Friday 1 May 2020

May Day Memories: A Glorious Ski Tour in the Cairngorms

On Ben Macdui, May 1, 2012

Looking out of my window this May Day I can see big snow patches in the Cairngorms but much larger areas that are snow free. The lockdown means I can only look at the mountains and dream of traversing their wild slopes. Even if free to do so I wouldn't be able to have a ski tour like that I made on May Day in 2012, probably my most glorious May Day ever.

Late snow fell in April that year and the hills were white down to 600 metres. The snow was deep and the cover complete. I put my skis on in the Coire Cas car park and only removed them when I was back there.

View to Beinn Mheadhoin, Lochnagar in the distance on the right. Spot the skier!

The sun was warm and the surface of the snow softened enough to make skiing easy but not so much that the skis sank in too far. Once I'd reached the Cairngorm Plateau and removed my climbing skins the ski to Ben Macdui across the undulating terrain was fast and almost effortless, the skis skimming over the snow. The views were startlingly sharp and clear. In winter with the low sun the Cairngorms have an Arctic feel, a heaviness, a darkness, a sense of belonging to the far north. But on May Day the sun is high in the sky, the light much brighter, colours deeper. The feeling is light and free, more Alpine than Arctic.


Across the deep hidden trench of the Lairig Ghru Braeriach looked magnificent, dominating the view from the heart of the Plateau. On Ben Macdui's summit I sat in the sun for lunch before wandering over to the edge to gaze out along the Lairig Ghru, the snowline sharp on the hills, white above, brown below.

Looking along the Lairig Ghru

Further west one of my favourite views was even more majestic than usual. Cairn Toul rearing up out of the depths.

Cairn Toul

Returning from Ben Macdui I cut across the western flanks of Cairn Lochan and descended below its rocky north face. There were signs of avalanches below the cliffs. I wondered if there were any climbers up there.

Cairn Lochan

On my way home I stopped to look back to the Cairngorms over Loch Morlich. Down here winter was long gone. Up there it was different. I loved both.

Loch Morlich & the Cairngorms

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