Saturday 23 March 2019

On Sgor Gaoith: snowshoes and clouds

Snowfields leading to Sgor Gaoith

Last week's heavy snowfall has been followed by rapid warming and a big thaw as this erratic winter continues. All the low level snow has gone and the hills are streaked with brown. I decided to see just how much snow was left with a walk up Sgor Gaoith from Glen Feshie.
At the car park beside the Allt Ruadh I was surprised and disappinted to see a sign from the Forestry Commission saying 'No Overnight Parking'. I've left my car here many times when wild camping high in the hills. I'll continue to do so.

View over the forests to cloud-enshrouded Creag Meagaidh

The first part of the walk through the fine old pines of the Inshriach Nature Reserve is lovely. As the path climbs through the magnificent forest there are glimpses of the rushing waters of the Allt Ruadh far below. Gradually the trees start to thin and the views open out. Ahead the hills were brown with little sign of snow except for patches near the tops. Looking back over Glen Feshie and Strathspey I could see the Monadh Liath and Creag Meagaidh hills, splashed with white. There was still snow up there.

I'd brought snowshoes, suspecting that any remaining snow would be soft and unsupportive and make walking difficult. I was beginning to wonder if I'd be carrying them all day when I met the only other person I saw all day coming down. We chatted briefly and she told me she hadn't been all the way to the summit because the snow was knee deep and walking just too arduous. "You'll need those", she said, indicating my snowshoes. I felt reassured though plodding up the muddy path I still wasn't really sure I'd need them.

Cornices on the eastern edge of Sgor Gaoith

Only when I reached the broad summit ridge that runs above the deep trench of Gleann Einich did I encounter extensive snowfields. A few steps showed me that the snowshoes would indeed be valuable. The snow was horrible to walk on, or rather in. It was thick and wet and very slippery. My feet either skidded off or sank in deeply. I donned the snowshoes and I could walk easily. They really are a boon in conditions like this and I'm surprised that more walkers don't use them. They're on my feet more often than crampons. I do prefer skis but only when there's enough snow that I'm going to be using them most of the time as they're awkward to carry and the boots aren't comfortable to walk in.

View to the Moine Mhor

The snow reached almost to the summit of Sgor Gaoith. Leaving the snowshoes I walked the last few steps to the top and gazed at the always impressive view. Usually though it's the great bulk of Braeriach rising above the dark waters of Loch Einich that dominates the scene. Today that wasn't so. The flanks of Braeriach were mostly snow-free and the mountain seemed strangely subdued and reclusive. Instead my eye was drawn to the corniced edge of the Sgor Gaoith ridge leading out to the snowy expanse of the Moine Mhor. I'd certainly have wanted snowshoes or skis if crossing that vast plateau. But today I was turning away and descending.

Loch Einich

Not wanting to leave the heights very quickly I made a slow descent along the Meall Buidhe - Geal Charn ridge before dropping down rough, boggy slopes to join the Allt Ruadh path just as it reached the first trees. Mostly the ridge was bare of snow but there was one large expanse where I used the snowshoes again.

The day had been cloudy - interesting clouds in different shapes but covering the whole sky. Then on Meall Buidhe the sun, close to setting, shone hazily under the clouds over Loch Morlich to Meall a'Bhuachaille. The illuminated hills were purple, the shaded ones brown and black, a series of ridges all the way to the horizon. There were only tiny touches of snow on these hills.

The River Spey flood plain.

The sunshine didn't last and grey skies soon dominated again. But as I neared the first trees there was just enough brightness to light the River Spey surrounded by flooded meadows. Then it was down through the dark forest and the walk was over. It's one I've done many times before but it's never the same. There is always something new to see. Light, snow, clouds, water, rocks, nature. Ever-changing. Ever-fascinating.

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