Tuesday 29 December 2020

Last Hill of the Year: Superb Conditions on Meall a'Bhuachaille


Meall a’Bhuachaille was a last-minute decision for my final hill walk of the year. Snowy and icy roads in Aviemore persuaded me that driving down Glen Feshie, as I’d intended, might be difficult. I wanted to stay up high for the sunset. The thought of having to drive down a narrow icy road in the dark wasn’t appealing. So Meall a’Bhuachaille it was. 

The forest, quiet and still. Although the air was freezing, I didn’t need a jacket or a hat. That would change. An Lochan Uaine in Ryvoan Pass was calm and full of reflections. Not frozen though, just a thin skim of cracked ice in places. 

The path up Meall a’Bhuachaille was icy in places. A few people descending found themselves abruptly sitting down. Others took to the deep heather, sending up clouds of snow as they plunged down. Higher up the path eases and the snow was a little deeper, making walking easier.Across Glenmore the higher Cairngorms shone in the sunshine.

On the summit a dozen or more people – the most I’ve ever seen here – were gazing at the vast view, white hills spreading all around. The air was freezing but windless. Down in Glenmore clouds had formed, drifting over Loch Morlich. 

Just below the summit someone was setting up a paraglider. I watched as they took off and sailed serenely above the cloudy, hazy forest towards Loch Morlich. After posting the pictures on Facebook I discovered that the paraglider was Luke Welch, an adventure photographer from Aviemore. He has some great photos on his website.

The paraglider having faded from view people began drifting away from the summit. I lingered, not wanting to descend into the mist until the sun had set. A flask of hot ginger cordial and a piece of my partner’s delicious Christmas cake provided welcome refreshment.

As the sun neared the horizon I set off down the ridge. The path was icy. I wished I’d brought micro spikes, which I’d seen a few people wearing. I had crampons but I felt these would be awkward in the thin snow and ice, though I had seen others with them. I wasn’t hurrying anyway, pausing frequently to watch the light as the sun set and the mist in the glen turned pink. This wasn’t a day to rush. 

Back down in the dark forest I wandered along the tracks to the car. At the end of a strange and difficult 2020 this had been a superb last hill of the year.

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