‘Tis the eve before Christmas (actually, it will be the wee hours of Christmas morn by the time I finish writing this post!), and to get you in a Christmassy mood and distract you from the storms hitting the UK at the moment, here’s a post about the snowy Cairngorms!
I still stand by the statement from my post about a backpacking trip to Braemar in February, that the Cairngorms is one of my favourite places in the UK. I love the wilderness, the vast scale of the mountainous terrain and the unique flora and fauna, from glens full of distinctive Scotts Pines to snow-white ptarmigans camouflaged against their snowy backdrops.
For the second year on a row, the Hiking Club decided to put on a winter skills course – provided by Paddy Cave from Mountain Circles – to introduce newer members to the world of winter walking, taking place on the weekend of Saturday 7 December. The rest of us took the opportunity to get out and do some quality walking in the area. Initially people had been talking about all sorts of routes, from Braeriach to Bynack More, but in the end we decided it was much easier to all head down to Glenfeshie for the two Munros to its east. The most northerly one, Sgorr Gaoith (aka Sgorr Gooey), a group of had done the year before, but the most southerly, Mullach Clach a Bhlair, most of us hadn’t. Some guys opted for an anticlockwise route (Mullach Clach a Bhlair first), with the option to miss out Sgorr Gaoith. Lorna, Imogen and Darren opted for Sgorr Gaoith first (which they hadn’t previously done) and in a bid to prove it’s not just about the bagging, I tagged along.
Despite the relatively good forecast, the clouds blanketed anything above 600m and there was a fairly strong wind to contend with. We’d had snow down to campsite level on Friday night, but the temperature quickly rose as the day progressed, and by the time we returned on the Saturday evening, it had all melted. After the usual excessive faffage on the campsite, we finally left at 8.30am and we were walking for soon after 9am. A good path lead us on a pleasant walk up through the Inshriach Forest and onto the western shoulder of Sgorr Gaoith. The path soon petered out as we made our way up the shoulder and onto the summit, using the opportunity of a partial white-out to practice our navigation skills. It was more micro-nav all the way across the plateau to Mullach Clach a Bhlair, and we made use of pacings, bearings, timings and plenty of contour traversing (namely around Carn Ban Mor) to reach the final summit.
The descent to Glenfeshie was via a 4×4 track that runs nearly to the summit of Mullac Clach a Bhlair, meaning we were down in the valley in less than an hour, and managed to make it back to the minibus in just enough light to save using head torches.
Loch an Eilein and the best tea shop in Scotland
I had planned all along to go for a run on the Sunday, and choosing Loch an Eilein as the location for the venue fitted well with dropping some others who were going Corbett bagging north of Glenmore. Me and Lorna have been for a few walks around Loch an Eilein in the past and its one of my favourite places in the area; indeed, it got voted “Britain’s best picnic spot” back in 2010! My run comprised of the small hill Ord Ban (which offered surprisingly expansive views of the surrounding mountains), followed by a loop of the loch.
The rest of the day was spent in a fantastic little tea shop called The Potting Shed, drinking plenty of coffee and sampling some of the impressive number cakes they had on offer. The place was charming and I’d highly recommend a visit to anyone in the area!