|Camp in the moonlight|
White mountains, sunshine. A perfect winter’s day. I set off up into the Cairngorms staring across the shining new snow. The first real winter’s day. The snow had fallen two nights previously, the first night of December, coming on strong winds that had left it in drifts piled up against banks, rocks, tussocks. I soon found that although the snow cover looked thin, with stones and grasses poking through, in many places this was not the case and as the snow was soft and unconsolidated I broke through constantly. Walking was not easy but then in true winter conditions it shouldn’t be.
|After sunset, Cairn Toul and Sgor an Lochain Uaine|
I crossed the Cairngorm Plateau with no sound but the occasional rasp of a ptarmigan and the distant voices of a few climbers in the Northern Corries, which quickly faded away as I headed for Ben Macdui. The high lochans and streams were frozen, the rocks were glazed with ice and frost. The low sun gave a warm glow to the land but the air was cold. Visual warmth only. I reached the summit of Macdui just before sunset. To the south, west and north a blanket of cloud covered the hills with blue sky above it. The Northern Cairngorms seemed the only range shining in the last rays of the sun. Across the Lairig Ghru the peaks of Cairn Toul and Sgor an Lochain Uaine appeared to be holding back the rolling white cloud that covered the rolling uplands of the Moine Mhor.
|After sunset, Ben Macdui|
The sun sank below a shoulder of Cairn Toul and the warm glow was gone from the mountains. Only in the sky did colour remain as the hidden sun lit the clouds. To the east an almost full moon rose and the light changed, pale and cold rather than bright and warm. I stayed on the summit until the last pink tinge left the sky and the first stars were appearing. Then I headed down to Loch Etchachan. The moonlight was bright enough that I didn’t need a headlamp. On the shores of the loch I pitched my tent and stared across the water to the cliffs of Carn Etchachan where the snow glowed in the moonlight.
To the east below the moon bright sparks flashed on the surface of a small lochan as if there were stars in the water. These came and went as I moved about, creating a magical scene. Only the next morning did I see that the lochan was frozen and that the ice was cracked and broken. Tiny facets of it must have been catching and reflecting the moonlight.
Frost appeared on the tent and ice in my water bottles. The air was crisp, cold and calm. Reluctantly I finally slid into my sleeping bag and fell asleep, with the moonlight shining in the open door.
Sometime in the night a wind sprang up and blew cold air on my face, cold damp air. I looked out. Nothing. Thick mist surrounded the tent. I zipped the door closed and drifted back to sleep. By dawn the gusty wind was noisy, rattling the tent. The mist had risen, capping the peaks but leaving my camp clear.
|In the morning|
|Contrasts on Ben Macdui, above day 1, below day 2|
I returned over the Plateau in the opposite conditions to the day before, struggling in the strong wind that threatened to knock me over as I balanced across icy rocks. I was in dense mist most of the day too, using compass bearings to navigate my way. Snow was falling, thin hard flakes blasted by the wind. The summit of Ben Macdui, a good landmark to take bearings from, was hazy and more snow had piled up against the big cairn. Only when I dropped below the Plateau did I start to leave the mist and escape the wind.