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cairngorms

The Cairngorms In late spring

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The Cairngorms In late spring

Late spring in the Cairngorms is a great time to wander. The snow patches add more drama to the scene and cool spring air makes very pleasant walking. At the end of April I was in Aviemore so decided to wander up to the plateau from the ski centre. Going up to 1141, the clouds were low with poor visibility and really cold wind chill. 30 minutes later the cloud lifted and the sun came out and I was treated to an excellent day. I went all over the place and up to Ben Macdui for views into the Lairig Ghru.

Ben Macdui Snow Bunting

Ben Macdui Snow Bunting

Views from Ben Macdui down in the Lairig Ghru

Views from Ben Macdui down in the Lairig Ghru

I walked between the small snow patches to look into the lochs from above and views from different angles. I walked along the west side of the plateau just above the Lairig Ghru and found a couple of new camping spots for a later date. Views to Cairn Toul (from the Gaelic Càrn an t-Sabhail, 'Hill of the barn'), Sgòr an Lochain Uaine (peak of the little green loch, also known as Angels Peak) and the big Braeriach (Am Bràigh Riabhach, ‘the grey upper part’) were excellent. I could see the ice still covering the lip of the green lochain and the longest lying snow patches in the Garbh Choire Mòr looked quite small for late April. As I walked along the side of the plateau I could see some Ptarmigan sheltering amongst the boulders. 

Loch A’an

Loch A’an

I was surprised by the lack of snow, especially down at the Pools of Dee which was bare. I’d be passing there a couple of weeks later on my first Lairig Ghru trip of the year. Having no snow makes that section easier to contend with...

The Pool of Dee

The Pool of Dee

On the way down to the van I had an encounter and great conversation with the local reindeer, topping off what had been a fantastic day. 

Resident Cairngorm reindeer

Resident Cairngorm reindeer

Later that week I had the pleasure of guiding a group out of Linn o’ Dee to Beinn Bhreac (speckled hill) then on to Beinn a' Chaorainn (hill of the rowan tree) in what can only be described as damp conditions! We had a good day though, first two Munros for some of the group, a great achievement for them!  

Having fun in the snow patches, no dangers at the bottom!

Having fun in the snow patches, no dangers at the bottom!

Happy faces!

Happy faces!

May began with a trip up the Glenshee west Munros with my brother on an excellent visibility day, highlight being the white tailed eagle!  

Views from

Views from

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Then the day after I guided a repeat client up Lochnagar. Another memorable day as I’ve never seen the loch so still, perfectly reflecting the corrie and snow patches. The air was so still at the top too, the only noises to be heard being birdsong and running water. We strolled over the White Mounth and down to Dubh Loch for lunch on the beach. By this time the wind was picking up and heavy rain came on. 

The stags were in the valley as we returned back to the car, happy and fulfilled with our day.  

White Mounth Ptarmigan

White Mounth Ptarmigan

Dubh Loch

Dubh Loch

Forward a week and winter returned! Some of the heaviest snow we’ve seen all winter. The plateau is white again and the bare Pools of Dee in the Lairig Ghru are filled with snow only a few days before my planned guided walk which is now rescheduled! I walked up to the Munro Beinn Bhreac to gauge conditions and wet snow met me at 700m followed by blizzards all the way to the top. Late spring can still surprise!

Beinn Bhreac winter returns

Beinn Bhreac winter returns

Blog by Garry, lead guide at Hillgoers.

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It's a fine day for the hill – My tribute to Adam Watson

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It's a fine day for the hill – My tribute to Adam Watson

Yesterday was one of the best days I’ve had in the Cairngorms, blue skies, no wind and good company. With the passing of Adam Watson last week, I decided on Derry Cairngorm area as the place where I would go and be thankful for the short time I knew Adam. Derry was Adam’s favourite area, although he was also very fond of Lochnagar too. I asked him this last year on one of my visits to his home in Crathes, just along the road from me. The time spent studying ptarmigan at Derry swung the balance from Lochnagar. I didn’t see any ptarmigan yesterday, I’m sure they were there. As I walked the same area on Wednesday an eagle flew just above my head, Adam could probably have told me where her eyrie was I’m sure.

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I listened to the outdoors podcast this morning and there were good reflections on Adam. Lots of much better tributes than this have been posted on social media this week too from those who knew him better than I. Unfortunately, the only outings we had together was to Milton of Crathes but he could tell me in detail the places to visit and things to look out for. After my walks I would send him pictures of the hills and sometimes unusual flowers, he would email me back comments within hours, so generous he was with his time for me and others.

My admiration for Adam started well before we met though, from reading his books and articles. We shared similar views and the same love for the hills. His years of evidence-based study of the habitat fascinates me. In a world where everything is based on short term visions and quick results, we need more scientists like Adam to be listened to.

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Wednesday was a cold night in Derry, I’m not sure of the exact number but we estimated -14 degC . I had pulled an almost full bag of coal and logs in my wee sledge though and others had taken fuel too so there was a warm atmosphere in Bob Scott’s bothy. Simon, from Cairngorm Treks and I had planned to meet there, I wasn’t quite expecting there to be 7 others on a cold Wednesday night but it was a good night with good conversation, Adam would have loved it. Simon did the right thing and slept in his tent…I tried to sleep as best I could, but it was noisy, for all kinds of reasons. One of the occupants decided to pack up and leave at 2:30am!

