Being constantly reminded of ones failures is never a good look. But it also spurs you on to right the wrongs of the past. I have indelibly etched in my mind the high plateau to the north of Bynack More, April ’11, bitter severe wind whipping across, knee deep snow, David and I forging ahead clumping step upon clumping step, inching ever forward through the spirit crushing soul destroying morass, never seeming to get any closer to the summit ridge. Constantly bombarded by spindrift, peppered by ice particles, the natural equivalent of dermal abrasion. If nothing else, my facial regime was relaxed for a couple of days afterwards. Poor Alan and Colin, plodding on behind the Kaiser and I, trying not to lag too far behind for fear of the foot holes getting covered over and all our good work wasted.
We got to the foot of the ridge, around 1530, and given unlimited time, would have no doubt completed it, but daylight was fading fast, and it could easily have taken another hour to get to the summit and all the return, having to break the trail all over again. It was with heavy heart we turned, close but no cigar.
So, with the late snow of this spring, I fully expected similar conditions and another failed attempt. With Bob driving accompanied by his collapsible snow board, we (Nicola, Sharon and I) headed for the lower car park and it’s a stunning day. Immediately you’re out the car, the vista across Loch Morlich Aviemore,, Meall a Bhuachaille is phenomenal. All pine forest, glass like lochs and lochans, snow capped peaks off dozens of miles away. And surrounded by the sound of ski boots clicking, zips on salopettes, an array of accents not native to the Central Highlands.
But they are all heading south up into the north facing snow filled corries; all white and inviting against the blue sky; already thin lines of tiny figures weaving down the slopes. Five minutes later, were off due west aiming for the low point of the horizon, a tiny snaking path to aim for and the peace is deafening. Crisp snow underfoot alternates with scrubby heather, gravel, bare earth. Solid underfoot conditions. Warm. Clear. Let’s get to the top and see what’s down in Strath Nethy. Hopefully we can see enough to think we’ll have a reasonable go at Bynack More.
We crest the ridge and the view is amazing. My earlier comment to Nicola that the Cairngorms are very inward looking vindicated. From the outside, they appear dour, rounded, uninteresting. Long dreary days to be endured on the quest for compleation. But the minute you get inside the outer perimeter, you suddenly realise these hills are awesome; exquisitely sculpted corries, perfectly nestling lochs, daunting brooding cliffs, divine ridges and fabulous colours. A scale unmatched in Britain. Vast areas, huge heights. Immense distances. This is not to be taken lightly.
And pristine hills stretch out before us; a clear line of attack down into the glen, across a couple of snaking burns and across and up the initially step heather slops. But the view is immense; far reaching, and the light and shade of snow in the corries and gullies; the eye drawn unfailingly up to the Saddle.
Bob has hooked up with us at the top of the ridge and headed south, looking to gain height to snowboard down into Strath Nethy. Half way down into the glen, we can a dot on the skyline. We stop. Wait. Even half a mile a way, we’re watching in anticipation. And off; sweeping this way and that, a couple of wrong turns as he stops. Points himself in another direction and then off, down in graceful arcs. And out of sight. We resume and ten minutes later we’re all on the valley floor, surrounded by the high hills, looming large above us. Bob all exhilarated from the run down, we’re a bit more daunted at the climb back out. It has an air of pain about it from down in the depths! But off we trudge. Zigging zagging up the hill, no wind and as we steadily climb, there is heat haze coming of off the heather, making the view shimmer and swim. There’s warmth in the wind, too. The BBC weather forecast of Friday night warning of potential sunburn which raised a laugh 12 hours ago now a slightly more hollow, wry chuckle with hint of nervousness. Only Bob has any sunscreen. And it’s Factor 6….hardly worth the paper it’s written on. And as we climb again the view starts to open out. Into Aberdeenshire, the Moray coast. Thousands of square miles opening up below us.
We come out towards the top of Bynack Beag, the outlier for the summit. Impecible blue sky with Ansell Adams clouds, the snow fields off towards Loch Etachan, the Saddle, Beinn Mheadhain, vast swathes of snow as far as the eye can see. Granite tors with amazing snow shapes, blown and moulded by the wind. Even in this heat, still clinging on, throwing shades and producing magical effects. And Bob up ahead; sweating. His ascent up through the gully windless and in full sun. Glad now to be in slightly cooler surroundings. Waiting for us so we all hit the summit together. There’s a couple of other people we’ve been watching climbing up through the outcrops on the main ridge and they hit the summit just as we start up. And the snow gets deeper, but it’s surreal, magical, the stuff of childhood dreams. As we hit the summit the ful extent of the view hits home. Another load of snow cover hills, off into the distanct. The granite tor of Ben Avon visible, miles off. And the corries and ridges, plateaus and gullies. Mile after mile of rocky snowy wilderness.
The others shift from the summit as we arrive. We marvel at the view. Crack open the celery apple and cashew nut soup. Piping hot and very welcome after a long slog upwards. Photo after photo after photo. We gaze, transfixed, glib superlatives traded. Not quite sure any of us has the vocabulary to properly, adequately describe the majesty, the splendour. I have to remind the ladies for whom this is munro#5 that this is the exception, not the rule.
And eventually we move. We decide to walk out via Ryvoan. Partly Nicola and Sharon want to see a bothy for the first time, partly, I want to show them An Lochan Uaine and partly none of us fancies the climb back up from Strath Nethy. It may be longer to get to Glen More lodge, but Bob is going to board down to Strath Nethy, climb back over and board back to the car park.
So as we walk, Bob slithers off, effortless. A dull swooshing and he’s off. We stop. Watch. Marvel. And he’s gone. But two minutes later, and seemingly miles away he reapprears, into the line of the burn, twisting and turning. And finally turns the corner. And gone. 7 minutes. It’ll take us about an hour and a half to get down to the river!
The ridge has some slippy bits, but mostly we pick our way slowly down wards, and onto the footpath, solid underfoot conditions welcome. The slow march out begins.
An hour of gentle descent, easy on the knees, and we stop at Ryvoan. No fire on, but we sit, drink, eat a biscuit. Have a fantasy bothy moment. That we have firewood, chilli, 3 bottles of Shiraz, sleeping bags.
And then off, down through the woods. A fabulous mix of scree, birch, snow, Scots pine, heather. Birdsong and gentle burbling water courses. And the lochan. Nicola and Sharon get there ahead of me; I stop to do a photo. And they have stopped, transfixed by the colour of the water. We stand by the edge of the water. Mostly in silence, awed by the place. A duck slowly drifts across the surface, the only ripples on the surface. Shadows of the trees all reflected in the water. The gracefully sweep of the circular shoreline. Sandy and out of place. The exposed roots of the pine throwing disarray to the gentle curve of the water’s edge. And finally we arrive at the car. Bob there. Ready to drive us back to ‘civilisation’
And the spectre of failure largely erased by a day that is seered into the memory; so many great moments, a decent achievement. Bob with hsi boarding, the ladies with their 5th hill on the board, me with more photo opportunities than you can ever want.
(The rest of the pics are at https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151903446158712.1073741829.794688711&type=1&l=acf491698b
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Warning Please note that hillwalking when there is snow lying requires an ice-axe, crampons and the knowledge, experience and skill to use them correctly. Summer routes may not be viable or appropriate in winter. See winter information on our skills and safety pages for more information.