Wednesday 8 June 2011

Seizing a Gap in the Wet Weather

Today the rain has hammered down again, sending white streams rushing down the track to my house. The hills are hidden in the dark clouds and the air is chill and damp. It does not feel like June and the warm, sunny days of April seem so far away and long ago as to be from another time. Since then there has been over five weeks of low cloud, wind and rain with barely a sight of the sun. There was a glimpse a few days ago though and a friend and I seized the chance for an overnight in the Cairngorms. The strong winds of the first dry day having abated and the sun shining hot in a clear sky we set off into Coire an t-Sneachda, where the pools, gorged with rain and snowmelt, were overflowing onto the grass. Climbers were at play on the cliffs, three pairs on the same route. We took the easier way up the Goat Track, a fine, thin path that weaves a steep way through broken rocks and loose ground onto the Cairngorm Plateau. Sweating in the sun we crossed the bright stony expanse to the summit of Ben Macdui where a snow bunting sang a welcome. Turning east we descended in search of a high level camp. On this sun-sheltered side of the mountain there were big snow patches that made for easier walking than the rough granite rocks. Beside a rushing torrent emerging from a snowbank we found a patch of dry ground amongst the snowmelt pools. The view stretched out to distant Cairn Gorm. It was an idyllic place to spend an evening watching the light and the water and the clouds and the hills.

I fell asleep with the tent doors wide open, as I prefer for it maintains a feeling of still being amongst nature rather than cut off in a nylon cocoon. Usually any rain wakes me quickly so I can close the doors before anything much gets wet. This was not one of those nights. The wetness crept in quietly and insidiously, thin drizzle in a damp mist that wafted into the tent without waking me until my face was wet and a breeze chilled my skin. The outer of my sleeping bag was damp and the inner tent walls dripping. I closed the doors and fell back asleep. In the morning everything was a little drier in the tent but outside the mist lingered and the spacious views of the previous evening had shrunk to a few metres of rock, grass and water. Shifting clouds and patches of blue gave hope of a clearance as we clambered back up Ben Macdui. The mist swirled just above us. Not far above it was probably sunny. But this mountain wasn’t high enough to reach the light. Rather than spend a day in the clouds we descended steep boulder slopes into the Lairig Ghru pass. Brief views of the hills across the pass came and went as we concentrated on boulder hopping and picking the best route. By the time we reached the glen below the clouds had settled on the summits. They were not to shift again that day. But the walk through the Lairig Ghru between encroaching stony walls and past the dark Pools of Dee was as marvellous as ever and we had a second spot of boulder scrambling through the glacier meltwater cleft of the Chalamain Gap before a final plod across heather and bog, with a couple of swollen burns to cross to keep up the interest. Given the weather since I’m delighted to have seized such a trip. Now to see what the rest of the summer brings.

The photos show Mark crossing a snowfield on Ben Macdui, view from the tent in the evening light, the same view in the morning mist and a brief clearance during the descent into the Lairig Ghru.


  1. nice tale of a round trip, hills look verdant

  2. Beautifully written.

  3. Over the last few years May has been one of the better months for weather but not so this year. I headed over to the Western Isles with all sorts of plans but high winds and persistent rain dashed most of them. Still hopefully things will turn round and the summer will be better than previous years, we can only hope!
    Good that you managed a trip out though Chris.

  4. Nice one. Enjoyed that, Chris. I've been doing the same of late - tying the doors back and falling asleep. Except in my case the rain didn't sneak up on me

  5. Still playing with the cuben Ultra, Chris? :)
    Nice wee trip.

    Mike fea Dundee.

  6. Great story Chris. Pity about the cloud in the morning on the way out. The new tent looks like it's made of cheap wrapping paper!

    By the way, I was in the Wicklows, Ireland on Thursday 2nd and Friday 3rd June and had bonzer weather - skinny dipping in the infant River Liffey - probably illegal!
    Dave Porter

  7. Yes, it was a good little trip. Thanks for the comments.

    Terry, that's the first time I've been caught like that by the rain. Usually the first drops wake me, either the noise on the flysheet or the water on my face.

    Mike, seeing how the cuben does for durability. Though I think I'll give it a rest until after midge season - the tent is a bit small for coping with midges.

    Dave, the tent is made from extraordinarily expensive cuben fibre!