Thursday 10 December 2020

Winter Is Here. Deep Snow In The Cairngorms.


Two days ago in the garden we had heavy rain and floods, water pouring down the path past the front door, little springs bubbling up in the trees, pools around the bird table. In thirty years I’ve never seen so much water here. Higher up – the house is at 300 metres – that rain would be falling as snow. The hills, hidden in the clouds, would be white. As soon as the weather calmed a little I set out to see what they were like.

In the Coire Cas car park bulldozers were clearing the snow into great piles. The ski area is closed at present, but a few skiers and snowboarders were heading up the runs. I’d brought snowshoes rather than skis – I find them easier to manage in deep soft snow, which is what I was expecting. A chill wind swept the car park and looking up I could see clouds swirling round the tops. A white-out up there probably, and even stronger winds. I decided to stay lower and head into the Northern Corries.

A deep trench beaten into the snow by many boots led out of the car park. Most people hadn’t gone very far though and the track soon narrowed. I followed it up towards Coire an t-Sneachda. Two walkers descending stopped to chat. Then another pair. Both said they’d come to climb on the cliffs in the corrie, but the conditions had put them off. “Waist deep in places higher up”, they said, admiring my snowshoes. 

My track was a light impression on the snow, the boot track was knee deep in places. The snow was wet and heavy, the wind having no effect on it. I was glad I had snowshoes not skis. I hate skiing in snow like this, fearing twisting a knee or ankle if a ski suddenly sinks and comes to an abrupt stop. Snowshoes are much slower and safer.

With the sun almost breaking through the clouds it had been bright at the start but as I climbed into the corrie the mist began to flow around me. I wiped moisture off my sunglasses and realised the mist was wet and I was getting damp and starting to feel chilly. A brief stop and tinted ski goggles replaced the sunglasses, and my waterproof jacket was on, hood up.

The snow grew deeper and I went in knee deep a few times. Some of the boot prints were much deeper. Visibility shrank, just a few rocks giving an idea of the terrain. The goggles helped but even with them I occasionally found the ground sloping more than I expected. On the edge of the upper corrie, with no view of the cliffs I knew were not far away, I turned and contoured round the foot of the ridge separating Corrie an t-Sneachda from Coire an Lochain. A set off tracks led up the ridge towards the Cairngorm Plateau, an exciting ascent in these conditions. There were no other signs of people as I curved round into Coire an Lochain. Again, there were no views and I turned away and descended to the line of the path back to the car park. A few walkers had made it this far, ploughing another deep trench.

As I dropped out of the mist I could see pale yellow sky far to the east. Clouds turned and twisted over the hills, strands of mist drifting past below me.

After four hours I was back at the car. I’d barely paused due to the wind, preferring to keep moving, yet I’d only travelled 6.5km. The effort I’d expended made it feel much more, even with the snowshoes.  

On my last walk in the Cairngorms, six days earlier, I’d felt that each day out was feeling a little wintrier. There was no question about it now. Winter was here.



1 comment:

  1. Thanks Chris. I guess the more recent rain and warmer air has washed off the snow at lower levels? Hopefully the Jetstream will move further south soon and provide us with colder air. I'll have my snowshoes with me when we come up for a few days over Christmas 😊