Wednesday 17 November 2021

Silver & Gold: Autumn Returns

Eleven days ago the hills were silver, yesterday they were gold. The first touch of winter has gone, autumn has returned. On a day of drifting mists and a sometimes bright, sometimes hazy sun I wandered up the long, quiet north ridge of Cairn Gorm. 

Approaching the ridge I passed Lochan na Beinne, calm and unruffled in the still air. Underfoot the ground was wet and muddy after all the recent rains. With no wind and temperatures well above freezing I didn’t need a jacket, let alone hat and gloves. 

On the ridge grey boulders protruded through the gold and red grasses. The ridge is a lovely walk with many little rocky tors and the ground become stonier and stonier as you climb. On the east side steep slopes fall away into deep Strath Nethy. In clear weather following the edge of these slopes rather than the path in the centre of the ridge is well worthwhile. The mountain feels more dramatic here.

As I gained height a cold wind began to sweep across the slopes, and I remembered it was mid-November. On with jacket, hat, and gloves.  

Thin clouds streaked the sky, thin sunshine kept the ground golden. The sun was low now and some hills were becoming dark. I was in shadow as I headed up the final slopes to the summit of Cairn Gorm. The sky beyond was turning red and gold. Three figures were silhouetted against the sky as they climbed towards the Cairngorm Weather Station.

We reached the summit at the same time and I recognised Gary Hodgson of Tarmachan Mountaineering who was guiding two people on a navigation and wildlife photography day. “We’ve finally met,” he said. We’d almost done so eleven days ago. He was one of a pair of walkers I almost caught up with far out on the Cairngorm Plateau, before I’d stopped to put on microspikes. No need for those today, there wasn’t a hint of snow or ice. As on that day Gary and his party were the only people I saw on the hills. We’d both posted photos of our trips and realised we’d almost met up.

The temperature was dropping on Cairn Gorm but so was the wind and I lingered to watch the glorious colours after the sun had set, and the banks of cloud rippling and rolling over the hills below a darkening sky. An almost full moon rose, shining palely through streaky clouds.

Gary and his party headed off to practise night navigation then descend to Coire Cas. I had some night navigation of my own locating the path down to the Coire na Ciste car park. A headlamp lit descent was all this walk had in common with the one eleven days earlier. The mountains were the same. And quite different. Winter then, autumn now. 


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