Monday 10 June 2024

June cold In the Cairngorms and why I was glad to leave the Cape Wrath Trail

Squalls streaking across the Lairig Ghru

A week ago I lay in my tent wondering whether to continue my Cape Wrath Trail (CWT) walk. I was just three or four days from the finish. But the forecast was for those days to be filled with strong cold NW winds, hail, heavy rain, thunder and lightning, and even snow above 600 metres.

The day I pondered leaving the trail I’d come through the Bealach Trallgil at just over 500 metres with Tony Hobbs, who’d been with me for the last few days, and we’d been faced with fierce winds roaring through the notch of the pass, winds that took your breath away and made walking arduous. I was glad the wind was in our faces and trying to blow us back up the pass as the narrow path wound above a steep drop. A crosswind or one behind us would not have been good.

Lower down the winds were very strong too and the rain showers heavy. I was glad to find a sheltered camp site. Walking into this weather for several days wasn’t appealing and maybe wasn’t even wise as I wasn’t equipped for cold wintry weather. I fell asleep still pondering. When I woke in the early morning and looked out at the dark clouds racing overhead the decision was made. I would go home. It was a wrench to leave the trail. I hoped I wouldn’t regret it.

A week later and that cold arctic airstream is still with us. For seven days snow has fallen on the summits. The wind is cold and strong. In the glens the rain showers are heavy. At home we’ve lit the fire every day. I made the right decision.

Cairn Lochan

That was confirmed when I went up into the Cairngorms to experience the weather on June 9. I went more dressed for January than June and it wasn’t too much. Gone were the mesh trail shoes, thin socks, thin hiking trousers and shirt, ultralight windshirt, baseball cap I’d worn on the CWT. In were boots, thick socks, thick trousers, wool shirt, thick Ventile windproof jacket, wool beanie, and three pairs of gloves. In my pack were heavier waterproofs than I’d carried on the CWT and a thick synthetic insulated jacket.

On Cairn Lochan

Climbing up to Cairn Lochan I soon had my hood up over my beanie and gloves on my hands. The wind was cold. Approaching the summit a stinging hailstorm blasted in and the wind came in savage gusts. On went the waterproofs, thicker gloves and shell mitts. This was winter. Snow lay underfoot. The hailstorm passed by, the cloud it came with didn’t and I completed the walk over Stob Coire an t-Sneachda in dense damp mist. Only when I was well down into Coire Cas did I come out of the clag.

The Vent on Cairn Lochan

This unseasonal weather is forecast to last for another couple of days. A touch of snow and cold happens sometimes In June for a day or two but for it to last over a week is very unusual. I’m glad I left the Cape Wrath Trail. I expect I could have made it to the end, but it would have been a struggle and I’d have been wet and cold much of the time. Most importantly, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it. I’ll return in better weather.

All photos taken on June 9.

3 comments:

  1. The cold spell is definitely noticeable, even down here in tropical Yorkshire. Blackbirds in our hedge have raised two broods already and we’re looking set to raise a third, but the drop in temperature seems to have driven them off the nest now. Three layers on when walking around here instead of the usual T-shirt and shorts.

    Reckon we had the best of this year's weather in May, for the TGO Challenge! I had 13 days of walking in the warmth, with probably little more than a half-hour of rain, total. Wettest i got was inside my waterproofs, from sweat.

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    1. If I'd set off two weeks earlier I'e have had hot dry weather the whole way. Ah, well. Still cold, raining and windy here.

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  2. It's always frustrating to have to abandon a route Chris but good mountaineering decisions save lives. I was in Aviemore over last weekend and had hoped to get up onto the plateau on Monday or Tuesday, The clag, low temperatures and wind that you experienced were enough to have me looking for, and enjoying ,a couple of low level walks which I thoroughly enjoyed. Looking warmer and wetter now. Hey-ho!

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