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A reflection on some great days out playing in the snow...
Early in Fabruary Large Outdoors ran their second ever guided Scottish winter walking trip to the Cairngorms. It was clear that the sunny photos from 2017 had inspired people to join us this year, so all eyes were on the weather and the hope of a repeat of the glorious conditions.
The trip full, most of us climbed into the minibus in Glasgow and headed to Aviemore on a gloriously sunny day, looking out at snow on the hills and enjoying our first glimpse of the mountains of the Highlands. Confusion was put to rest as those hiring kit had it handed out and explained, and with our kit now including lots of sharp things and big boots, we settled down for our first night out in Aviemore, the outdoor capital of the Eastern Highlands.
For the first day the weather forecast continuous snow, and shortly after driving out of Aviemore it began. Settling on the roadside and in the trees of Rothiemurchus Forest it was clearly going to prove to be an easy job finding the white stuff in the first place! As a good introductory day, we headed up to the Ryvoan Pass and had tea in the bothy, before climbing to the nearby peak of Meall a’ Bhuachaille.
With snow falling all day, we headed to the nearby peak of Creagan Gorm, where a hard patch of snow allowed us to practise step-kicking and get our ice axes out. We also found the ideal slope for sliding!
For day 2, an improving weather forecast meant we headed straight for one of the classics, a circuit of the northern corries and the summit of Cairn Gorm itself. The previous day’s snowfall coated the landscape and made for some tough walking but we made our way up to Cairn Lochan in the sunshine, with only minimal need of ice axes, and more need of sun cream and tea breaks! The traverse along the tops to Cairn Gorm, the 5th highest mountain in Britain, was surreal. Blue sky was above, and the sun shone on us, but all the surrounding peaks were cloaked in mist.
Descending, we made for the Ptarmigan café for hot chocolates before the sun came out again and we reached the car park shortly before sunset.
Our final full day saw a sunny start so we aimed for the wild Glen Feshie for the remote trails that lead up to the second Munro of the trip, Sgor Gaoith. This peak sits on the western edge of the Cairngorms and is often free of the mists that can settle on the main plateau. A cold wind made for some difficult walking but we found an icy slope in a relatively sheltered position to get our crampons on and stomp around.
Our journey to the summit kept flirting with the clouds, and though they were always threatening, we were afforded a clear view from the top, right down to Loch Eanaich and away west to mountains beyond counting, shining in the sun. As we descended back into the forest, the light turned golden and we had a feeling for what primeval Scotland would have looked like, vast tracts of Scots pine covering the land with snowbound peaks rising above.
After a final celebratory meal, finishing with a hardy few heading to some local live music, we went out on the final morning to find slopes to slide down. Partly this was a lot of fun, but partly this was learning the useful skill of ice axe arresting, an emergency technique we will hopefully never have to use for real.
Our trip finished, we bundled back into the warm minibus for the return drive to Glasgow with an excellent set of days behind us. Low wind speeds, lots of snow and plenty of sunshine had blessed us with some excellent conditions, and a fantastic insight into this part of Scotland. Until next time!
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