Wednesday, 20 November 2019

A Glorious November Day on Sgor Gaoith

Lone walker crossing the Moine Mhor

November isn't noted for clear sunny days or for deep snow in the hills but both do occur and when they coincide a November day can be wonderful. Monday the 18th was one such day this year. The forecast looked good, the day was even better as it was less windy than predicted.

Sgor Gaoith 

I decided to head for Glen Feshie and climb high above the always inspiring regenerating forest to Carn Ban Mor and Sgor Gaoith. Strapping snowshoes to my pack I took the long track above the Allt Fheamagan to Carn Ban Mor. On reaching the snow I donned the snowshoes and followed the wide tracks of a snowcat and wondering what this vehicle was doing up here.

View across the Moine Mhor to Beinn a'Ghlo

Once I reached the vast expanse of the Moine Mhor the snowshoes were really useful as the snow was ankle to knee deep and soft under a thin crust. Two walkers on foot had left a line of deep holes as they headed for Sgor Gaoith. They passed me later, returning the same way. I only saw one other person, heading out across the Moine Mhor.

The views were extensive and astounding, distant hills crystal clear under a blue sky. The snow crunched  and crackled under my snowshoes. When I stopped the silence was profound. The air was chill but there was only a light breeze.

On Carn Ban Mor

Beyond Carn Ban Mor a waft of cloud passed over me. The world suddenly shrank to a ten metres or so. In many places I'd have needed to take compass bearings and to walk carefully in such minimal visibility. Here I could just see the edges of the broad ridge leading to Sgor Gaoith and anyway I had the line of boot holes to follow. It was a reminder though that the weather can change very quickly and should never be taken for granted. This can be a challenging and hostile place.

Buttresses on Braeriach appear out of the mist

The mist cleared in a few minutes and soon I was looking at the cornices building up on the steep eastern edge of Sgor Gaoith. Far below shadowed Loch Einich was a black hole in the snowy whiteness. Braeriach rose above, massive, buttressed, enormous, one of the great hills of the Cairngorms.


Returning to Carn Ban Mor I turned to see the clouds turning peach pink over Sgor Gaoith. The snow had a blue tinge. The short hours of daylight were fading.

Sgor Gaoith at dusk

Monday, 18 November 2019

In Praise of Snowshoes

Snowshoes on Sgor Gaoith

Today was my first day out in unbroken snow in the hills this winter. I took snowshoes as I knew from reports that the snow was quite deep high up and walking could be arduous. I could have taken skis but I didn't feel like carrying them to the snow or walking in ski boots. I suspected too that lower down the snow might be too broken or shallow for skiing, as turned out to be the case.

Snowshoes tracks (mine) and boot tracks today

Making travel in deep snow easier is the main reason for using snowshoes. Of course skis do that too - and I love ski touring - so why do I sometimes use snowshoes?

  • Snowshoes are lighter than skis for carrying
  • Snowshoes are easy to strap on a pack - no long waving skis catching you in the back of the legs or snagging on branches.
  • Snowshoes can be used with your ordinary boots - no need for ski boots or bindings.
  • Snowshoes can be worn when crossing areas on thin snow or even bare ground - no need to keep taking them on and off. I have waded streams in them!
  • Using snowshoes is easy, just remember to keep your feet wider apart than usual. No need to take courses or learn skills.
Snowshoes on my pack today

I wrote a longer piece about snowshoes and skis a few years ago - The Snows Here? Skis or Snowshoes. I reviewed the snowshoes I used today for The Great Outdoors two years ago.

Sunday, 17 November 2019

Saturday, 16 November 2019

What's in the December issue of The Great Outdoors

The December issue of The Great Outdoors is out now. In it I review nine hats and ten pairs of gloves - there's been plenty of suitable weather for testing these!

I also review the Sprayway Torridon Jacket, a modern take on a classic Gore-Tex jacket. Elsewhere in the gear pages Judy Armstrong reviews six women's insulated jackets.

The theme of this issue is how to love British mountain weather. I have a love/hate relationship! Beautiful autumn weather with a cloud inversion is shown in the lovely opening picture spread of Dyffryn Mymbyr and the Snowdon massif by Alan Novelli. It's impossible not to love  weather like this.

The climate is undergoing long-term change of course, and not in good ways. Hanna Lindon looks at eight ways this could change our mountains.

Sticking with the month's theme Carey Davies writes about how to endure or even enjoy our ever-changing weather, including tips for large amounts of cake and visits to the pub! Paul Beasley crosses Dartmoor despite ferocious winds and possible thunderstorms.

I never thought I'd see an article on commuting in The Great Outdoors but there's one in this issue, and very interesting it is too as Neil Adams undertakes different ways to get to his work in Lochaber. including kayaking, swimming, skiing and walking the Lochaber Traverse over the Grey Corries to Aonach Beag and Aonach Mor. Now there's a commute!

In the Lake District Ronald Tunrbull goes in search of the sublime in the footsteps of the Romantic poets and suggests three walks from Wasdale.

Far away in the Colorado Rockies Andrew Terrill goes backpacking with his ten year old and learns much.

Elsewhere in this issue Roger Smith writes about positive environmental news in his column; TGO Challenge organisers Sue Oxley and Ali Ogden praise the volunteers who make the event happen; Jim Perrin visits Errigal in Donegal; and there are reviews of three excellent books - David Lintern's The Big Rounds, Alan Rowan's Mountains of the Moon, and Andy Howard's The Secret Life of the Cairngorms.

Testing hat and gloves in the Cairngorms

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

After the rain - frost and mist

After two days of rain and low cloud - the sky solid grey, the land drenched, the air sodden - today came with frost and mist and glimpses of snow-capped hills.

Wandering in the local fields I stopped abruptly, realising I could see nothing beyond the frosted grass stretching out all around. No walls, no fences, no trees, nothing. Once I'd looked round for a few minutes, staring hard into the mist trying to discern something, anything, I realised I'd lost any sense of direction, something I wouldn't have thought possible here in these familiar fields. I knew I wouldn't have to walk far before the edge of the field appeared but for a few seconds it was disconcerting. On a mountain I'd have been using map and compass. Here I just walked for five minutes until a well-known tree appeared

Late in the afternoon the mist rose and fell, thinned and thickened, revealing hazy bands of pink and orange in a blue sky far above. The forest was mysterious and insubstantial, magical.

The frost lasted all day, decorating the reeds and grasses, beautiful and fragile. A touch of wind and it would be gone.

As the light faded I ambled home after a quiet meandering walk.

Saturday, 9 November 2019

Along the Divide: Upcoming talks on my Scottish Watershed walk

On the Watershed in the Fannichs

This month I'm giving two illustrated talks on my Scottish Watershed walk and signing copies of my book Along the Divide.

The first talk is at Dunfermline Carnegie Library & Galleries on Friday 22nd at 7pm.

The second talk is on the 30th at Hilltrek in Aboyne between 1pm and 4pm.

Everyone welcome!

Friday, 8 November 2019

Snow arrives in Strathspey

Last night snow fell. Today the world is white. There have been light snow showers before this autumn but they thawed within a few hours, temporary glimpses of winter. This snow has stayed.

During the morning the snow fall faded away though the sky remained dark and overcast, the clouds low. Walking in the woods and fields, I watched mist drifting across the land, enjoyed the crisp feel of the frosty air, and relished the last dull gold of birches and larches. Soon there will be little colour.

The air was still, thick and hazy. There was no sound. A few rabbits scuttled back to their burrows as I approached. Nothing else moved. No birds crossed the sky. The landscape felt mysterious.