Thursday 9 August 2012

Mists & Sunshine: A Day of Contrasts in the Cairngorms

 Sometimes having a companion means you venture out on days when caution and a reluctance to deal with stormy weather might keep you in if alone. Such was the case recently when my stepdaughter Hazel was visiting for a short while and keen to get out on the hills for a day. Forecasts for low cloud and heavy thundery showers with only a 20% chance of clear summits meant I would probably have stayed home but as each day seemed much the same we picked one and went. As Hazel had never been across the Cairngorm Plateau and up Ben Macdui we chose that route. Initially it did look as though it would be a compass exercise in the cloud. We left the Coire Cas car park in thick mist and followed the path into Coire an t-Sneachda where it was so dense that we couldn’t even see across the small lochans and the big cliffs at the head of the corrie were completely invisible. I can’t remember ever encountering such poor visibility here before.

In Coire an t-Sneachda

On the Goat Track
Finding the rough path known as the Goat Track that climbs steeply up the headwall of the corrie we followed this, still in the mist, to the Plateau. Here we met two hikers who remarked on the changeable weather. It had, they said, been clear on Ben Macdui earlier. Encouraged we set off across the stony slopes, still unable to see more than a few metres. Soon though we came into an odd mist-free corridor. We could see mist not far away on both sides but we were outside it. Then as we approached Lochan Buidhe in the heart of the Plateau all the mists were left behind. Looking back we could see nothing. Across the Lairig Ghru pass the summit of Braeriach was cloud-covered. But ahead Ben Macdui was in sunshine. Soon we reached the summit and realised that we were in a small island of clearness. To the south the hills were shrouded darkly. It looked as though it might be raining there. Eastwards great white clouds towered into the sky and the hills were again hidden. North, from where we had come, the mist still lay. Westwards we could see the nearest peaks but beyond them was cloud.

On the final climb to Ben Macdui

The summit of Ben Macdui
 We sat on the edge of the summit overlooking the Lairig Ghru with the massive east face of Cairn Toul rising out of its depths and the huge scoop of An Garbh Choire – the rough corrie – cutting deep into the hills next to it. The sun was warming and it felt like summer yet not so far away clouds dominated. Returning back across the Plateau the mist retreated before us and the cliffs of Cairn Lochan were shining in the late sun as we descended past them. As we neared the car park a few evening bird watchers were wandering along the path. They were the first people we’d seen since the top of the Goat Track. In all we’d only seen four people high up and we’d had the Plateau and Ben Macdui to ourselves. Maybe no-one else had a companion to spur them out on what looked an unpromising day.

View across the Lairig Ghru

Cairn Lochan


  1. I trust you had no run ins with the Big Grey Man on old Ben Macdui. Low clouds and mist are normally the conditions he favors :) Great pictures as ever, we're these taken on the NEX7 as well?

  2. Last time I was on McDui I found I guy chatting to his office on his mobile phone! Looks like a great day out.

  3. Yes,all taken on the NEX 7 with 18-55 lens. No Big Grey Man ..... yet again!

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  5. It sometimes needs a push from a companion to get out and about when the forecast is not great. Nice to see you were well rewarded for your efforts, I'm sure the low expectations will make it all the more memorable.