|Damp & Chilly|
In the two weeks since I was last up on the Cairngorm Plateau conditions have changed. One of the fascinating aspects of the winter mountains is that they are never the same from one day to the next. Snow is an amazingly volatile substance, changing with the slightest variation in temperature or direction and strength of the wind. Although it has remained cold I knew as soon as I stepped on the first snow patch that there had been some thawing and refreezing. The snow was smooth surfaced and crunchy underfoot. Only the top few inches were hard though. Below it was soft, meaning I was often breaking through, sometimes knee deep, and walking was arduous. Strong winds had scoured the slopes too, ripping the snow off exposed areas and packing it into hollows, where it was sometimes several feet deep. Many rocks were showing through the snow and I was glad I hadn't brought my skis.
|Snow-ice on pine twigs|
The clouds were low on the hills and there was a dampness in the air. Lower down there was no wind though and I didn't need a jacket, especially as climbing required much effort. Walking without a jacket meant I got quite wet though, something I felt when I reached the tops and a cold wind cut through my clothes. An icy rain was falling too, freezing as soon as it landed.
Waterproof jacket on I turned away from the wind and climbed slippery, frost, ice and snow covered rocky slopes to the summit of Cairn Gorm. I had ice axe and crampons but there were few places I could have stopped a fall with an ice axe and not enough ice or hard snow for crampons. My trekking poles kept me from falling when I did slip.
|Difficult slippery terrain|
The cloud was thick and the weather station on the summit hung ghost-like in the sodden air. The temperature was around freezing, the wind bitter. This wasn't conditions for staying up high for long so I turned and descended. The exposed rocks were useful in the white-out as there was nothing else to focus on. I soon learnt to avoid unbroken patches of snow as I couldn't judge the angle on them. I'd only been out for three hours but it was enough in this damp cold weather.
|Cairn Gorm Weather Station|