Snowtime in the Cairngorms

2013-11-10 13.24.13

When I sent an email round my mates on Friday asking if anyone fancied some ski touring in the near future, I hadn’t quite expected a reply at lunchtime which read “tomorrow in the Cairngorms?”.
As it happens, Cat was booked into a DofE leaders conference in the Aviemore Centre, so it didn’t take much thought to realise that a touring day on Saturday would fit nicely. I grabbed together a selection of kit, packed it into the car and rustled up a tasty chicken stir fry for Friday night’s tea; I’m nothing if not multi-talented!
An early start on Saturday saw us make Aviemore in time for breakfast at Active Pursuit – they do a monster ‘doorstep’ breakfast butty, which both of us struggled to finish, but which set me up nicely for the day ahead. After dropping Cat for her day inside a hotel, I met up with my mate Niall and we made our way up to the Day Lodge at Cairngorm. Despite the car park being reasonably full, the mountain itself was empty as we skinned our way up the access track to the Ptarmigan Restaurant.
After a quick tea break, we made our way up to the top of Cairngorm. The snow conditions at at the top weren’t brilliant, with a lot of rocks showing through the snow, and the cloud had dropped back down onto the summit as well. Helpfully, one of my dogs had decided to wander off a bit, so we were left with little option but to head back down the way we’d come and search for her. I found her ambling up towards the summit, and with a full compliment of mutts once more, I joined Niall back at the Ptarmigan for the run back down to the car – a fairly short day out, but great to get a day’s skiing this early in the season.
After picking up Cat and having a beer with Niall, we wandered over to Glenmore Lodge for some grub and found ourselves in the midst of the MCofS student’s safety weekend; they seemed to be having a good time on Saturday night at least. We had a fairly early night, with the intention of being up and out at the crack of dawn on Sunday – that plan didn’t quite work out, and we ended up having a wander round some of Aviemore’s gear shops until about 11am, when we finally got out on the hill again. Given the time, we decided to keep it simple, and opted for the circuit out to Fiacall Coire an Lochain and back along the rim of the Northern Corries and back down to the day lodge. As we made our way out towards Coire an Lochain, one of the yellow SAR helicopters flew over our heads heading for the Northern Corries, and reappeared soon afterwards heading back north. Sadly, we heard later in the day that there had been a fatal accident on Fingers Ridge in Coire an t-Sneachda; a grim reminder that even a beautiful day in the hills is not without its risks.
We could see cloud forming around the summits off to the east, but the weather on the western side of the Cairngorms was stunning; bright blue skies and glorious sunshine reflecting off the crisp snow cover meant we had to stop a couple of times to top up the Factor 50 as we toiled upwards through the crusty snow, and I found myself pining for my touring skis which were lying back in the car. After being passed by several skiers gliding over the snow we were sinking calf deep into, I think Cat was beginning to understand the attraction of ‘skinning up’ as we ploughed on towards Cairn Lochan.
We made good time round the top of Coire an t-Sneachda towards point 1141 and, as we made our way back down towards the car, we were treated to the stunning sight of the moon rising over the snow covered peaks behind us while the upper slopes were still bathed in the last of the day’s sunshine. As we drove along the side of Loch Morlich, the moon hung in the darkening skies over the Northern Corries while off to the west was the most glorious sunset and, despite being very hungry and keen to grab some food in Aviemore, we could help but stop at the loch side and share the view with the collection of Mallard ducks that hang about the car park mugging unwary tourists for their sandwiches. Sadly, the weather forecast for the coming week means that conditions will be a bit more grim in the near future, but it’s been great to make the most of the sunshine while it’s lasted.