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Inversion and stunning sunny winter on Schiehallion

Inversion and stunning sunny winter on Schiehallion

Postby JWCW2014 » Mon Dec 04, 2023 11:26 pm

Route description: Schiehallion

Munros included on this walk: Schiehallion

Date walked: 03/12/2023

Time taken: 3.9 hours

Distance: 10.61 km

Ascent: 752m

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I’d planned for Bynack More on the Saturday but after turning off the M8 at around 5am the snow was persistent, no lanes were visible on the road and I could hardly see in the early darkness. The a9 snow gate webcam looked ok before leaving but the idea of three hours plus chugging along at 35mph in the dark seems a bit foolhardy so I headed home to the warmth of my bed.

With less time on the Sunday I decided on Schiehallion - how I had never climbed it before between school trips, camping trips with friends and being dragged up various hills as a youngster I don’t really know. It turned out to be a ridiculously high quality day for such little effort relative to many hills.


The car thermometer reached -8c as I drove through some of the glens and dips around Aberfeldy, certainly a fairly cold start to December. I reached Braes of Foss and got on the move, it was crisp and cold but thankfully little breeze. There were a few cars here but less than I expected. MWIS was typically pessimistic, predicting hill fog much of the day, which possibly discouraged some.


With the early morning fog sitting low, and all vegetation swallowed by crisp white ice crystals, even on a laid path the whiteness gave me a pleasant sense of isolation and other worldliness. I kept a good pace to warm up, accompanied only by the sound of boot crunching frost.

I soon reached the gate and the path began to climb. Through the mist there were hints that the sun might relent and I remained hopeful that the only optimistic suggestion in the forecast about higher peaks possibly clearing between cloud layers would come true.


Up the path further and I exited the low hanging fog to a temperature inversion, the lower layer of fog covering the lower ground with a higher layer of cloud above. The sun was starting to cast its winter-dimmed orange light through the cloud.


My pace was glacial as I stopped and to look around me every 50m or so. Gleann Mor was a foggy white sea, shapes of pylons and trees occasionally rising from the water-like cloud as if buoyant on a rising and falling tide. I carried on up to about 600m and dumped my pack to get some photos and take a more extended stop.


The higher layer of cloud was breaking up, and the views from this side stretched out in all directions. Beinn a’Ghlo was visible (zoomed above), 20+ miles away and it appeared as if you could swim to it, through the waves of cloud stretching all the way.


The cloud began to break up, and as I climbed higher terrain underfoot was icier, some care needed on the laid slabs (it’s always slightly ironic how slippery a made path can get in winter under ice, compared to walking over vegetation).


Some of the nearer cairngorm hills were visible, the higher hills capped in white.


Ribbons of cloud separated, catching glints of the low sun and illuminating the glen.


The path steepened slightly as I entered a higher cloud, losing the views and much colder now with moisture in the air and a wee breeze.


There was little snow underfoot but with iced up boulders it was a bit slippy in places. The cloud was hanging above but looked like it was thinning.


It passed and views over to Ben Lawers opened up. The 4 hills at Glen Lyon looked fairly small and uninteresting in comparison.

I reached the top and a guy going the same pace helpfully took a photo. I whacked on the big jacket, feeling cold now at a stop, - it was certainly fairly chilly meeting my winter test of it being ‘cold’ when the hairs of my beard begin to freeze.


The cloud continued to separate leaving bright and crisp views in all directions. To the west the Nevis range, was clearly visible, and gaps in the fog opened up a sight down into to the glen below.


Fog continued to swirl around the Lawers Range, the hills dipping in and out of view. On descent a couple of younger folk were heading up, one dressed for summer with no jacket (forecast for -6c at the top, feeling significantly colder in the wind…). In the winter belay jacket, and thermals on under the soft shell trousers, I was warm but certainly not boiling.

Each to their own of course, and one has to admire the hardiness…


At about 700m I looked down into the fog and saw my shadow surrounded by a rainbow halo - a brocken spectre - something I’d not experienced before. I didn’t quite manage to capture it, the blurry photo above coming too late.

Back at the car early afternoon, ice on the trees glimmering under sunshine. For a walk less than 4 hours, it had surely been one of the days out where the reward and effort ratio was very much skewed towards the former.

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