Thursday 9 December 2021

A Short But Exhilarating Day In The Snowy Cairngorms

Coire an t-Sneachda cliffs

Having finally sorted out computer problems caused by Storm Arwen I went to the Cairngorms to see what conditions were like after all the snow that had fallen during the last week. The forecast suggested a fine afternoon before the wind picked up in the evening. 

Heading into Coire an t-Sneachda

The day looked promising too as I headed across the base of the Northern Corries, planning on climbing to the Cairngorm Plateau and even going to Ben Macdui if the snow didn’t make progress difficult. I had snowshoes and donned them in the car park. There was a well-beaten down trench in the snow but walking still looked arduous. 

Cairn Lochan is in the clouds on the right

As I started across the mouth of Coire an t-Sneachda I could see that Cairn Lochan was hidden in dark clouds, which broke up and raced across the sky in tatters as they streamed off the summit. The wind looked fierce up there and was strengthening down here. The path was narrower now, fewer people having made it this far, and the snow soft with a breakable crust. Even with the snowshoes I broke through occasionally. 

Snowshoe tracks, boot tracks

The clouds spread east. Walking in them in a strong wind didn’t seem that attractive. Staying below them and enjoying the snow and views down here sounded much better. I’d walk into Coire an t-Sneachda for a close view of the cliffs then traverse round into Coire Lochain then return. That would be enough.

View over Glenmore Forest

Looking back the lower hills above Loch Morlich and Glenmore Forest shone in the sun. Maybe I should have gone there. Too late now. Parties of heavily laden mountaineers stomped past me, two of the last group carrying the halves of a stretcher. The Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team out on a practice. I saw them latter high on the side of the corrie on a steep rock-dotted slope.

Stob Coire an t-Sneachda vanishes

As I approached the upper corrie clouds swept over the cliffs and wind swept down over me, bringing spindrift and damp mist, an insidious wetness that soaked into me. The precipitation seemed slight, not even drizzle. Only when I sheltered behind a boulder for a snack and a cup of hot ginger cordial did I realise my gloves were soaked and my jacket wet. I felt chilly quickly too and soon donned my insulated jacket. This wet-cold with the temperature around zero really is difficult to deal with. It’s much easier to keep warm in colder, drier conditions. When I removed my insulated jacket before moving on it was already quite wet even though I’d only had it on for maybe fifteen minutes.

Climbers on the cliffs of Coire an t-Sneachda

The cliffs above me were plastered in snow. I could see climbers spread over them. This was as far as I was going. I forgot about Cairn Lochan and headed back to Coire Cas. The wind was strengthening rapidly. It was rocking the car as I sat inside for a last hot drink before heading home. I hadn’t gone that far but it had been a real winter day in the hills and I felt exhilarated. 



  1. >>This wet-cold with the temperature around zero really is difficult to deal with.

    I have struggled for a long time with an answer to this. The only advice so far that has made sense (if you know you will be out all day) is to take spares of everything, including waterproof shells.

    1. Spares of hats and gloves certainly. I've never carried a spare waterproof jacket.

  2. I recall a trip you did in the White Mountains (a good few years ago now) when temperatures were just above freezing and you had difficult cold, damp conditions to deal with. All the best Chris, David Porter