Saturday 10 June 2023

Clouds & Sunshine & Braeriach

Sgor Gaoith

The hot dry weather of the last few weeks is due to end with thunderstorms in the next 24 hours. Whilst there has been plenty of sunshine there have also been clouds, sometimes extensive, so clear summits with wonderful views haven’t been a certainty.

A few days ago I headed up on to the Moine Mhor from Glen Feshie for an overnight camp, hoping for cloud-free skies and a bright moon. The sun shone, the sky was blue, and I was feeling very hot as I began the long climb. The only cloud was a thin narrow band away to the south.

Cotton grass & Glen Feshie

I’d barely cleared the forest however when that cloud spread quickly across the sky, soon blotting out the sun. Waves of cotton grass nodded in the breeze. I was still hot.

The climb over, the clouds still there, I wandered over to the jumble of knolls and boulders where the Moine Mhor breaks up and falls away into Coire Odhar and found a good site with a view of the massive, steep, rocky east face of Sgor Gaoith. In sunshine or moonlight this would look spectacular. In the flat evening light with cloud capping the summits it was merely good. I ambled over to the edge of the corrie and looked down on the wind-rippled water of Loch Enich. I would not see it again. Beyond the loch sunlight cut beneath the clouds and lit up the landscape. Here all was grey.

I woke once during the night. It was very dark. I looked out and my headlamp beam bounced back at me. The cloud had descended on the tent. No moon photography this time.

Camp, cloud inversion, Sgor Gaoith

Awake again at 5.30 I could tell the world had changed. Brightness suffused the tent. Looking out this time revealed sunshine on Sgor Gaoith and mist in Coire Odhar. I was outside in minutes to spend an hour or so wandering around staring down at the cloud below me and watching the sun appear over Braeriach. The clouds in Coire Odhar rose and fell but stayed all day, hiding the loch.

Sunrise over Braeriach

The ground was wet, the flysheet soaked inside and out. The mist had been damp. 

Morning coffee, the tent starts to dry

The sun had barely begun to dry the tent when the cloud rose up and engulfed the tent. A fogbow appeared, curving white above camp.

Fogbow over camp

As it was the highest summit in the area I decided to climb Braeriach in the hope the top would be above the cloud. Visibility was down to down to maybe twenty metres as I negotiated the rough ground above Coire Odhar before the ascent began. This is complex terrain and I took a meandering line as I couldn’t see which little ridges connected to each other and how best to avoid dips and crags. Maps are little help here as they just can’t show enough detail.

Hills in the cloud

Occasionally the mist would shift and reveal dark flashes of hillside. Braeriach appeared once, assuring me I was headed the right way. Soon the terrain steepened and became easier. Straight lines were possible.

Cliffs in the mist

As I reached the vast summit plateau I came out of the mist though wisps and tendrils still drifted over me and I could see thick clouds swirling round the cliffs and the highest point. From the Wells of Dee where two people were packing up their camp and reindeer were cooling themselves on a snowbank I walked to the edge of the huge cliffs above An Garbh Choire and followed the top of these round to the summit cairn.

View from Braeriach

Below the top the corrie stretched out to the Lairig Ghru and the silver line of the infant river Dee. Above the clouds boiled up over Ben Macdui and Cairn Toul, never still, never permanent.

Clouds fill Coire Odhar

There was sunshine most of the way back to camp though whenever I turned to look back Braeriach was in the cloud again. Whilst the visibility made the route-finding much easier and the views were extensive somehow the excitement of the day had gone. Now it was just pleasant. I didn’t mind. The morning had been dramatic and memorable.

Reindeer staying cool


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