Friday 27 March 2015

Winter Returns To The Cairngorms

Cairn Gorm from the shoulder of Cairn Lochan

Spring storms bringing rain and warmer winds had been eating away at the snowpack for many days and winter seemed to be on the wane. Then the weather changed. March is usually too early for the end of winter in the Cairngorms and so it is this year. Waking to a heavy frost with the distant mountains coming and going in swirling clouds I decided to go and see if the promised overnight snow had fallen.

View across Coire Domhain (note snowholes) to Ben Macdui

I knew before I parked my car that it had. The clouds lifted and broke as I drove up Strathspey, revealing mountains bright with fresh snow. In Coire Cas the wind was strong and bitter. The climb warmed me up, especially as the new snow was soft and in places deep where the wind had blown it into big drifts. Underneath the old snow was hard and smooth and the rocks were glazed with ice. 

Trying to take a selfie while keeping off the spindrift
Reaching the Cairngorm Plateau the full force of the southerly wind hit me, bringing clouds of spindrift, and I cowered behind a big cairn while I donned more clothing. No sign of spring up here. The Plateau stretching out to Ben Macdui was almost completely white. Across the green and brown of Glen More Meall a’Bhuachaille was snow-capped again. I followed the rim of the Northern Corries over Stob Coire an-t Sneachda and Cairn Lochan. Climbers were at work on the frozen cliffs and I heard them calling above the wind and the occasional crack of an ice axe.

Cairn Lochan
Clouds came and went along with flurries of spindrift, casting shadows over the hills and changing the light constantly so the world seemed fluid and mobile. Visually it was wonderful – ideal for photography. Physically taking pictures was difficult though. Holding the camera still in the wind, managing the controls with thick gloves on – my fingers quickly went numb when I tried removing them, constantly wiping spindrift out of the lens. Lying down was good for stability but there was almost constant spindrift at ground level. Crouching or leaning on boulders were a good compromise.

Cairn Lochan
The wind chased me down the west shoulder of Cairn Lochan and back across the mouths of the corries to Coire Cas. The streams were running out of the corries but there were still solid snow bridges across them. On the way home I paused at Loch Morlich to look back across the blue waters to the shining white mountains. A few hours later clouds covered the summits and have remained there since I returned home some thirty or so hours ago. Down here it has rained. Up there I expect there is more snow.


  1. Hi Chris, what has this winter's ski season been like? Viewed from a distance, it looks to have been light on snow. Although I suppose there's still time for a good bit more.

    1. Hi Dave, there's been plenty of snow high up, though not as much as last year, but as with last year the problem has been the wind, which has made ventures high up somewhat difficult. March has been a very stormy month. The trip described here was on March 25 and I could have skied, though care would have been needed to avoid rocks in places. It is supposed to snow a fair bit over the next few days.