent’s mesh vents and under the edge of the flysheet. Soon most of my gear was covered in white. I dozed and slept fitfully, repeatedly woken by the noise of the wind.
|Terry sheltering from the wind and spindrift|
Come dawn and it was as windy in camp as it had been in the mouth of the Lairig Ghru. I ventured out to see the rear of Terry’s tent flattening in each gust then springing back up. The wind was still growing in power, one gust sending me staggering sideways.
Back in my tent I was packing my gear when a really ferocious blast hit the tent. Three pegs ripped out of the ground on one side and the fabric tried to take off. As it did so the pole bent. Before the whole tent collapsed on me I managed to replace one of the pegs and adjust the pole. I was very glad this had not happened in the night or before I was dressed and up.
In this storm we were not venturing back up into the hills. Instead we walked out to Loch Morlich and a welcome second breakfast in the Glenmore Café. The trip was over a day early. But that’s winter in the Cairngorms. Sometimes it’s just not wise to continue.