Tuesday, 27 February 2018

A Day On The Hill Before The Big Storm Arrives

View over Glen Feshie from Carn Ban Beag

Since the igloo trip three weeks ago I’ve not been on the hills this month, partly due to getting on with writing the book on my Scottish Watershed walk and mostly because I caught a bad cold and am only just now recovering. Seeing snow on the hills and much sunshine has been very frustrating! I have been out for local walks in the woods and fields but never for more than a few hours. Finally I decided I was well enough to venture onto the tops again. With severe weather forecast for many days to come I wanted to enjoy some sunshine and gentler weather.

It being Sunday I knew there would be many people out with the most popular car parks full so I headed for Glen Feshie, which is usually one of the quieter places. Even here there were many vehicles in the small car park near the end of the public road. 

Carn Ban Mor

Walking up through the woods I could feel the warmth of the sun though a brisk wind in open areas suggested it would be cooler higher up. Once out of the trees the east wind sweeping down from the snowfields was still much colder and stronger than I expected. The tops ahead were wreathed in white cloud but otherwise the sky was deep blue and the sunshine bright.

Shelter from the wind
There’s a deep cleft in the col between Carn Ban Mor and Carn Ban Beag that provides shelter from the wind. I was very glad to reach this and be able to have a snack and don extra clothing without being frozen by the blasting wind. Two others were already here, poring over map and compass, and two more soon joined us. There’s not much shelter on these big rounded hills. The only other people I saw were distant dots on faraway snow slopes and ridges. 

At the col I had reached the snowline. There was some below this, especially on the track, but mostly the lower slopes were bare. I’d brought snowshoes with me and although I didn’t really need them on the crunchy snow I put them on, reckoning it was easier to walk in them than carry them. As it was there were icy sections where I’d have needed crampons if I hadn’t been wearing snowshoes. 

Out of the wind

In the wind

As it was my first day out for a few weeks and I wasn’t yet fully recovered from the cold I decided I wouldn’t continue on to Carn Ban Mor and Sgor Gaoith, my original plan, but would go over lower Carn Ban Beag, shortening the walk and the amount of ascent. This decision was made easier as the highest stops were still in cloud and the wind was strengthening. If it had been calmer and clear I’d have been tempted to go on. I was tired enough when I got back to the car to realise that to do so wouldn’t have been wise.

The broad ridge over Carn Ban Beag roughly paralleled my uphill route. The wind helped blow me along and I was very glad to have it at my back. It was the coldest day I’ve been out this winter. The views over Glen Feshie were superb though, the low sun dazzling and brilliant, the snow shining. Two ravens circled overhead, one flying past only ten metres or so away, close enough that I could see the massive bill and the glossy sheen of its feathers. A thin piping rose out of the heather and there was a golden plover fluttering low across the ground. There were many hare tracks in the snow but none of the creatures themselves.

Sunset over Glen Feshie

The sun was just setting as I left the ridge and started to descend towards the trees. There was little snow now and the ground was soft and boggy. Crossing the wet ground between two of the last snow patches I realised that the snowshoes were keeping me from sinking in. I kept them on until I reached the path on the edge of the forest. I’d never considered doing that before but it worked well. I’d have gone through into the mud and watery holes and had soaked boots and feet without them. There’s always something new to learn.

Now we await the big storm. The stories in the media have been extraordinary –‘beware beast from the east’, ‘stay indoors warning as killer freeze hits’, ‘snow chaos’, ‘deadly storm’. The storm will really have to be massive to live up to all the hyperbole. In Scotland Wednesday is apparently the big day for snow. Tonight as I write this on Monday evening it’s -4°C outside, hardly unusual for late February, with a bright moon and a clear sky.

My local road, February 2009

If the forecast snow does come maybe it’ll be like 2009 and 2010 when we had deep snow at the house for several weeks and I went on ski tours from the front door. I hope so!

View from the front door, February 26, 2010

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