Snowshoes or skis? There looked to be enough snow on the Cairngorm Plateau to make progress easier than walking with either of them. I scanned the hills through binoculars. A rash of dark spots was revealed – rocks poking through the snow. Not good for skis. Ascent routes looked rather snow free too. I don’t like carrying skis or walking in ski touring boots for any distance. Snowshoes it would be. This year has seen snow but not that much.
|Stob Coire an-t Sneachda & Cairn Lochan|
As I climbed up to the Plateau with my snowshoes strapped to my pack I already felt I’d made the right choice. The air was still, the sun shone in a deep blue sky. The terrain though was frozen and out of the sun it was cold. On the Plateau there was just enough of a breeze to need some extra clothing. Stob Coire an-t Sneachda was a mix of snow and rocks, with many climbers finishing routes on the icy cliffs. I kept the snowshoes on the pack until I’d crossed this peak and descended to the high col with Cairn Lochan.
|Cairn Gorm & Stob Coire an-t Sneachda|
Unbroken snow stretched out towards Ben Macdui so I donned the snowshoes. I was to keep them on for almost the rest of the walk other than on Macdui’s summit where I removed them while I wandered round mountain and sky watching.
|The Cairngorm Plateau stretching out to Ben Macdui|
The Plateau was as vast and beautiful as always. It never ceases to impress. Distant views were hazy though the other Cairngorms peaks were clear. Wisps and curls of cloud drifted high above, outliers of the storm forecast to arrive that night.
A few skiers linked big snowfields as I climbed the final slopes to Ben Macdui to have the summit to myself. I saw no-one else the rest of the day. To the south the haze was obliterating the view, spectacular when clear, while across the Lairig Ghru the snow-streaked east faces of Cairn Toul and Sgor an Lochain Uaine rose into the sky with clouds building beyond them.
|Cairn Lochan & Sgor an Lochain Uaine|
Returning across the Plateau the wind began to pick up and by the time I was crossing the western slopes of Cairn Lochan the gusts were strong enough to drive little clouds of spindrift across the snow. The sun was setting now, lighting up the clouds in the west and turning the snow pink.
As I began the descent the wind rapidly increased in strength and the spindrift came in head high blasts that had me turning away from the stinging snow and bracing myself against my poles to stay upright.
Linking snow patches I kept the snowshoes on until I was within half an hour of the Coire Cas car park. I was glad not to have to remove them until I was out of the strongest wind. As I finished the trip a crescent moon was high in the sky and Venus was just visible through thin clouds.