Thursday 30 March 2023

A Spectacular Winter's Day In the Cairngorms

View over Stob Coire an t-Sneachda to Cairn Toul

After the rain on Craigellachie I was hoping for some drier, brighter weather for my next hill walk. The forecast for the week ahead didn’t look promising, except for Monday when a weak ridge of high pressure should bring sunshine. So that day I headed up onto the Cairngorm Plateau in search if sun and snow. The forecast didn’t let me down. The sky was clear, the sun bright. The rain of the last few days had fallen as snow high up and it lay soft and ankle-deep, the mountains back in winter.

The Northern Corries: Stob Coire an t-Sneachda & Cairn Lochan

Patches of old snow dotted the mountainsides below the new covering. Some of this was icy so I donned crampons. Higher up I didn’t really need these but kept them on just in case. There were surprisingly few people about but a few climbers did pass me on their way down. One I knew, Dan Bailey of UKHillwalking, and we stopped for a brief chat. The soft snow meant the climbing wasn’t very good he said but he and his companion had had a good day out anyway.

View across the Cairngorm Plateau to Cairn Toul & Sgor an Lochain Uaine

Once I crossed Stob Coire an t-Sneachda, where, as so often, many rocks protruded through the snow I could see the Plateau stretching out to Ben Macdui, shining white, and looking perfect for skiing. I was on foot though, without even snowshoes, as I’d left these behind when I saw I’d be carrying them before I reached the snow. I hadn’t expected good skiing conditions and had remarked on this to Dan, who told me the Plateau was snow covered. I must buy new ski boots!

The snow was just deep enough to slow me down without making walking really arduous. My snowshoes would have assisted but not very much. My heavy pack didn’t help. Although only out for the day I’d brought one on test filled with 14kg of gear to see how it carried in these conditions. It was fine.

Not that warm in the sun!

The fine weather wasn’t meant to last long and soon the cold breeze was becoming a bitter wind and thin clouds were starting to streak the sky to the west.

Cairn Lochan

I climbed up Cairn Lochan to one of my favourite winter views, looking across the great cliffs. At the head of the wide gully that bites into the mountain here, separating the two summit cairns, the snow had slumped, forming lovely cornices and waves below the crest. During the day I admired other snow patterns too, some quite abstract. 

Snow abstract

As I began my descent the wind started to pick up the loose snow and the ground became streaked as ankle-high spindrift raced like waves over the snow and eddied round dark rocks.An ephemeral beauty.


Returning across the now-shady mouths of the Northern Corries I looked at the last sunlight shining on the cliffs high above while the blue sky above deepened. Then the sun was sinking below the horizon, turning the fine thin clouds orange. A wonderful end to a spectacular day.

The coming change in the weather

Since then it’s been raining. The forecast was right.


  1. Monday was a lovely day over on Arran as well Chris 😊If you were going on to the plateau this weekend, would you be taking snowshoes or skis?

    1. Based on Monday I'd take skis but it has been mild since then with a big thaw. SAIS says much snow has gone below 1000 metres. I'd see what SAIS says tomorrow evening.

    2. OK, thanks Chris. Will do 👍