Winter in the Cairngorms - 1
Saturday 10th March 2018
A week before we set off on the Cairngorms trip I snuck off for a wee reconnaissance trip with my awesome sister Katy to reacquaint myself with the grand terrain of the Cairngorms, One of Scotland's great wilderness areas. We found it to be rather chilly but in fairly good condition, a fine autumnal landscape....
So skip to 5 days later and the roads up to Braemar are closed with deep snow. Temperatures have plummeted across the country into the minuses and suddenly the Cairngorms plateau has put on her winter coat, beautiful, formidable, unforgiving.
Pick ups done, we drove up the A9 to Dunkeld where we lunch'd at my favourite bar in Perthshire, The Taybank. The silvery Tay river and the contrasting wash of seasonal glowing reds, oranges and golds made for a fantastic welcome to Scotland for our clients, mostly coming from Belgium but also a few from Canada, USA, England and Iceland.
Our next stop was our destination, Aviemore (the Chamonix of the north) planted in the lower forests to the north of the mountains. Food, last minute prep and a couple of beers at the Old Bridge Inn ensued and all were in bed at a reasonable hour in anticipation for what tomorrow might throw at us.
The original plan was to begin our expedition at the Cairngorm Ski station and cross the 'Plateau', summit Ben Macdui then head down and east into Coire Etchachan but considering the weather, conditions and heavy first day packs we opted for the slightly longer and much less exposed option walking up the Nethy river to its source on the south eastern flanks of Cairngorm and then down into the impressive and haunting Glen Avon. The day started very well indeed with the group making a fine pace in very pleasant weather, that was until we started heading south and up the Nethy where we were met by a very wintery welcome, gusting winds, knee deep snow and flurries every so often just to add some frosty atmosphere. Front Guide Dieter, made a fine job of breaking trail and sacrificing his dry feet in the process no doubt.
Nevertheless we moved on quietly through the imposing landscape and although we grew more and more tired the weather steadily improved and by the time it darkened it was eerily still, with the snow shining bright below us, it felt almost dream like.
One might say a rather rude awakening for anyone fresh to winter hiking however I was extremely pleased with the group as a whole. Everyone dug deep, helped each other and kept pushing through a very tough long day. They all deserved a wee dram of malt that evening... so did I.