Wednesday 31 December 2014

A Winter's Day on Sgor Gaoith

Spindrift blowing off Sgor Gaoith

The shining snow, sharp frosts and bright winter light ended today, December 30th, with a big thaw. The glens are mostly green and brown again, the hills only streaked with white, the sky grey. For now winter had left the land.
Looking across Strathspey to the Monadh Liath

Yesterday, whilst the big freeze continued I headed to Glen Feshie and up onto Sgor Gaoith. Although sunny the air was freezing, as it had been for many days, and the paths leading through the woods and into the hills icy and hard. The snow down here was shallow and sparse. But once I left the last trees it soon became deeper, hiding the tussocks and heather and rock. With no freeze-thaw pattern or strong winds to harden it the snow was unconsolidated and powdery so I broke through at every step, mostly ankle deep, sometimes into the knee. Climbing was arduous and the convex slope frustrating with the plateau and easier ground seemingly always just fifty metres ahead. The views though were splendid, back over a frosty Strathspey to the cloud-streaked Monadh Liath.
Walkers heading for the summit of Sgor Gaoith

Eventually the great west face of Braeriach began to rise above the slope ahead and I knew the main ascent was over. And as I came out onto the north-western end of the vast high plateau of the Moine Mhor I also came into the full force of the wind, with gusts strong enough to make walking difficult. Swirls of spindrift were twisting and hissing over the snow and the icy cold blasts of wind scoured any exposed skin. Along the steep eastern edge of Sgor Gaoith I could see great blasts of spindrift pouring over the corniced edge in hazy clouds. Across the gulf of Gleann Einich Braeriach looked calm and peaceful. 


The exposed summit was not a place to linger in these conditions so I was soon heading down again towards the lower summit of Meal Buidhe. In the col between the two I was able to find a reasonably sheltered spot for a much needed snack and warming drink of hot ginger cordial. Then it was into the wind again as the sun sank towards the horizon and the snow began to turn pink in its last rays. A half-moon rose into the darkening sky. 

Swirling spindrift at sunset
Back down in the trees and out of the wind it felt warmer though the temperature was dropping rapidly now the sun was gone. Winter seemed to have a firm grip on the land. How quickly it would change. For a last walk of the year this had been a grand venture though and I returned home with aching limbs and wind-blasted face but deeply satisfied inside.



Last traces of sunset

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