|Sunset from Ben Macdui|
Spring in the Cairngorms can bring alpine-like conditions with bright intense light as the sunshine reflects off the snowfields. The clarity can be startling with distant white peaks etched sharp against a deep blue sky. That’s how it’s been this week as high pressure has brought settled conditions for the first time this year.
|View back across the Cairngorm Plateau to Cairn Gorm|
A high camp, possibly the last on snow until next winter, seemed a good idea so late one afternoon I headed across the Cairngorm Plateau to Ben Macdui. The mountains were split between winter and summer, half almost bare of snow with the rocks glowing warmly in the sunshine, half still covered with a sheet of white. After a day of hot sun the snow was soft and easy to cross though I did sink in rather far on occasion. There was no need for ice axe or crampons though. Not today.
|Sunset over Braeriach|
The sun was just touching the horizon as I reached Ben Macdui. A couple were camped right next to the summit cairn, with their stove set up in its stones. I wandered west to my usual viewpoint overlooking the great gash of the Lairig Ghru. The sun was setting behind Braeriach, the low clouds above the mountains an intense mix of orange, yellow and red, the snow on the hills tinged with pink. I sat and watched as the sky darkened and the colours grew deeper and richer before starting to fade as the dark blue of the night sky began to dominate.
|Camp beneath the moon|
Turning away I descended a short distance east of the summit and pitched my tent on a vast open snowfield under a vast starry sky. A bright almost-full moon rose in the east. There was no wind and the temperature hovered just above zero. For once there was no need to shelter in the tent and I stayed outside watching the sky. It was a perfect evening.
Dawn came with a red sunrise and a pink cast on the snow. A chill wind now swept the snowfields and I stayed in the tent for breakfast, taking photographs out of the door.
|Dawn view from the tent|
As the sun strengthened and the day grew a little warmer I packed up and set off for the Lairig Ghru. Once across the shoulder of Ben Macdui I descended by the Allt Clach nan Taillear – the Tailor’s Burn. The soft snow of the previous day had gone, frozen hard overnight and I needed crampons and ice axe on the steep upper slopes. Across the Lairig Ghru the great mountains shone in the new daylight.
|In the Lairig Ghru|
Long before I reached the floor of the Lairig Ghru I left the snow for deep heather that made for awkward and unstable walking. I was glad to reach the path and turn northwards to follow the headwaters of the River Dee, sparkling in the sun and racing down full of snowmelt, up to the half-frozen and silent Pools of Dee. Crossing the high point of the pass I noticed avalanche debris below the big cornices on the edge of Sron na Lairig.
Then it was through the rocky ravine of the Chalamain Gap and back below the Northern Corries to Corrie Cas and my car. I’d been out just over twenty-four hours. Twenty-four magnificent hours.
|Camp below the stars|