Friday 27 November 2020

Mists & Meetings

David Lintern on Cairn Lochan

November is often a month when winter teases, arriving one day, vanishing the next, and this year has been just like that. The tops have been snow-covered several times but it’s never lasted more than a few days. The beginning of this week saw snow yet again but again it quickly thawed. Later in the week the stormy weather was forecast to ease. A day in the hills called, snow or no snow. Having looked at brown slopes at dusk the day before and with no snow forecast I was surprised to wake to see the summits white. An ice axe was hastily added to my pack.

Late morning and I was about to set off from Coire Cas – a late start because the forecast was for clearing afternoon skies with the possibilities of cloud inversions and a colourful sunset – when a figure approached. David Lintern had the same idea as me. My companion on an overnight trip earlier in the month was planning a more adventurous route than me though so after a chat and a disgusted look at the ugly Snow Factory spewing out spurts of white powder to add to the piles of the stuff at the bottom of the ski run from where it has to be pushed uphill to be of any use we headed off in different directions.


As I plodded up the slopes towards the Cairngorm Plateau the air grew colder and I was soon walking on a thin layer of crisp crunchy snow. I knew it had fallen the night before but it wasn’t soft and fluffy, it was hard and breakable. I guessed it had fallen as wet snow onto wet ground and had then frozen when the temperatures dropped. There was verglas on bare rocks, almost invisible and very slippery.

Stob Coire an t-Sneachda with walker

High above I could see figures descending the ridge, early risers to be coming down now. As they grew nearer I recognised Helen and Paul Webster of Walk Highlands. They'd come up my planned descent route. A bit icy, they said, we’re glad we had micro spikes. I hadn’t brought mine, just the ice axe, which would be little use on this thin covering of snow and ice. “You should get the better weather; it looks like its clearing”. With that they continued down. Above there were patches of blue sky amidst the high rolling barrels of cloud. 

Clouds over Ben Macdui

The ridge steepened enough for me to take care on the icy rocks then I was on the Cairngorm Plateau. Up here it looked and felt like winter. The land was frozen and white, the wind sharp and chill. A figure with a dog approached and greeted me. It was Munroist extraordinaire (fifteen rounds!) and mountain guide Steven Fallon, who I’d met up here not many weeks before. There were few people about and I seemed to know all of them.

Beinn Mheadhoin

The clouds racing across the sky enveloped summits then exposed them again, an ever-changing dramatic land and skyscape. Sunshine shone on mountainsides and picked out features. Although there was much swirling cloud I was rarely in it and never had the feeling of being enclosed in mist and I could usually see the sun, sometimes bright and clear, sometimes dull and hazy, but there. As I followed the northern edge of the Plateau I met just one other walker. I didn’t know them but they recognised me from my books and magazine articles so for the fourth time I stopped for a chat.

David appears

Continuing on I passed the top of the ridge David had been going to climb. Thinking of all the time I’d spent talking I expected him to be far ahead of me. He wasn’t. Arriving on the summit of Cairn Lochan I looked back to see a figure arriving at the top of the ridge. Bright green trousers and a white rucksack. It was David. I wandered across the slopes to meet him. He had his ice axe in hand and said the icy rocks had slowed his ascent.

Looking into Coire an Lochain

After marvelling, as always, at the dramatic cliffs and gullies that plunge down to the lochans far below we talked our way back to the car park. The clouds overhead thickened. There was no sunset colour. The first winter day on the hills was fading quietly away. 

Somewhere in there is Braeriach


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