Tuesday 13 February 2024

Dramatic Light On A Walk Up Geal-charn Mor

The top of the Dava Road with the Cairngorms in the background

Six months having passed since I was last on Geal-charn Mor, an 824-metre summit in the Monadh Liath to the east of Aviemore and the high point of Brew Dog’s so-called “Lost Forest”. I wasn’t going to see how the tree planting to create this forest was coming along – I’ve written elsewhere how it should be left for natural regeneration -but to enjoy a walk on a hill that gives superb views and that is usually quiet. As it was a Sunday and the first day with a half-decent forecast for many days I guessed the Cairngorms would be busy, as was confirmed later by social media posts. On my walk I only saw eight other people and no-one at all for the last three hours.

As I set off up the hill track known as the Burma Road weather systems were struggling for dominance in the sky above. Thick grey clouds advanced across patches of blue sky then retreated. In the woods lower down there was no wind and I didn’t need a jacket. Once out of the trees a cold breeze soon had me donning one.

On banks cut by the road rows of icicles showed how cold recent days had been. Underfoot the few remaining patches of snow crunched.

Bursts of sunshine illuminated the dark clouds dramatically. At the top of the Dava Road, marked by big cairns, each looking slightly higher when viewed from the other, the sun turned the gravel a deep intense red. In the distance the cloud-capped Cairngorms rose, dark and splendid.

Turning into the sun for the ascent of Geal-charn Mor I needed dark glasses to cut the glare from the sky and the snow, at least until I reached the mist that capped the summit. Across Strathspey shafts of sunshine lit up the hillsides around the Lairig Ghru though the summits remained in the cloud. The ground was frozen hard, making the walking across this boggy moorland easier than usual.

Visibility at the top was minimal. The broken-down crude stone walls and the trig point were coated in more hoar frost than snow. The wind was bitter now but I found shelter with my back to the trig point while I had a snack and a hot drink.

With no sign of a clearance I was soon on my way back down, hoping to catch more sunlight below the mist. The clouds had won the struggle for the sky though and it was now a solid grey. Just once in the distance I saw Ben Rinnes shining, then all brightness had gone. 

 On the snow there were tracks of mountain hares and foxes but I saw neither. When a slight movement caught my eye it was a ptarmigan, well-camouflaged against the snow. The only other wildlife I saw was an eagle, far away and high in the sky.

Later in the year I plan on returning and having a close look at the trees that have been planted and see what is happening.

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