The Cairngorms in a complete whiteout
by Mountainlove » Thu Apr 21, 2016 9:11 am
Route description: Sgor Gaoith, from Glen Feshie
Munros included on this walk: Mullach Clach a'Bhlair, Sgor Gaoith
Date walked: 16/04/2016
Time taken: 8.15 hours
Distance: 26 km
Ascent: 1098m15 people think this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
A great start on an easy to follow path
My lonely footprints with some lovely views back
I reached the snow line around an hour after setting off and no other footprints obscured the path ahead of me. I was alone . The path soon disappeared under a layer of soft snow and even with the ice cold air, I was sweating while breaking a path through the deep snow. The closer I got to the top, the worse the visibility got and without any warning I was in a complete white out.
I walked on but I became really disorientated. I have walked in a white out before, but up had at least been able to see some rocks below me. This was different as everything was white. In fact walking with my eyes closed, would have had the same effect. Digging out my GPS and compass, I took a compass bearing (during these times I want to save battery power in my GPS for further emergencies) . I walked on, still uphill with the plan to reach Carn Ban Mor. Once I reached the plateau the ground flattened out and I was hit by strong winds and hailstorm.
It was painful and I started to feel really uncomfortable.
I wasn’t happy with the whole situation and was getting a bit panicky. I stood still thinking, but I was getting cold fast- I needed to move! I walked on but each time I looked at my compass I was walking in the wrong direction. I had lost all sense of direction and in that moment I understood how people can die in the mountains.
I felt really uneasy, I was aware that I could not panic. Taking a deep breath I ordered myself to get a grip and stay calm. I tried to remember everything I have read about whiteouts and I knew getting close to cliff faces would very dangerous. On my GPS I could see I was around 2 km away from the summit and in the middle of a plateau.
Should I call it a day and walk back, or should I try? Much calmer than before I decided that I have to give it a try. Next I took a compass bearing again and realized that I had to walk north into the ‘eye of the hailstorm’. With a clear plan in my head I walked on, my hood deep in my face, eyes set on the compass. I was in a white room without any horizon or contour lines. Thousands of hailstones hit me like needles, but I was finally walking a straight line. Once in a while I tried to look around, but the perfect whiteness around me and less than 1 meter of visibility made it rather painful on the eyes.
Walking through calf deep snow, it was one of the most soul destroying walks I had done, energy zapping and what would I see when I reached the top? Would I be able to reach it? With no visibility it might be far to dangerous getting close to those cliffs. The chance of views were long forgotten. I decided to observe the situation again when I got there. I had lost all sense of time when suddenly the hailstorm stopped and I was able to see 20m ahead. I stopped and checked the time- it was 3pm and 8 hours since I had breakfast. I decided to have a rest and eat my sandwich. I had not realized how hungry I was and wolfed down my food. The hour I spend walking through the whiteout had felt like a day.
The wind was still strong, but something seem to happen as the visibility started to get better, a bit of blue and suddenly I was able to see the sky. I turned around and saw the top of the mountain not far from me. I felt like a blind person who could finally see. It was an incredible lifting feeling. Quickly I packed up and walked towards the top.
Finally I was able to see the horizon, after a complete whiteout which had lasted for nearly one hour.Possible the first time I rated this view as amazing.
Finally some blue sky again and it looked pretty spectacular
The clouds lifted more and more and soon as if my magic, the most amazing views stretched out ahead of me. By the time I stood at the top I was only able to stare in wonder- this was beautiful!
The views I would have never expected
Spectacular views who made everything worth while
Views from the top
Looking towards the second Munro in the far distance
Towards the lochan
Spin drifts on the way up
Another front is approaching
Another walker in the distance
Turning around I was surprised when I saw another lone walker appearing. Another nutter I thought! When he caught up with me, he told me that he had come up the direct way and had missed the white out completely. Chatting away he told me that he had completed the Munros twice and was now working as a mountain guide in Aviemore. Looking ahead I was able to see the second Munro in the distance, but was still too shaken to consider it. Another time I thought. Saying good bye, I walked on and for the first time since I set off started to really enjoy the walk. The sun was shining now and the massive Cairngorm plateau was amazing in winter (it was the first time I have seen it covered in snow) A few times the clouds came down, but nothing came close to the whiteout at the start. With completely improved conditions I decided that I simply had to walk to the other Munro. It’s a pretty endless walk with mixed snow conditions which zapped my energy.
