Monday 3 December 2018

Winter Returns To The Cairngorms

Cairn Lochan

After several weeks of mild weather that quickly swept away the snow of early November the high Cairngorms are white again and the air is crisp and cold.

With a forecast for calm weather and an upcoming couple of days sitting inside at John Muir Trust meetings I decided to go up to the Cairngorm Plateau and see the new snow for myself - I find a day in the hills immediately before JMT meetings focuses my mind and reminds me why sitting indoors at formal meetings is important. It's to help ensure that the hills and wild places are there in the future.

The sun rising over Cairn Lochan

Walking below the Northern Corries before starting my ascent up the west shoulder of Cairn Lochan I noticed the sun emerging hazily through thin clouds above the top of the Coire Lochain cliffs. It was 11.50 a.m. This was almost as high as the sun would rise. This low light gives a special quality to the mountains in deep winter, a feeling of the far north. It's a constant reminder that daylight is limited and must be cherished.

As I crossed from the brown lands to the white lands the world lightened. Without snow midwinter is a dark time. Looking down from the mouth of Coire Lochain I could see mist filling Strathspey, a grey dullness through which I'd driven earlier. From up here it looked fine.

Crossing the western shoulder of Cairn Lochan I gazed across the Lairig Ghru to Cairn Lochan and Sgor an Lochain Uaine. Clouds just brushed their summits. Braeriach and Ben Macdui were completely shrouded. I had thought of heading for the latter but the cloud dissuaded me. Instead I turned and headed up Cairn Lochan

A party of climbers were just packing up their ropes and other gear as I approached. Cornices overhung the snow-plastered cliffs. Facing north these crags receive no sunshine in winter and snow and ice builds up to great depths. Every year the patterns of snow are different and it's always interesting to see the complex forms they take.

Away from the steep rocks the snow was thin and patchy, blasted by the wind over the cliffs. Only in hollows and areas protected from the wind was there much depth. That made the walking easy across the broad gentle slopes.

On Stob Coire an t-Sneachda climbers were finishing routes, their ropes trailing down the mountainside. There was less snow here, more bare rock. I wandered round to the top of the Fiacaill a'Choire Chais. Looking back the top of Cairn Lochan had vanished into thickening clouds. The chill breeze was strengthening. The weather was changing.

The snow at the top of the descent was hard, packed down by the wind. I kicked the edges of my boots into the crisp surface. One foot slipped slightly. I stopped. Time for the ice axe. With it in hand I felt much more confident and was soon down on gentler slopes with softer snow.

As I reached home rain was starting to fall. The temperature was 2C. It'll be snow higher up. The hills will soon be different again. Winter has so much to offer.

1 comment:

  1. "Winter has so much to offer."

    ... oh yeaah .. I wish it would be my neighborhood, I think I would enjoy it too .. keep on and enjoy!