Monday 20 December 2021

A Winter Night on the Moine Mhor

The last few days have seen the first long spell of fine weather in the hills for many weeks, very welcome after a wet, cloudy autumn. With a forecast for warmer temperatures up high than in the glens and a possibility of a cloud inversion I decided to hear up to the Moine Mhor, that vast boggy plateau above Glen Feshie, for probably the last camp of the year.

The air was frosty as I set off, the sun having long gone from the glen floor though it still shone on the hills high above. As I climbed through the woods onto the open hillside I passed through bands of cold and warm air, some very narrow. A strange experience I haven’t had before. Overall, the temperature rose though and by the time I was on the tops, some 700 metres above the glen, I’d shed hat, gloves and fleece jacket.

In the west a brilliant red sunset lit up the sky with far peaks sharply silhouetted below. I crossed crunchy patches of snow and slippery icy moss. The light faded, the headtorch came out. I didn’t need it on the snow, but the moss and bog turned into impenetrable solid blackness. Soon the almost full moon rose and bathed the snow dappled hills in its eerie light. There was no wind, no sound at all. The silence was enormous.

Finding a site wasn’t easy. Every hollow was filled with snow, either hard and rippled or soft and insecure. Snow free areas oozed water. Eventually I found a dry stony flattish area. It would do. I had a thick sleeping mat to even out the bumps. I was soon settled in for a comfortable night, boiling water for a meal, reading a novel on my Kindle, writing my journal.

As always when the weather allows I left the tent doors open. At 1 a.m. I woke and looked out to the now high moon shining on the little pointed peak of Sgor Gaoith. I can take a photograph from the porch, I thought. But what’s happening the other side of the tent? I had no choice but to get up and go and see. This was a magical night. All around the moon shone. Stars sparkled. Away to the north a bank of fog hung over Aviemore. I was up for well over an hour before retreating to make a mug of hot chocolate then fall back asleep.

Awake again as the sun rose I was soon back outside. The temperature was a touch below freezing. Chilly but under a clear sky in December I’d expect it to be much colder.

I watched the sun light up the tops of the hills then slowly creep down the mountainsides until it reached the tent. Brightness and warmth enveloped me.

From camp I took a meandering line over to the edge of the steep rocky slopes tumbling down to Loch Einich then followed this round to the spring called Fuaran Diotach. Here a big, cracked snowbank lay on the north side of the grassy hollow. I measured it with my 120cm trekking poles. It was maybe some 30cm deeper and the deepest of the many snow patches left from the first heavy snowfall of the winter just over a week earlier that I saw.

From the spring I headed up Carn Ban Mor. I could see many people on Sgor Gaoith and decided I preferred the quieter slightly lower top. The still air was warm, and I sat in the sunshine, my jacket undone. 

Then it was time to descend, back down the long path to Glen Feshie. On one short section across a steep hard snow slope falling away into a stream gully I put on my microspikes and took out my ice axe. I probably didn’t them, but a slip could have sent me a long way and I was carrying them anyway. Then it was down to the frosty glen and home, satisfied.



  1. Any time on the Moine Mhor is great, but in conditions like that you got a fantastic night out. Enjoy Christmas and the New Year.

    1. Good to hear from you Martin. Hope all's well. Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

  2. Glorious read Chris. Brave but beautiful winter solstice with calm conditions
    I did it on summer solstice 2013.
    Walked in Thurs 20th from Gen Feshie to camp on Tom Dubh. Wake on solstice to total silence, wind free. First sound is a bird song, then tumbling water as I cross first stream up to Cairn Toul. Wisps of cloud hang like a jellyfish with numerous tendrils hanging down, above Beinn Bhrotain to the south. CT for the third time SaLU for the second time and as I head for the Braeriach plateau, frustratingly a bank of cloud rolls over. Meet Canadian guy, Mark in the clagg, we wander the plateau a little disorientated towards eastern cliffs. Quite a bit of confusion and uncertainty, eventually get there, mist is thinning. As we part, I head further NE towards my northern Murdo. Hot and clear by this time. On way back I contour round the western edge of the plateau look down into Loch Coire an Lochain and across tops to Carn na Criche.
    I've longed to return to Braeriach in summer with no clag, since age 13, 4th June '66 with my dad, plateau covered in snow and clagged in. A joyous day today indeed.