Monday 14 January 2013

After the Thaw, Winter Returns to the Cairngorms

Late afternoon light

After ten days of warm weather the big thaw is over and winter has crept back, slowly re-establishing its dominance. It began with a frosty night, a sharp edge to the air and ice edging the puddles. The low clouds faded from the evening sky and the stars returned, sparkling in the vast blackness. At first there was no fresh snow, just freezing temperatures, but last night the snow began to fall and now there is a thin white coat over the land. More snow is promised over the coming week.

Looking over Coire an t-Sneachda

Before the first snow of the year fell I went up onto the Cairngorm Plateau with a friend on a visit from down south (Manchester). As we climbed we soon entered freezing air and a bleak but beautiful frost-coated land. Every rock was faced with a skim of white while the grasses were bundles of thick frost feathers. Between the stones and the tussocks any water was frozen hard. Large snowfields remained from the December storms but we mostly walked on the frosted ground, stepping carefully over iced rocks and frozen puddles. 

Walker on the Cairngorm Plateau

Above, the sky was dappled with layers of broken cloud through which the sun shone intermittently. The glens to the south were full of slowly flowing mist, its rippling patterns mirroring those of the clouds in the sky above. On the icy and frosty rock walls and snow-filled gullies of the cliffs of the great Northern Corries – Coire an t-Sneachda and Coire an Lochain – there were many climbers, struggling their way up the harsh, hard rocks. Other walkers passed by, plus a few skiers with their skis trapped to their packs (whilst skiing some of the snow patches might have been fun I wouldn’t have wanted to spend most of the day carrying skis over such slippery terrain). It was a good day to be in the mountains. The sun almost felt warm and there was no wind. Walking it didn’t feel too cold at all but once we stopped for a snack and drink on Cairn Lochan the chill started to bite and we were glad of the down jackets in our packs.

Cairn Gorm & Stob Coire an t-Sneachda

We came back down below the Coire Lochan cliffs, watching the low sun light the top of the rocks and illuminating the almost-snow free west slopes of Cairn Gorm. The first winter hill day of the year was over.

Cairn Lochan

I’ll be back in the mountains soon to meet up with Terry Abraham to begin work on the Cairngorms In Winter film. There might be an igloo too. The forecast for more snow and continuing cold temperatures should make for ideal conditions.

On the Cairngorm Plateau, Ben Macdui on the horizon