Sunday 10 January 2016

Full Winter Conditions in the Cairngorms

Coire an t-Sneachda, January 9

With a few hours to spare before darkness fell I decided to wander into Coire an t-Sneachda to see what conditions were like after the snow of recent days. Coire Cas was crowded, it being Saturday. Bands of mist drifted over Strathspey below while to the north there was clear sky and sunshine lighting up distant clouds.

View over Strathspey from Coire Cas

Walking into the corrie I quickly found that much snow had fallen. Even on the lower path which had been beaten down by many pairs of boots there were deep drifts. An icy wind blew down from the mist-shrouded tops. This late in the day everyone else was descending. Dozens and dozens of people tramped past. I reckon there must have been queues on the popular climbing routes on the corrie’s cliffs. 

Descending climbers
As I entered the mouth of the corrie the wind picked up, spindrift swirled all around and patches of mist swept over me. Visibility came and went. At times I was in a near white-out, only the rocks free of snow giving any definition to the landscape, along with the occasional groups of descending climbers. The drifting snow quickly filled in boot prints and hid holes between rocks. Stumbling was easy. In other places the wind-glazed snow had a breakable crust – firm until you put your weight on it. This was the real winter Cairngorms.

Near white-out conditions
By the time I reached the stony heart of the corrie below the great cliffs I was alone. The snow-spattered crags came and went in the mist. If I hadn’t know the place the scale would have been hard to grasp. Perhaps those rocks rose thousands of metres into the sky? The sky already darkening I turned and plunged back down through the snow.

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