The clouds were getting low again
The walk towards the second Munro
It can be a lonely place
Below the 1000m mark the snow started to break up and quite a few times I landed in holes which set waves of pain through my back. Luckily as soon as I started to gain height again it was back to the soft and hard mix of snow. Close to the top of Mullach Clach a'Bhlair gentle spin drifts were dancing over the snowy ground. They seemed to dance around me and I was watching them in fascination. It was simple beautiful. The top of Mullach Clach a'Bhlair a pile of rocks could hardly be called exciting, but the views made up for it.
The summit comes into view
The summit and looking back to the first Munro of the day
Turning back I now faced the wind again which had been pushing against me all the way to the second summit. Black clouds were looking in the west and beautiful sunshine could be enjoyed when I looked towards the east. It was pretty dramatic.
The way back ahead and dark clouds in the west
One last time the wind picked up to an uncomfortable level and I was glad when I started the descent. The clouds seem to get closer and I was surprised when within a few minutes the area around me was covered in thick fog. Not for long as I was losing height steadily and soon I was able to make down the valley below me.
Low clouds on the way down
The easy way back
The final walk back was pleasant and reflecting on the previous 7 hours I had to admit to myself that it had been one of my favourite days in the mountains. I had learned a lot about whiteouts and the importance of staying calm and I was now 50 Munros away from completing. The countdown had begun and back at my car all what was left to do was to find a place to pitch my tent and call it a day…and what a day it had been.
by Mal Grey » Thu Apr 21, 2016 9:40 am
by xslawekx » Thu Apr 21, 2016 9:46 am
I always find those moments rather memorable, when you get to a point when you start question your sanity on the grounds of being somewhere where you perhaps shouldn't be at that particular moment in time
But then no guts, no glory
Well done on completing the walk
by Borderhugh » Thu Apr 21, 2016 10:03 am
I had a similar experience at the back end of May heading up to Sgorr Gaioth, thankfully the weather came good just as I was heading off the summit and i was able to complete the 4. I remember the walk out from your second munro took an age but Glen Feshie is a beautiful place to be!
by holtlynx » Thu Apr 21, 2016 10:46 am
- Posts: 17
- Joined: Jan 28, 2009
- Location: Glasgow
by rockhopper » Thu Apr 21, 2016 12:29 pm
Might seem that way but probably not the best of ideas - cheersMountainlove wrote: In fact walking with my eyes closed, would have had the same effect.
by Jaxter » Thu Apr 21, 2016 1:30 pm
nothing beats that sense of achievement when you beat the elements does it
by jamesb63 » Thu Apr 21, 2016 8:23 pm
Some very nice pics also of your day
I got the exact same conditions on the Sunday on Beinn a,Ghlo
by dav2930 » Thu Apr 21, 2016 8:59 pm
Being in a proper whiteout is a pretty unnerving experience, especially when alone; your description captures the sense of it very well. Well done for keeping your nerve and navigating successfully through it - very sensible to save your GPS for positioning only and otherwise use your compass. Nice that it cleared off to reveal some spectacular views.
by litljortindan » Thu Apr 21, 2016 10:38 pm
by Alteknacker » Thu Apr 21, 2016 11:46 pm
Otherwise, I can only echo what dav2930 says.
by Sunset tripper » Fri Apr 22, 2016 1:30 am
- Posts: 1653
- Joined: Nov 3, 2013
- Location: Inverness
by tombombadilio » Fri Apr 22, 2016 2:30 am
Was there this February in similar conditions but aborted before even getting up Carn Ban Mor. Tried again in March and got the unicorn of winter walking conditions all day long - firm pristine snow, utterly blue skies, beautiful sunshine and low, low winds.
Well done for keeping your head and conquering.
by Mountainlove » Fri Apr 22, 2016 11:26 am
by Bod » Fri Apr 22, 2016 7:56 pm