Wet and Wild!

I’ve had a busy summer so far, providing a range of outdoor activities and micro-adventures on behalf of SiMY Community Development. One component of the programme that I’ve been particularly looking forward to was the overnight trip to the Cairngorms with some of the young adults who participate in our regular hill walking group.

We’ve been pretty lucky with the weather so far this summer, with only one day at the start of the holidays where ‘rain stopped play’, but the last couple of days more than made up for that!  A comparison of the Met Office and MWIS offered us the option of somewhere between 30 and 50mph winds, in the latter case with gusts of up to 70mph on day one, followed by a drop in the windspeed as a band of rain moved across the region on day two.

After much deliberation with Graham, the other ML on the trip, we decided to stick with plan A; setting off from the Cairngorm ski centre and heading for Ben Macdui via the gradually ascending path on the ridge which forms the western side of Coire an Lochain. From there, the plan was to drop to the Hutchison Memorial Hut and camp there for the evening. From there we’d drop down to the Loch Avon basin to vist the Shelter Stone, before heading up Coire Raibert and the option of heading down past ‘1141’, or heading up and over the summit of Cairngorm and descending via Windy Ridge.

The wind was strong enough to rock the van around as we parked up, giving and early sign that were facing winds at the upper end of the forecast range. We were already considering a range of alternative options, but decided to take a walk out towards Coire an Lochain to see what conditions were like over that way. That plan lasted all of 200 metres from the car park before a particularly strong gust of wind skittled us off the path. We decided to alter the plan and reverse the route, limiting the amount of time we needed to be on the plateau by walking into Coire an t-Sneachda and heading up the Goat Track instead. When we arrived at the entrance to the coire, I could see the clouds being ripped over the rim of the coire above the Goat Track, and it was fairly obvious that heading up would be a high risk strategy. We took shelter behind a rocky outcrop and grabbed a snack, while we came up with an alternative; we’d head over to Glenmore past the Green Lochain, then give people the option to climb Meall a Buachaille before camping at Ryvoan bothy for the night.

The day worked out pretty well in the end; the young people had time to take in the tranquil beauty of  An Lochain Uaine, before a few of us dropped our bags at Ryvoan and enjoyed an unencumbered stroll up Meall a Buachaille. We then spent an interesting evening chatting with an eclectic mix of folks at Ryvoan, including a young German girl who’d been hiking round Scotland since she left school in April, and a group of French students who had hitchhiked and worked their way up to Scotland. There was also an older chap who was on an extended cycling holiday, and a young couple who returning south from a quick trip up to Skye, so all in all, an interesting range of experiences for our group to hear about.

Thursday offered another vague outlook, with the rain and low cloud forecast to clear sometime from lunchtime onwards. We decided to have another go at Ben Macdui, but walking up the path towards point 1141 in a mix of drizzly rain and low cloud wasn’t that inspiring, As we climbed, one of the young people began to struggle; she had landed badly on her ankle when we were skittled by the wind the previous day, and although it hadn’t caused her any discomfort on the relatively flat walking to and from Ryvoan, it was clearly causing her a fair bit of discomfort now. Time for another review of the plan, which resulted in me heading back down with our casualty for a treatment regime of ‘foot up, ice pack, ibruprofen and hot chocolate’, while Graham led the rest of the group towards the more modest objective of the summit of Cairngorm and a return via ‘Windy Ridge’.

I couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed that we couldn’t deliver the Cairngorms experience I’d hoped to give the young people, but that was tempered by their positive responses when we debriefed over a brew in the ski centre cafe. They were reassuringly unconcerned about being wet and tired and definitely up for a return trip to collect the views they’d earned this time round. Time for me to dry some kit and get going with the planning then…