Friday 5 November 2021

A Winter's Day In The Cairngorms, The First Of This Season

A brief view in the mist

Winter has returned to the Cairngorms and I had my first taste of the new season on a magical day of clouds and mist. Despite views being rare and short-lived it was glorious to be out in winter conditions again. The Cairngorm Plateau frozen with rime ice and snow. The grass covered in ice bubbles, the rocks with a white sheen. A severe beauty.

A shoulder of Cairn Lochan

With the forecast for a strenthening north-west wind I walked across the foot of the Northern Corries and then up to Miadan Creag Leth-choin so I could head east when up high and have the wind at my back at least some of the time. As I skirted the corries Cairn Lochan came and went in the mist, white and dramatic. There were few people about, just two pairs. One stopped and asked me if there was any way back other than the way they'd come up. They didn't appear to have a map and although dressed for the conditions only had one tiny rucksack between them. After a brief discussion they decided to return down the path. A sensible decision.

Cairn Lochan reveals itself

The other couple were looking down into the Lairig Ghru. They they turned and also started back along the path they'd come up.

Almost Cairn Toul

From the path across the west shoulder of Cairn Lochan I also had views into and across the Lairig Ghru. Braeraich remained hidden but Cairn Toul almost appeared through the swirling clouds. Further south I looked over the top of Bod an Deamhain to distant Beinn a'Ghlo. The weather looked better there.

View to Beinn A'Ghlo

Then it was into the cloud and the world closed in. I crunched across the frozen grass and icy snow patches. Two figures came past Lochan Buidhe from the direction of invisible Ben Macdui. 

I'd intended to go over Cairn Lochan but as soon as I left the path the going became much harder with breakable crust underfoot. A step, your boot holds, put weight on it, crunch, through it goes. Progress slowed I turned away and cut across to the path on the east side of the mountain. A circuit of Cairn Lochan would do. What mattered was being here.

I'd considered putting on micro spikes a few times and reckoned I'd definitely need them for the descent when I came to a section of path across a steeper slope that was banked up with hard rippled snow. I could see the slight marks where others had crossed, some going way off the path in search of easier terrain. I teetered a few steps. This was silly. Stopping I donned the micro spikes. Setting off again I was surprised at the huge difference they made, as I do every year the first time I use them or crampons, despite it being over forty years since I first did so.

Confident now I crunched over the frozen ground, enjoying the sensation. 

Beinn Mheadhoin briefly catches some late sun

Across the Plateau to Stob Coire an t-Sneachda and then the Fiacaill a' Choire Chais there was just one fleeting view as the low sun cut under the cloud and lit up Beinn Mheadhoin. A few seconds and it was gone and I was back in the greyness. As I reached the edge of Coire an t-Sneachda the wind blasted over me, cold and strong. My hood went up, my overmitts went on. Yes, this really was winter.

By the time I was down in the silent, empty Cairn Gorm ski resort it was growing dark. As soon as I left the last snow and ice behind I needed my headtorch to light the suddenly black ground. The car park was dark and silent.

1 comment:

  1. Nice one, Chris, lovely photos, as usual; all the best from M & H xx