Wednesday 6 November 2013

First Ski Tour of the New Season: Winter comes to the Cairngorms

View east along Loch Avon

The glens are golden and green, crisp with frost and bright with autumn colours. Frozen leaves crunch underfoot. High above the mountains are white with snow, as they have been for several days now. Finally tearing myself away from desk work I set off to explore the new snowy landscape. And new it always is in winter, even when familiar, the snow and ice never the same. Today clouds raced across the sky and a bitter wind blew. The rippled snow showed it had been strong for a while, carving ridges and valleys, packing powder into soft sheets in every hollow.  A clear line marks the boundary between autumn and winter, an edge to the snow that can be traced for miles across the hills.

Wind rippled snow

I carried the skis a short while, where the snow was sparse and too many rocks and stones poked through. Soon though I could put them on and climb more easily without them catching the wind. As I gained height I could see that the clouds were thick and dark to the south and west, hiding the summits. Only the north-eastern corner of the Cairngorms was cloud free, just torn tatters racing overhead. Removing the climbing skins on reaching the Cairngorm Plateau and letting the skis run I found the snow required care and quick reactions as it varied greatly, sometimes icy so the skis picked up speed fast, sometimes soft and powdery so the skis slowed abruptly, sometimes breakable so the skis sank and stopped. Rusty from months of not skiing my progress was not elegant. No graceful swooping down in curving turns, leaving a neat pattern behind me, but rather a stuttering descent with a mix of skids and slips and a variety of turns. Survival skiing but I stayed on my feet. 

A glimpse of Loch Avon

Making my way over to the edge of the deep Loch Avon trench I ventured as close to the edge of a cornice as I dared and gazed down at the dark inky blue waters of the loch, not yet frozen. A small bank gave shelter from the wind for a short break then it was back on with the skins for an ascent of Cairn Gorm itself. As I climbed the clouds finally pushed eastwards and I was soon in a white-out with blasts of spindrift whistling past me. Judging the angle of the slopes became difficult and a couple of times I had to traverse off snow too steep to climb. Only the protruding rocks gave me something to focus on. Soon though the ghostly edifice of the Cairngorm Weather Station, plastered with snow and ice, appeared ahead, seemingly floating in the mist.

Cairngorm Weather Station

A rough, jolting descent followed, at first down wide slopes, then narrower ribbons of snow just free enough of rocks to ski. Eventually following the latter became too difficult to be worthwhile and the skis went on the pack for a final walk to the car park. It had only been a short tour but for a first day on skis for seven months it was enough and the winter landscape had worked its usual exhilarating magic. I returned home with wind burnt face and aching limbs but feeling so alive.

Cairn Lochan

1 comment:

  1. Wow. That's an abrupt change in conditions from a week ago when fresh wet snow was lying only above about 900m.

    A wonderful last line Chris that captures that magical feeling of a successful day out in the winter hills
    "I returned home with wind burnt face and aching limbs but feeling so alive". Magic!

    Dave Porter