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After a warm up coffee and breakfast, we headed out into the powder snow, hard going straight up until we eventually reached the more wind scoured part of the hill. Above maybe 900m the snow was more crusted and easier to walk on. The snow covering was not up to perfect ski touring levels but it did make for dramatic mountain views, with contrasting rock and snow. We spotted mountain hare and a snow bunting too. The sun had a warmth in it and with no wind we were soon taking off the layers. From the top views were vast, Ben Nevis could be seen in the distance. The only cloud to be seen was far off to the east coast. We spotted two other walkers from NTS ahead of us, someone up on Ben Macdui and a couple maybe on Cairn Gorm.

I’ll miss Adam’s wisdom, stories and generous advice. I wish we could have wandered the hills together on a day like yesterday, a perfect day.

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First camp of the year

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First camp of the year

I knew I’d be in the tent last Friday night but I hadn’t decided on the exact location before I left the house in the morning. I did tell Sarah my route though and gave a few options of where I might end up. My first thought was at the col of Lochnagar, just down a bit from Meikle Pap, that’s what we discussed anyway. The forecast was perfect, light winds, clear skies, chance of a meteor shower and perhaps an aurora! I first camped at the col with Sarah circa 1995, can’t remember for sure, but this time I was a little more prepared.…

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Before that though I met up with my chum Struan and we took the boys for a stroll to Shielin of Mark Bothy. The hard frost crafted ice formations on the burns and made the usually damp walk to the bothy quite easy across the peat hags. Dropping down to the bothy in beautiful sunshine we had our picnic by the fire (to add to the bothy experience) and played a game of top trumps, in which I came last. We had both carried in and left fire wood for the next visitor. Be warned though, the chimney is a bit like me, no good at drawing!

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The 4 of us and very happy dog left the bothy (with fire out) and enjoyed our walk back over the heather to the path. The boys tried to smash as much ice as possible, icicles fascinating them as usual. We met another nice chap outside the bothy, carrying two large cameras and enjoying the sunshine and fading light on the way back. We probably disturbed his afternoon but he didn’t seem to mind.
Walking back we admired Lochnagar in the distance and I was looking forward to extending my walk along the road. I walked back to the car park with them and waved them off while I changed over bags and boots. By this time the sun was already getting low and I walked up towards Allt-na-giubhsaich as the light faded.

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This was my first longish day since the festive period and I was feeling it with the heavier pack. The walk up the track was quite slow for my usual standards, possibly because of the weight in my bag and around my waist!

At the path junction before the walk up to the col I stopped for a break to decide what I was going to do. The mist was starting to form and I contemplated turning back for a comfy night in the van. I put on my stove for a cup of tea then out of the darkness I heard footsteps approaching. Thinking to myself ‘who could this be’, along walked Bill Dallas. I used to work for the same company as Bill and we’ve crossed paths a couple of times since. I told him I wasn’t sure where I was going to end up that night. Being a member of the Braemar Mountain Rescue Team he probably wasn’t too impressed with this indecision but he did kindly offer me to join him on the top. I would support that view and it’s not advisable to wander in winter if you don’t know what you’re doing. To explain, I gave Sarah a full late back procedure, including route and times of contact. In winter I also carry Spot SOS tracker, I know the area very well and I’m a qualified Mountain Leader. Camping up high in winter is life threatening if you don’t understand and mitigate the risks. Serious stuff over.

Bill left me and my boiling stove and I stood looking at the stars, occasionally I could could see him switch on the head torch as he wandered up the hill.
It’s amazing the difference a wee hot drink and a snack can make to your energy levels. Inspired by Bill’s efforts I decided to plod on, soon reaching foxes well where I filled my water containers for the trip up top, the best water in Scotland. I didn’t carry my tripod which was a mistake so balancing my camera on a rock I took a couple of poor photos of the corrie before continuing on up the ladder and over towards the top.

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There was some ice on the ground but mostly avoidable. A snow patch on the path before the climb to Cac Carn Mòr was avoided by staying closer to the corrie rim. I didn’t continue onto the top, I decided to leave Bill to the solitude he probably went up for. I pitched my tent on the flat spot west of Cac Carn Mòr, by this time getting tired and hungry.
I only saw one meteor but the glow of the northern lights and huge skies above was eye opening, utterly beautiful. I pitched my tent with the door facing north, sat in my sleeping bag and watched the display eating a lovely...chicken curry. About 10:30 I was dozing off and I heard another couple of voices and torches approaching near the Cairn. Bill’s solitude was about to be disturbed by another couple of team members as I found out in the morning when speaking with the Aberdeen team who were out training.

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During the night the cloud came in and the frost came too. I don’t think it was overly cold but there was a good deposit of rime on anything exposed. I woke up a few times through the night, opened the door at 6 ish and quickly closed it again! Then awoke about 8 for breakfast, still in cloud.
After packing up the cloud began to lift and I had a great walk down enjoying the clouds drifting below and chatting to folk as they walked up.

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Long story short, pick your day, know what you’re doing and go for it. Watching that sky at 1140m is something I’ll never forget. I’ll keep the camping in winter for myself but if you’d like to experience this in summer get in touch.

Happy New Year all, Garry.

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