Saturday 10th January 2009
Weather/Conditions: Strong winds and thick cloud (base approx 900m, above summit) but with only brief moments of hail. A lot of wind - 190 kph at the top. It was hard to move anywhere in such conditions, but was sure fun to experience...
Distance/Ascent/Time:9km / 450m / 4h
Accompanying: James, Colin (Up a Mountain MC)
We arrived in Aviemore, first dumping the gear in the bunkhouse before going down to the pub. Concerning the weather for the Saturday, it was going to be a case of looking out of the window in the morning and seeing what it was like. If things were looking up, then we'd go up onto the Cairngorm plateau. If things weren't looking good however, then a low level walk would be in order. Meall a' Bhuachaille had also been a consideration, and I was happy to do almost anything.
On Saturday morning, I awoke to the sound of wind outside. There hadn't been rain but it was apparent that the wind was going to be tremendous. I headed up to the Esso Garage in the morning where the wind was bitterly cold to stock up on food and to check the weather. It was cold even down here, but the rising sun shone beneath the cloud layer and for a while everything was illuminated red and orange. That wasn't to last but it was a nice sight to get up to.
After breakfast and cups of tea, James, Colin and I set off in the car with the intention with starting from Coire Cas at 600m on Cairn Gorm. The snow gates were shut however and there was no chance of getting up to the plateau. After considering options, the choice of Meall a' Bhuachaille was decided upon and we set off from the Reindeer Park junction at 10.30am. (The parking at Glenmore lodge was sheet ice. There was no chance of getting a space there)
We walked first to Glenmore Lodge and then onwards up to Ryvoan Bothy. Beyond Glenmore Lodge the path was essentially a sheet of verglas, and being the only one without crampons, I had a difficult time walking. Several times I slipped and fell arse first to the ground but all was fine and often, walking on the verge eased the difficulties. Crampons could be something to add to the gear-list... (Not that I have a "gear-list", but...)
We reached the Ryvoan Bothy at 11.30am, one hour after starting out. We took shelter inside where we stopped for 5-10 minutes and while the wind was already wild here, the hill would undoubtedly be worse. After a break, we left the bothy and headed up the path, which was in far better condition than the one on the way to the bothy.
By the time we were at 500m, the winds had increased markedly. It didn't help that now on the leeside of the hill, we were walking head on into them. Higher up, the walking became tougher and at points it became an impossible. Occasionally a surge of frustration-driven adrenaline saw me shoot up several feet but the easier thing to do was just to lie on the ground and watch everybody else struggle up. I didn't bother expecting a break in the wind because not once would the wind let off.
The only hillwalk I can realistically make a comparison with concerning wind speed is that of one away back in May 2007. Alex and I were on the Cobbler and on the final stretch to the summit where we were almost being blown off our feet. The wind didn't providing sufficient resistance to stop us from moving forwards, but I was frantic, edgy and possibly out of my depth. However unsettling, it was a good learning experience. I've come a long way since then (I hope) and on Meall a' Bhuachaille I felt fine.
I came to the cairn at 700m and ahead the summit windbreaker came into view. My morale lifted but it was a long way off, especially in these conditions. By the time I'd arrived five feet from the windbreaker, I still couldn't get in without doing the routine and putting one foot ahead of the other. When I got in, (12.50pm) the wind let up and for once moving about was, relatively speaking, easy. James and Colin arrived too although we didn't stay long.
The plan was to head down the north west side of the hill, back to the reindeer centre although this meant walking into the wind. Making progress was still very tough. As we lost altitude, the wind eased off and the walk back through the forests was very easy going. It's a scenic route which I wouldn't mind doing again - maybe for another bad weather day. This route took us through forests and then down to the junction where we had parked. We were back at 1.40pm.
In the evening I bought myself a takeaway pizza, a bit costly at £8.50, but it tasted to good to complain about the price. We ended up in Cafe Mambo where an excellent ska band from Edinburgh were playing. Called 'Bombskare', they seem to be the ska band in Scotland. To my mind, they deserve such a title, for they kept a crowd going for a lot of hours. A tight band with excellent presence. I watched from the side by the PA speaker (which is not a good idea) and listened but wasn't dancing so much. If I'd had a few drinks it may have been a clever idea...
After the band finished up, we headed back to the bunkhouse at around 11.30pm, slugging down cups of tea before finally getting to sleep at 1am. I got to sleep far quicker this night than the previous thanks to the extra pillows. The beds were dreadful.
Sunday morning brought torrential rain but luckily it was time to head home. The volume of water tumbling from the hillsides was immense but to sit and watch from the car was preferable than to be out in it. We arrived back in Falkirk and I took the train home from Falkirk High train station. So that concluded another brilliant weekend with Up A Mountain MC - cheers guys.
This could be the last big hill day I have in January. From here onwards its exams, but another few walks may be able to be squashed into the coming weeks.