spring in the cairngorms on sgor gaoith

Mon, Apr 21, 2014

With the Easter weekend set fair, warm(ish) and dry, I drove across country to Kincraig to meet up with my oldest pal, Penguin. Our objective a day on the hill, climbing Sgor Gaoith, ‘rocky peak of the wind’, on the western edge of the Cairngorm plateau.

A beautiful walk up through the woods somewhat weighed down with full winter kit of big boots, axe and crampons. Not knowing the conditions over here I’d seen the last report of the season from the avalanche information service. A picture of a white landscape over Cairngorm and Ben MacDui, with the plateau white and the guy jumping around in crampons stating spkiy protrusions were needed on the iron hard snow, I’d suggested we equip ourselves accordingly. Coupled with the warnings (verging on the dire) from the MCofS safety dept that it was still winter up there, I thought I’d err on the side of caution. I should have known better. The other week, on the way across to Inverness, the hills were bare, even big Ben Wyvis but no, all the outdoor safety depts were adamant. Winter, snow, danger. Sigh.

There seems to be a lot of it about these days, dire warnings of doom, when a little common sense, admittedly mixed in with a LOT of experience will tell you otherwise. Is all this safety ‘advice’ a sign of the times?

It was grand day out though. A very good path most of the way up onto the plateau and not a drop of snow to hinder our progress. In fact the only thing that slowed us down was the full winter kit. I felt distinctly overdressed as a family passed us, their twelve year old in shorts and t-shirt making us feel like two old credulous farts.

As we lazed on the summit, I could hear a whooshing sound but couldn’t place its origin. I looked around for birds, ravens, eagle perhaps but nothing. Then I happened to glance up just as a glider sailed above us, not 30 feet above the cairn.

The place was hoaching, what with it being Easter and a steady stream of folk came and went, making their way across the plateau, patchy snow here and there. I’d taken the liberty of flouting all advice on the way up and romped up a snow field. Perfect condition. Just hard enough to kick steps and not icy at all. No crampons required.

We had a grand bum slide on the way down to Meall Buidhe, then over to Meall Tionail and back down the path.

That night we put the world to rights round the bothy fire.

I think there’s a step change coming in the way people deal with the outdoors. I’ve noticed over the years an increase in ‘adrenalin’ sports. The outdoors as challenge, danger. The various outdoor bodies are seemingly never off the doom and gloom wagon. The years of local clubs taking out new walkers who learned the ropes as they went along seem to have gone. Lost in the all pervasive blame culture of our times. When a head teacher has to wear a high-viz vest when she takes the kids into the playground, you know the world has gone mad. That’s a true story, look it up.

But I’ll leave you with our wonderful walk. A day to savour for many a year to come. And what did I see? I saw two blackcock (on the road at Achnasheen of all places), a red squirrel, lapwing, oystercatcher, curlew. Even saw the first swallow and to top it all off, we watched a golden eagle as it cruised the thermals above Ruthven. What a trip.

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