Wednesday 17 August 2022

Full Moon Heatwave & Encounters in the Cairngorms

With the hot weather due to end two days after the August full moon it felt a good time for a high camp away from the heat, and hopefully the midges, and with a good view of the sky. Not wanting a long walk or climb in the hottest part of the day I decided to set off in the late afternoon for the Cairngorm Plateau. Even with the late start the ascent was hot, sweaty, and enervating. I didn’t stop often or for long though as when I did the midges soon found me. Across the Northern Corries the land was already darkening, and mist was forming low down as I approached the Plateau.

Up high there was a slight breeze, enough to deter the midges, but it was still hot. A couple of walkers, a man and a woman, were coming towards me as I made the slight descent from the little rocky top of Stob Coire an t-Sneachda. Their body language said they were going to ask me something. “Have you seen a man on his own”? I hadn’t, just pairs. The man, Eric, had become separated from his brother, Chris, who he thought was ahead of him. He looked exhausted; his face drained of colour. The woman did most of the talking. They weren’t together but having met him she said she’d go with him down to the car park. As she obviously knew what she was doing, I felt he’d be okay so I continued, promising to look out for Chris.

Not much further along I spotted a tent pitched a little way down a shallow corrie. As I neared the head of the corrie a man standing outside the tent eating from a pot started heading towards me. At the same time I spotted a man coming down the path from the other direction. The camper reached me first. “Are you Chris?”. “Yes, but not the one you mean”. The woman with Eric had asked him to look out for Chris.  The walker arrived. He was Chris. “Eric’s just crossing Stob Coire an t-Sneachda”. “Fine. I knew he was way ahead. He was planning on going up Cairn Gorm”.  I said I thought he was going down to the car park. Chris, who looked fine, didn’t seem bothered and soon strode off after his brother.

I hadn’t gone more than a few hundred metres when I met two more people coming along the path. “Going to join tent city?” “I hope not”. “You’ll see round the next corner”.  They’d been climbing on the Shelter Stone Crag. The midges were bad lower down. I said I’d be looking for a high site that caught the breeze. 

I rounded the next corner and there down by the Feith Buidhe stream was a cluster of ten tents with two more not far away. Tent city indeed. I had thought of camping on the edge of the steep rocky slopes above the Loch Avon basin, a spectacular spot, but had already decided it might be too sheltered. On seeing the tents I wouldn’t have gone there anyway. I generally drink straight from streams in the Cairngorms without treating the water. I wouldn’t do so immediately below such a large encampment though. Instead I continued upwards past Lochan Buidhe, where there was another tent, to the March Burn. Here I caught the breeze again and camped with a view of the summits of Cairn Toul, Sgor an Lochain Uaine and Braeriach rising above the hidden gash of the Lairig Ghru pass. A fine spot.

With the late start and the conversations it was dusk when I pitched the tent. Across Strathspey the few thin lines of cloud turned briefly red and orange. I watched the sky darken as I ate my simple supper of instant soup and instant mashed potato. 

Soon the first stars appeared and then the moon, orange and big. I already had my camera on a tripod and was soon outside taking photographs and watching as the pale moonlight lit the land, a magical effect. The air was cool enough for a jacket. Overnight the temperature fell to 8°C and there was a light dew on the grass and the tent.

Woken by the sun I was out early, again wandering round with the camera. The land glowed red and gold in the low warm light. From the edge of the Lairig Ghru I could see a thick band of mist filling Strathspey. 

Beyond Lochan Buidhe the tent city campers were packing up. Lochan Buidhe rippled in the breeze. I ambled back to camp and sat outside for a leisurely breakfast. There was no hurry. This was too wonderful a place to rush away from.

I was only out for one day though, so I did eventually have to pack up and depart. Mid-morning and the light was flattening and losing colour, though it was still a lovely day. I went up Cairn Lochan for the tremendous views down the vast cliffs. A large party of backpackers were just leaving the summit. The tent city campers I guessed. I could see more people on Coire an t-Sneachda and when I reached that summit again even more on Cairn Gorm. “Looks like hundreds of people up there” said a passing climber, a rope draped under the lid of his pack. 

There was a reason for the crowds on Cairn Gorm beyond the usual sunny Saturday in August numbers. They were there to celebrate 82-year old Nick Gardner’s completion of all 282 Munros in just over two years, a venture to raise funds for Alzheimer’s and osteoporosis charities.  This was a tremendous achievement. I had been following his progress on social media but not closely enough to realise when and where he would finish. If I’d known I might have continued up Cairngorm. As it was, I descended back to Coire Cas and was soon in Aviemore, where it was ridiculously hot and ridiculously crowded. My head was back under the stars and the moon though.


Photography Note:

As it was a short overnight trip in warm weather I didn’t need much outdoor gear I took more photographic equipmentr then I usually do, including my big 70-300mm zoom lens for photographing the moon, the first time this has been on a camping trip, and a heavier than usual tripod to support it. At the other extreme I also brought my Samyang 12mm wide angle lens for the stars.


  1. Aye Chris, it's hard to avoid the crowds in mid-August when the weather is so good. I was on Arran around the same time last week and headed for the quiter, north-western hills above Pirnmill. After leaving Fhion Lochain I saw nobody until the following afternoon. Bliss.

    1. Great video Ian. Reminds me I took a short one I haven't even looked at yest. It wasn't actually that busy and I had the camp to myself. I've seen more people up there on fine winter's days.

    2. Thank you Chris. Peace and tranquility and a reconnection with our place in this world 😊

  2. Hi Chris, I was part of tent city. We were doing our mountain leader training from Glen More lodge. What a beautiful night to be camping. Did you see the shooting stars?

    1. Hi, it was a wonderful night. I did see some shooting stars. The full moon was superb too.