Sunday 22 November 2020

Thoughts on the Wind and two walks on Meall a'Bhuachaille

Over An Lochan Uaine to Cairn Gorm, November 20

Checking the weather forecast before heading out for a walk, short or long, high or low, is something I’ve done for many years. For mountain and hill trips the forecast is a deciding factor in exactly where I’ll go. When I look at the forecast the first thing I want to know is predicted wind speed. That’s more important than precipitation, temperature, or cloud levels. Those all matter of course but it’s the wind that comes first. That’s because high winds make coping with rain, snow, cold, and mist much, much harder. Really strong winds can be disorientating, exhausting, dangerous even in warm sunny weather. I’ve retreated from the hills or altered my route on many occasions over the years and the reason is usually the wind. 

The Cairngorms, October 9

These thoughts were started by an Outdoor Gear Coach zoom meeting last week during which one participant asked what wind speed people would be prepared to go out in. I and others said 30-40mph. The questioner said he’d asked because he’d been talking to an outdoor instructor who’d said 100mph. That was startling. I can only think the instructor had never measured the wind speed and had greatly over-estimated winds they’d been out in. I’ve carried an anemometer for many years and regularly record wind speeds. A few times it’s registered speeds a little over 60mph – and then I’ve been lying down or clinging to a rock before being blown back down the hill.

What’s all this to do with Meall ‘Bhuachaille? Well, it’s a favourite Cairngorms hill to go to when the weather forecast is for storms on higher hills. At 810 metres it’s some 400 metres lower than Cairn Gorm or Ben Macdui.  It’s also a fairly gentle rounded hill with no cliffs or ravines to be blown off or into and with good paths for easy navigation. This autumn I’ve been over Meall a’Bhuachaille twice, both on occasions when the forecast suggested blizzards and severe winds on the Cairngorm Plateau.

Back to the storm, October 9

The walks were over six weeks apart and conditions were very similar in some respects but very different in others. On the first trip, on October 9th, there were heavy squalls. Rain lower down, sleet and hail higher up. I had waterproof jacket and overtrousers on all day. The wind was strong, gusting on the summit to 30-35mph, but not unmanageable. On the way up though one blast of sleet and hail lashed my face painfully and came with a wind it was hard to walk into. For half an hour I sat in the heather with my back to the storm and with a thick insulated jacket over my waterproofs. I kept that jacket on when I continued to the summit, where I didn’t linger as the wind was still strong, the temperature below freezing, and I was in mist with no views.

On the summit, November 20

On the second walk on November 19 the weather was much warmer and drier. I wore fleece and windproof jackets all day and never took my warm jacket out of the pack. The wind was much stronger than in October though. On the last section to the summit it kept blowing me sideways, so I had to constantly correct my course to stay on the path. At the top I was very grateful for the small stone walls around the cairn that gave some shelter. Out in the wind I held up my anemometer, gusts blowing me backwards. The highest speed recorded was 49mph. I was very glad it wasn’t colder and that I wasn’t anywhere steep or narrow or where tricky navigation might be needed. The wind was difficult enough to deal with on its own.

100mph wind? I don’t think so.

On both walks I looked down on the wind rippling the waters of Loch Morlich and across the forest to snow on the high Cairngorms. I was glad I wasn't up there.

Loch Morlich, October 9

Loch Morlich, November 20


  1. So it was on the north slope of Mount Adams, awhile ago, in southern Washington,USA. We climbed until the clouds a few hundred feet uphill became lens shaped. We admired Mountain Goats descending, so we did, too.

  2. Aye, that's my 'go to' walk as well Chris when it's looking too wild on the plateau. Always good to get back into the forest, and even better if done clock-wise with a rest and hot drink in the Ryvoan bothy.😊