Wednesday 8 February 2023

In the Cairngorms with a hiding place and an eagle and not much snow

Coire na Ciste

Cold drizzle drifted down from the wet mist not far above. The air was grey, the land not much brighter. Dampness pervaded everything. Not a promising day for the hills it seemed. But the strong winds that have been blowing most days this winter had eased and the forecast suggested they wouldn’t return until after dark and there might be some brightness in the afternoon. I set off into the murk hoping it would be so. 

Rainbow over Glenmore

As I climbed the mist rose with me then started to slowly thin and break. I looked back down to patches of sunlight. A hint of a rainbow appeared over the forest below. Loch Morlich shone in the sunshine though the hills beyond were still capped with cloud. 

Loch Morlich

Higher up still my hood came down and my dark glasses went on. I was walking into a low bright sun. Snow patches sparkled. Wet rocks glistened. The wind picked up. My waterproof jacket stayed on. 

Glenmore Forest & Meall a'Bhuachaille, Lochan na Beinne on the right

The thaw of the last week or so had stripped away much of the snow on the flanks of the hills. I expected more on the tops but even at 1000 metres there were only easily avoided patches. There looked to be more on Cairn Gorm itself. I debated going to the summit but it meant walking into the now fierce wind and probably putting on crampons and using my ice axe. The long north ridge of the mountain looked snow free enough that I wouldn’t need these there and the wind would be behind me until I was lower down so that’s the way I went.

Cnap Coire na Spreidhe

Near the top of Cnap Coire na Spreidhe, whose east face was plastered with snow, I ducked down out of the wind below a big boulder for a snack and a hot drink. Just above was a little cairn on a slight rise. A cloud swept in and I felt moisture on my face. Soft hail dotted the hood and shoulders of my insulated jacket.

In hiding

I was contemplating the view of virtually snow free Bynack More across Strath Nethy and enjoying my hot ginger cordial when I heard voices above me. I could just see some figures stopping by the cairn. One peered down. “There’s somebody hiding here”. I waved. And wondered. Hiding?

The walkers went into a huddle and I heard one giving navigation instructions and safety advice – “if there was much snow there could be avalanche danger at the top of Coire Laogh Mor so we must avoid that”. I could see heads looking down at maps and compasses. “500 metre legs, you go first” said the instructor. The party set off down the route I’d ascended. I didn’t see them again.

Stac na h-Iolaire

Coming out of hiding I descended slowly along the north ridge, meandering round some large snow patches and glad to have the wind at my back. The clouds passed by and the sun shone again. As I was approaching Stac na h-Iolaire – the cliff of the eagle – a large bird rose out of the heather not far ahead and soared high into the air. An eagle! Appropriate and exciting. I watched as it slowly made headway across the wind, wings hardly flapping, before fading into the distance over the Cairngorm Plateau. Magnificent, as always.

Lochan na Beinne & Loch Morlich

Soon after the eagle I reached a notch in the ridge above curved Lochan na Beinne. The light was starting to fade and the first sunset colours appear in the sky.

A rough thin path led down to the wind-rippled pool and then back across very wet boggy ground – more sodden than I’ve ever seen it – to my start point.

A grand mountain day with an eagle. I couldn’t have asked for more. Now there are high winds forecast again for several days and more snow. I might need the ice axe and crampons next time.

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