Saturday 22 January 2022

First Hill of the Year: An Old Favourite, Meall a'Bhuachaille


A month on from the hand operation I mentioned in my first post of the year I decided to see how a venture back into the hills went. Although still sore if the operation site is touched I no longer have a hole in my hand or a big bandage over it. Holding a trekking pole would be painful so I decided to take just one, strapped to the pack, in case of need. A short day and a familiar hill seemed wise so I went to Meall a'Bhuachaille, a favourite walk I do several times every year.

One of the great joys of the walk is always the magnificent old pines surrounded by young regenerating ones in the Ryvoan Pass. On this day the trees shone in the sun under a clear blue sky. In the forest the air was warm and I'd soon stripped off fleece jacket and hat. Was this bright, sunny colourful day really a January one in the Cairngorms? It felt more like May.

Instead of the usual track up the centre of the pass, for the first time in many years I took the higher route on the northern slopes. I'd forgotten how many holly trees there are up here and how there are excellent views across the forest to the long north ridge of Cairn Gorm. Only a little snow showed on the brown hills, again more like May than January.

An Lochan Uaine was half in shadow, half in sunshine. A breeze rippled the surface. At Ryvoan Bothy people were sitting outside. 

The wind began to strengthen on the lower slopes of Meall a'Bhuachaille. I zipped up my jacket and pulled my sleeves over my hands. Over half way and the occasional blast was moving me sideways. I reckoned I could reach the summit without getting too cold. I did, just, but as I soon as I stopped, in the part protection of the summit shelter, I was fumbling in the pack for my warm jacket and gloves. The wind was ferociously cold and ferociously strong. 

Seeing my camera bag a man about to leave asked if I had a 'real' camera. On my saying yes - I don't think phone cameras aren't real but I knew what he meant - he asked if I was staying for the sunset. "Not in this wind!" I took no photos. I'd have had to lie down to have a chance of keeping the camera steady.

All the way up the sun had shone in my eyes, half-blinding me even though I was wearing dark glasses. At times I could only just make out the path ahead. Brilliant sunshine, bitter wind. May and January. 

I came out of the wind half way down from the summit. Suddenly I was too hot. I stopped to shed layers and watch the sun dropping towards a thin line of clouds in the west above a shining Loch Morlich. The brightness reduced the rest of the landscape to near blackness.

Sunset gave my vision back and the world returned, but dull now. There was no dramatic colourful dusk. The sky was too clear. A few clouds drifting over distant Sgor Gaoith and Sgoran Dubh Mor briefly showed touches of pink and orange and that was it. I didn't mind. I'd had a day in the hills and it had been a good day. But then in some ways they all are.

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