I paused. Nothing. No sound. No movement. The air beginning to thicken with mist. The surrounding hills beginning to fade. The woods from which I’d climbed a hazy darkness far below. Above the sky was a grey sheet. Here on the edge of the great plateau of the Moine Mhor above Glen Feshie in the Cairngorms I wondered about continuing into the blankness ahead, the disorientating world of dense white mist and deep white snow, a world where I knew there would be no horizons and it would be hard to tell up from down.
There was no need for a quick decision. I found a sheltered spot in a shallow gully and sat down for a drink and a snack and to wait and see if the mist would lift and the forecast sunshine break through. As I’d climbed from the glen through trees heavy with snow, on skis all the way from the car, I’d looked over the forest to strips of blue sky above the Monadh Liath hills across Strathspey. Maybe the blueness would spread. Maybe.
|Hot ginger cordial|
A half-hour passed. I sipped my energising, warming hot ginger cordial and munched on flapjack and chocolate. The air was still, the snowbound landscape peaceful. I studied the wind-carved ripples in the snow, noticed the small cornice overhanging the gully and the almost bare patches on the northern side of the hills where the wind had ripped off the snow and blasted it into huge drifts on the southern slopes.
|On the edge of the mist|
The mist stayed in place. If it had moved at all it was downwards and it looked thicker. Skiing on compass bearings in a white-out? Not today I decided so I turned away from the plateau and skied to a minor summit called Carn Ban Beag and then on down to a wide col. Even this proved difficult. Though I was below the mist the light was still flat and it was hard to distinguish the details of the snow in front of me. I could see distant rocks and the tips of grasses and heather but I couldn’t see what lay between me and them. Twice I almost fell when the snow levelled off abruptly. There were lines of sastrugi – narrow ridges of windblown snow – too, some of them quite high and quite solid. I skied carefully and slowly, aware I had seen no-one and was all alone up here.
From the col the light was sharper and the snow smoother so the ski down to the first trees was more enjoyable as I could let the skis run, relishing the swift effortless glide. Linking patches of unbroken snow between mounds where the heather poked through I skied into the woods. Here the snow was deep and powdery and my progress slowed again until I rejoined the wide path I’d ascended. The sun was sinking into the western clouds now and there was a brief red sunset before the world faded to grey.