Sunday, 22 October 2017
Cairngorm contrast - the relentless foe
Afte two days of really lovely October conditions the weather broke. I was staying at Rothiemurchus Lodge and through the night the whole building was shaken by violent gusts of wind - my thoughts were with the Duke of Edinburgh's teams over on Deeside but actually they had quite calm conditions low down in Glen Derry.
I set out into heavy rain and scudding cloud. What this image can't show is the violence of the wind; tearing gusts which blew sheets of rainwater from the ground and roared through the trees.
Climbing high above the woods of Rothiemurchus, a glimpse on sunlight on the far side of the Spey valley would be the last for some hours.
Ahead, the weather looked particularly challenging as cloud and rain belched out of the jaws of the Lairig Ghru. The rain now set in with real venom and the wind, dead against me, slowed progress right down.
At some points I simply had to turn my back to the wind and rain as it became too painful to face into the combination of 60mph wind, lashing rain and gravel blown from the path. The Lairig Ghru is one of the great through-routes of the Cairngorms, and indeed of Scotland. A huge former glacial breach linking Deeside with Speyside, it slices through the Cairngorm plateau reaching 835m at its highest point. Today it was perfectly orentied with the wind, which was roaring through, almost stopping progress at times.
In normal circumstances I'd have avoided heading up into such weather, but I intended to meet the D of E teams as they came through the other way. They would have this weather at their backs but would still find it more challenging than previous experiences in the hills.
Hunkered down at the Pools of Dee, a few small lochans near the high point of the pass, I watched the clouds racing past. The main plateau lies some 400 metres above the Lairig and I could only imagine the power of the wind up there as it raced unchecked over the dome of the Cairngorms in the first real "blow" of the autumn.
In these conditions, and particularly in winter, the wind is a relentless foe. I've had some of my hardest fights not too far from this spot, the wind sapping energy, strength and willpower - a fundamental and fierce experience. There's a wild pleasure in being able to operate on the hills in such conditions though - a feeling almost impossible to explain to someone who doesn't walk or climb in the mountains.
Briefly poking my head up occasionally to scan for folk coming through, I settled down for what might be a long wait.
But remarkably, both teams were keeping good time and going well - impressed but not overawed by the conditions. It was a relief to put my back to the wind as I headed after them - progress suddenly seemed so much easier and now th trick was not getting blown over.
And then, one of those moments.......the rain ceased and the cloud tore apart as if a curtain had been pulled; we walked into bright sunshine and clear air. The wind stayed at the same severe gale force, but what a difference!
Looking back up into the Lairig, the cloud was now racing across the pass rather than straight down. The shif of wind as a front passed had totally altered the conditions in the space of a few moments - a real Cairngorm contrast.