Winter in Kintail
Sun, Jan 7, 2018
Sunday morning on dark, salt encrusted roads, a large moon riding high in the pre dawn sky as I drove across to Cluanie to make the most of the superb forecast of clear skies, light winds and lots and lots of snow. With the hotel car park locked I pulled up in the ice streams on the old road just past it, my nostrils freezing up as I pulled on big winter boots, slid the axe behind my neck and clumbed back along the road under the silver snow-shining mountains of Kintail.
I was headed straight up to the 864m top at the start of the north Shiel ridge, then along to Sgùrr an Fhuarail and on to Aonach Meadhoin, descending Meall a’Charra and the road bash back to the car. Starting at 8am the sun didn’t rise above Beinn Loinne until I was high up on the slopes, trail breaking in deep soft snow.
It was exhausting in places, thigh deep, down to the unfrozen grass and rocks, or sometimes crusted hard so I never knew whether standing up I would break through and sink. Tiring stuff and it made for a slow ascent. Two and a half hours to the cairn at 864m. The views north over Ciste Dhubh were Arctic and it looked hard going through the glens. I hadn’t seen this much snow over here in a long time. It was starting to look like the winter of 2010.
The going on the ridge was much easier, in places, where the wind had scoured the surface and there were curious areas where the snow had disappeared completely, leaving deep holes in the rock, down to the grass and plants 3 or four feet below. Mostly it was deep snow so the going eventually slowed again and at the north eastern top above Coire na Cadha I decided it was going to be enough. I plonked down and had a bite to eat, cuppa and marvelled at the views. Snow, snow and more snow! The temperature was well below freezing, with the water in my bottle turned to ice and buff pulled up over my face to keep my nose from icing up. The strong north east wind was strengthening, sending the temperature plummeting and dinner plates of windslab broke off and rattled down the slope. It was a grand day to be out though.