Sunday 30 March 2014

Snow & Sunshine: Springtime on the Cairngorm Plateau

View across the Cairngorm Plateau to Cairn Toul, Sgor an Lochain Uaine & Braeriach

A few days ago I wandered up onto the Cairngorm Plateau on a day of sunshine and drifting clouds. The blue of the sky and the brightness of the high sun told of the changing seasons. Out of the cool easterly wind the air was warm. Round the edges of the Plateau the snow was thawing and the streams were full with the melt. Previous mild days had stripped the snow from many of the summits and exposed ridges but the heart of the Plateau was still white, a whiteness that shimmered and flashed in the sunlight. This was because the snow, as I quickly found, was very icy, requiring crampons for security. Although there were still big deep drifts in the hollows and corries much of the snow was also very thin with rocks poking through. Much more warm weather and it will be gone. Huge cornices hung over steep edges, looking ready to collapse.

Cornices on Stob Coire an t-Sneachda

Pairs of ptarmigan, some half white, half grey as they began the change into their summer plumage, scuttled across the rocks. A large flock of snow buntings fluttered low over the snow. Down in the corries there was a hint of green. There was a feeling of change, of anticipation. Distant views faded away into haze, the sharp clarity of clear winter days gone. The hard snow crunched under my crampons, the only sound. Looking south from Ben Macdui white hills faded into the distance.

Ben Macdui

As the sun sank towards the mountains I returned across the Plateau and cut below the great north face of Cairn Lochan. Here in the area of the corrie wall known as the Great Slab the deep snow had cracked and sagged, leaving crevasse - like splits. Earlier in the year scientists from Dundee University said the Cairngorms could have had glaciers as late as the 1700s and that Coire an Lochain was a likely place for the last one. Looking into the corrie I could believe the glacier had returned.

Cairn Lochan & Coire an Lochain

Having lingered to watch the last sunlight on the summits I made my way down to the car park as the clouds turned red and orange and the sky darkened to black. 

After sunset


  1. Great pictures and although only just back from 6 weeks on ski my feet still feel itchy when I see your pictures. Only 6 weeks to the TGO Challenge!

  2. Brilliant view of the Great Slab there, Chris - always been fascinated by that feature! I wonder how long it will hang in for this year?

  3. Hi Chris, I've not visited your site for a while, great to see some excellent photos of the hills

  4. Beautiful pictures, it really got me going and inspired to get out there.