Monday 20 June 2016

'A weak ridge of high pressure'. Grabbing a quick wild camp in the Cairngorms.

View to Cairn Gorm (left) and Beinn Mheadhoin from my camp.

After a week of drizzle and rain and the hills covered in cloud down to their lower slopes a forecast for a brief respite from the dreich weather was worth seizing. ‘A weak ridge of high pressure’ was meant to bring sunny skies Saturday afternoon followed by a cloudy night and morning before rain returned Sunday afternoon. Hardly an inspiring forecast but the best there’d been for a while and just right for a quick overnight camp in the Cairngorms.

Coire an t-Sneachda
In Coire Cas the sun was shining but a cool wind meant I set off wearing a jacket as well as sun hat and dark glasses. Looking into Coire an t-Sneachda as I climbed I was surprised at the still extensive snow patches. After much warm and humid weather I thought they’d have diminished rather more.  (I remained surprised at the amount of snow throughout the trip – I’ll post a separate selection of pictures soon). Once I reached the Cairngorm Plateau the wind eased and hot sunshine accompanied me over the stony ground and snow patches to Ben Macdui. The grey harshness of the plateau was broken by the bright green of fresh grass and moss and the multi-coloured lichen on many boulders. The sense of space and vastness always found up here in clear weather washed over me, removing tensions and worries, soothing my mind. This freeing of my thoughts is always welcome and useful too as it’s usually followed by ideas for writing, photography, exploration. Positive thoughts overwhelming any negative ones. I think better when walking in wild places.

Camp above the Garbh Uisge Mor

The sky was darkening as I reached the summit. A snow bunting watched me from the trig point then hopped around hoping for crumbs. Clouds rushed in and the wind strengthened. The view shrank and vanished and I left the summit in thick mist, following the snowmelt-filled headwaters of the Garbh Uisge Mor (Rough Big Water). Others were camped here. I passed one tent high in the broadening corrie and far below I could see another beside a small pool. I camped on a shelf well above the damp ground beside the stream, just below the mist and, I hoped, sheltered from the increasingly strong wind.

Beinn Mheadhoin appearing through the mist

The last turned out not to be true as the wind changed direction and blew across the corrie, rustling my little shelter and knocking the fabric against me. I slept briefly, woke, half-slept, woke, dozed, before finally falling asleep properly as the sky lightened in the early hours and the wind eased a little. Heat woke me a few hours later. The sun was shining and the temperature had risen from a chilly +5°C to a hot +22°C that had me overheating in my sleeping bag. Wriggling out of it I was soon outside looking at the hills shining in the bright light, the colours of the vegetation and the rocks and the whiteness of the snow vibrant and sharp. Beinn Mheadhoin rose above clouds boiling up above hidden Loch Etchachan. Anyone camped down there would be in the mist.

Garbh Uisge Beag & Loch Avon

The lovely start to the day didn’t last. Within an hour the sky was overcast and the chill wind had returned. I spent the morning water watching,  following the Garbh Uisge Mor to its confluence with the Garbh Uisge Beag on the edge of the steep slabs and crags dropping down to the Loch Avon basin. Filled with snowmelt the streams boiled and surged with white water, crashing and foaming over the rocks. The sounds of rushing water were everywhere, stimulating and exciting.  Far below the dark loch lay placid under the grey sky. The last stream was the Feith Buidhe, tumbling down the steep slopes below Hells Lum Crag. Many snow bridges crossed the wide water. I was tempted but decided they were probably too rotten so I tried boulder-hopping instead and ended up with wet feet anyway when a rock tipped as I put my weight on it. The near-freezing water was bitterly cold but my feet soon warmed as I climbed the slopes above back into the mist in Coire Domhain. Only when I neared Coire Cas and the end of my trip did I drop back out of the clouds. I was back home though before the rain started, rain that hammered down for hours.

The Feith Buidhe heading for Loch Avon

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