Saturday 11 March 2023

A Day On Skis In The Cairngorms

In recent years I haven’t been out in the mountains on skis very often. Mostly I’ve used snowshoes as the snow cover has been patchy. Unless I’m going to be on skis almost the whole time I’d rather not bother with them. I don’t like carrying them and I don’t like repeatedly taking them on and off or having to take a convoluted route linking snow patches. Snowshoes are so much easier to carry and anyway you can walk across snow free ground, snow with stones poking through, and even streams without taking them off.

View across Glenmore to Meall a'Bhuachaille

This last week has seen complete snow cover in the Cairngorms though so I thought it was worth taking out the skis. It really was too even though I had mismatched skis and boots (the latter too light and flexible for the former) for reasons I’ll go into in another post those uninterested in ski gear can ignore.

The air was crisp and cold, the sky blue, the sun shining. Perfect conditions. Visually anyway. The snow was hard work, especially on the lower slopes, as it was unconsolidated with a soft crust. My skis broke through constantly, the tips sometimes catching in the heather below the snow. Progress was slow. 

Walking would have been much tougher though, as I could see from the deep trenches left by those on foot. I saw several parties of half a dozen or more ploughing single file through the snow. At least they could take it in turn breaking trail.

I didn’t mind the effort involved. I was on skis and climbing into the mountains on a day with brilliant views. Lower down there was a cool breeze but I was warm enough with the exertion involved in pushing upwards through the snow.

Higher up the wind was stronger and bitterly cold. Spindrift blew across the snow and thickening clouds made for flat light. To see the terrain more clearly and for more face protection I swapped my dark glasses for snow goggles. For warmth I donned a light insulated jacket under my shell jacket, something I can’t remember having to do for a very long time. It really was extremely cold.

Beinn Mheadhoin

I found a sheltered spot behind the boulders of a little top not worthy of a name on the map but with a spot height of 1028 metres. Here I could pause and watch the light and shade delineating the complex folds of Beinn Mheadhoin and the white ridges of distant Ben Avon. Glorious views, glorious mountains.

Ben Avon

The ascent having taken longer than expected and fearing the descent would too I went no further. The slopes back down were not difficult to ski, being broad and fairly even, and the soft snow was ideal. My rusty skills, along with the mismatched skis and boots, were not however and I made a rather slow ungainly descent, though I did only fall over once, sinking deep enough into the snow I had to remove my pack before I could extricate myself. I was enjoying myself though. 


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