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The Cairngorms in a complete whiteout

The Cairngorms in a complete whiteout


Postby 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: 1098m

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For some reason I had thought that the 2 Munros Sgor Gaoith and Mullach Clach a'Bhlair would be pretty boring. Hardly could I have imagined, that I would be tested to the limits. The weather forecast had talked about snow in the morning and improved conditions later on. Having learned my lesson on Mull I arrived at the car park at noon. :D When I had left home the sky had been cloudless and by the time I was driving through Aviemore nearly 4 h later it was still snowing! Once I had my gear together I set off with only a few flurries which stopped soon after. The mountains in the distance were covered in snow, but the path up the mountain was lovely and a great warm up.
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A great start on an easy to follow path

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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 :D . 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. :shock: 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. :thumbup: 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.

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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.

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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!

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Looking back

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The views I would have never expected

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Spectacular views who made everything worth while

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Views from the top

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Looking towards the second Munro in the far distance

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Towards the lochan

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Spin drifts on the way up

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Another front is approaching

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Myself

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Another walker in the distance

Turning around I was surprised when I saw another lone walker appearing. Another nutter I thought! 8) :lol: 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 :thumbup: 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.

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The clouds were getting low again

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The walk towards the second Munro

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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.

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Lovely

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The summit comes into view

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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.

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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.

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Low clouds on the way down

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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.
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Re: The Cairngorms in a complete whiteout

Postby Mal Grey » Thu Apr 21, 2016 9:40 am

Quite an adventure, its amazing what a complete white out does to your senses. Calmness in such situations is essential, but not always easy, sounds like you held it together and got your just rewards with the amazing views later.
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Re: The Cairngorms in a complete whiteout

Postby xslawekx » Thu Apr 21, 2016 9:46 am

I remember thinking, the only place I wouldn't like to find myself in a whiteout is the Mòine Mhòr plateau. A few weeks later I went to do Monadh Mor and Beinn Bhrotain... Caught up in a blizzard in the middle of the plateau with zero visibility was indeed a one of a kind experience... :) It's a good exercise in navigation and a test of resolve.

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 :D

Well done on completing the walk :clap:
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Re: The Cairngorms in a complete whiteout

Postby Borderhugh » Thu Apr 21, 2016 10:03 am

Well done Maja.

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!
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Re: The Cairngorms in a complete whiteout

Postby holtlynx » Thu Apr 21, 2016 10:46 am

You're made of sterner stuff than me. I would have retreated out of that first white out, especially knowing that my destination (Sgorr Gaoith) was right on the very edge of precipice. But fair play to you for persevering and getting it right.
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Re: The Cairngorms in a complete whiteout

Postby rockhopper » Thu Apr 21, 2016 12:29 pm

Good result in the end - first time you're in a proper whiteout can be quite unnerving - good experience for the next time though.
Mountainlove wrote: In fact walking with my eyes closed, would have had the same effect.
Might seem that way but probably not the best of ideas :wink: :wink: - cheers :)
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Re: The Cairngorms in a complete whiteout

Postby Jaxter » Thu Apr 21, 2016 1:30 pm

Yikes :shock: Well done :clap:
nothing beats that sense of achievement when you beat the elements does it :lol: :D
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Re: The Cairngorms in a complete whiteout

Postby jamesb63 » Thu Apr 21, 2016 8:23 pm

Well done and perseverance paid off for you :clap: :clap:
Some very nice pics also of your day
I got the exact same conditions on the Sunday on Beinn a,Ghlo
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Re: The Cairngorms in a complete whiteout

Postby dav2930 » Thu Apr 21, 2016 8:59 pm

Great report. :clap:

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. 8)
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Re: The Cairngorms in a complete whiteout

Postby litljortindan » Thu Apr 21, 2016 10:38 pm

Reads and looks like a Shakelton journey! The cornices look enormous. A lot different to when I was there in balmy Autumn weather.
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Re: The Cairngorms in a complete whiteout

Postby Alteknacker » Thu Apr 21, 2016 11:46 pm

Well done for keeping your head! A white-out is so unnerving, and it's really had to discipline yourself to follow your compass and ignore any other "sense" of where you should be going. I'm ashamed to admit that I've trusted my instincts over the compass on more than one occasion, with absolutely predictable results :( .

Otherwise, I can only echo what dav2930 says.
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Re: The Cairngorms in a complete whiteout

Postby Sunset tripper » Fri Apr 22, 2016 1:30 am

You did well to keep going there. I think I might have bailed out in these conditions. Ive been on the summit in decent conditions. Last time there wasnt even a cairn there or stones. Where did they go? :shock: I know I couldn't navigate safely to the top right on the edge in a total whiteout even if I had a GPS. It would be too easy to walk off the edge. Glad the weather cleared up for you and you got across to the other one too. :D
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Re: The Cairngorms in a complete whiteout

Postby tombombadilio » Fri Apr 22, 2016 2:30 am

litljortindan said it the best, very Shackletonesque!

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.
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Re: The Cairngorms in a complete whiteout

Postby Mountainlove » Fri Apr 22, 2016 11:26 am

Dear All,

thanks for the comments. I should maybe advertise my next walk in Shakelton style 8) :D

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Re: The Cairngorms in a complete whiteout

Postby Bod » Fri Apr 22, 2016 7:56 pm

Great stuff mountainlove, wonderful wondering around up there :D :D :clap:
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