Friday 8 September 2023

Cairngorm Heatwave

My camp with Meall a' Bhuachaille in the background (which I couldn't see from the tent)

Early September’s very hot weather called for a night in the hills but not for a big walk in the heat. I decided that a wander round the long northern ridge of Cairn Gorm would be ideal. It’s a favourite place that’s very accessible yet very quiet (no Munros or Corbetts!) On this trip I met a few walkers heading back from An Lochan Uaine near the start and no-one else. On the second day I did see some tiny figures heading up the path to the summit of Cairn Gorm. I didn’t join them, preferring solitude.

To avoid the hottest part of the day I didn’t set off until late afternoon on the path through the forest to An Lochan Uaine and Ryvoan Pass and then onto the path that leads to the Lairig and Laoigh and Bynack More. I wasn’t going to either of those though and soon left the path for the secretive twisting little glen leading into An Garbh-choire (the rough corrie – there are quite a few with this name in the Highlands).

Once off the path my pace dropped dramatically and the effort of walking increased similarly. The way into the corrie is rough itself, a mass of deep heather and dense grassy tussocks. I’d noted the arduous terrain on my last visit here back in 2017 (see this post) but I hadn’t remembered just how tough the going was. The heat didn’t help. Even though the sun was low enough that I was in the shade the air in the narrow glen was still and stifling.

Eag a' Gharbh-choire. I went up the slope on the left.

On my previous visit I’d stayed in the heart of the corrie and clambered up the centre of the stony ravine called the Eag a’ Gharbh-choire (Notch of the Rough Corrie). This time I decided to climb the side, high above the rocks. I’m not sure it was any easier.

Evening light

Beyond the Eag a’ Gharbh-choire I reached a shallow flat boggy area with a trickle of a burn running through it. I camped at the end of this before the next climb, a pleasant site if rather bumpy. A breeze kept away the midges. The low sun was turning the hills golden brown. I watched it set over shining Loch Morlich, leaving a sky streaked with orange. A fine night to be in the hills.

Loch Morlich after sunset

During the night I woke feeling chilly and zipped up my half-open sleeping bag. The temperature was 4.7°C. The tent flysheet was wet with condensation and dew. The wind had dropped.

Watching the sunshine approach

Waking again at dawn I watched the sun slowly creeping down the hillside towards me. I have done this so many times. Lying in my sleeping bag waiting for the warmth to reach me always feels wonderful. There were some midges around so I lit mosquito coils in the porch then sat back and drank my morning coffee while waiting for the bright sunlight to reach me.

They vanished as soon as the sun hit the tent. Within minutes the temperature was 25°C and I was outside, the tent suddenly feeling stuffy and oppressive.

Stac na h-Iolaire

From camp I climbed past craggy Stac na h-Iolaire and up the long Sron a’ Cha-no ridge. The heat felt like it was bouncing off the pale granite and I was soon drenched in sweat. With no need to hurry I stopped often for water and to sit and watch the astonishing blue of the sky and the magnificent hills. Bynack More looked impressive across Strath Nethy.

Bynack More

My last stop was at an unnamed little rocky top with a spot height of 1028 metres. That would be the high point of the walk. Far below the green forest looked cool and inviting. I wanted to be down in the shade of the trees.

Sron a' Cha-no

It took a while to reach them, down the long shoulder of Coire Laogh Mor and then a little-used narrow and boggy path below the Coire na Ciste car park.

In the forest

The forest was cooler than the open exposed hillside but I stayed hot as walking through thick high heather and grassy tussocks that hid the path, which came and went, was strenuous. The soft light filtering through the trees was welcome after the harsh brightness of the hills though. The complexity of this natural woodland was a joy too, so different from the rigid ranks of plantations. This is a real forest.

Soon the walk was over. I hadn’t gone far but in the heat it was enough. It had been another wonderful Cairngorms trip.

1 comment:

  1. thank you Chris - as always, a wonderful, evocative article