Catching up on 5 days of fun in the mountains. It's been another week of very hot weather and hardly any breeze, even at Munro level. A lot of days with low cloud in the glens and clear above, or clearing weather. These conditions are known as temperature inversions or cloud inversions. These are usually more common in the Autumn and Winter months. With the high pressure sat over much of Scotland and hardly any winds then these were ideal conditions for this. The cooler air sinks into the valley floor while the warmer air mass is pushed upwards, the exact opposite of 'normal' atmospheric conditions where it's colder the higher you go up the hill.
WEDNESDAY 12 AUGUST
A very hot day at all levels with absolutely no breeze up on the Monadhliath. A day of Mountain Hare photography. With the hot conditions it was frustrating to get so much heat haze coming off the ground and distorting any images taken from a distance. Still it was great to be amongst the hares again.
THURSDAY 13TH AUGST
Another day of Mountain Hare Photography (it's addictive)! The heather is just about into its prime condition just now with the hillsides looking stunning, especially in the Eastern Highlands where we have an abundance of Ling, the most common and most colourful of the heathers. I wanted to try and get a good image of the Mountain Hare in amongst the heather. A very muggy day with no wind again but lots of cloud cover in the morning. Ideal midge conditions! Even the hares were scratching and rubbing their faces. Another tricky day for photography, this time it was the midges getting in the camera lens and my eyes! Thankfully a wee breeze higher up the hill and toward the end of the day to get rid of them. I need to go back to get the 'perfect' heather and hare shot. In photography no one, ever as had perfect shots. That's why we keep going back!
FRIDAY 14TH AUGUST
A good sunny skies forecast for the high Cairngorm mountains. The low cloud was going to give the temperature inversion conditions I was hoping for. At Coire Cas it was a blanket of cloud (and midges)! So that got me moving quickly. I was on the plateau when the skies started clearing to the South and West. Behind me the wall of cloud sat in the Northern Corries.
I reached the summit of Ben Macdui in 1 hour 45 mins, it must have been the midges keeping me moving fast! Or was it the anticipation of getting some photographs of the cloud dispersing?
I sat just off the summit of Macdui for over an hour, gazing out to the Cairn Toul-Braeriach plateau across the Lairig Ghru. Beautiful.
From just beyond Macduis summit you get a fantastic panorama of the Cairn Toul - Braeriach massive. From here you get a look into the huge Corries on these mountains. The snow patches in Braeriach's Garbh Coire Mor are looking good. This time last year they were just about melted away. This location and Ben Nevis's Observatory Gully are the two places were snow lingers all year round and only on a handful of occasions has the snow completely gone.
I headed East off Macdui's summit and into a seldom visited area where no paths exist. The last time I was here was in winter many years ago. The source of the Garbh Uisge Mor burn begins up here. A fascinating place with a few small snow patches hanging on amongst the boulders and beautiful vegetation. A fine place to camp in solitude. I spotted a few friendly Wheatear and Snow Bunting on my way down and across to Carn Etchachan
After lunch I visited the Snow Tunnels at the Feithe Buidhe slabs. A 'new' tunnel has formed since I was last here just over a week ago. This new one has a slightly low entrance of about 1 metre so a crawl was needed to explore inside. I came out wet with snow melt drops and the wet floor. Within 5 minutes I was completely dried out, a hot afternoon in store.
This whole area above Loch A'an is one of the finest places you can ever visit in the Cairngorms, indeed in the whole of the Highlands. A place with no paths just grand mountain, rock and water scenery. Since posting up pictures of the snow tunnels in the last week or so I have had 4 'enquiries' from folk on social media channels who have requested 'written route descriptions' of 'how to get to the snow'. As mentioned in earlier blog posts, it's half a day on pathless terrain at high altitudes. A full day in total. There is some knarly ground to get to the snow then it's a case of assessing the snow on the day to see if it is safe to explore. All this comes with experience of being in the Scottish mountains over many years. The main concern here is navigation. It would be completely unacceptable and unprofessional of me to start giving out route descriptions to folk. Someone even asked me 'what carpark do I start from?" I'll say no more on the matter!
After immersing myself in such beautiful and raw surroundings I then wandered back across the plateau late afternoon. It was still hot but a wee breeze so just enough to feel very comfortable and enjoyable and not overheating. I was just at the top of Stag Rocks getting some photographs when suddenly a beautiful Mountain Hare came running up from below me and abruptly stopped only a metre above my head. It looked straight at me in surprise! I'm not sure who was the most surprised though! Then a couple of minutes later a wonderful pair of Ptarmigan appeared. Brilliant.
Just 20 minutes from 1141m and I spotted another pair of Ptarmigan. This is great to see. Numbers of these beautiful birds in the Northern Cairngorms have been woefully low in recent times. Hopefully numbers are on the up. I hardly saw anyone all day until coming back down into Coire Cas. Another great bike ride back to the house from the carpark in beautiful early evening sunshine. Top day.
SATURDAY 15TH AUGUST
Another hot day in store with wall to wall sunshine in most places across the Highlands. The usual cloud dispersing by mid morning in the very warm temperatures. We headed out west and a couple of new Munros for Karen. Stob Coire Easain & Sob a' Choire Mheadhoin make a lovely ridge walk above Loch Treig. It must be nearly 20 years sine I last visited these mountains. It was quite quiet compared to stories I have heard from other Munro areas, we only saw around 20 folk all day. Another midgy morning and flies and deer keds and the odd cleg, but hey, it is like living in a different country just now!
These two Munros are commonly known as 'The Easians'. Being a ridge walk from East to West you have to return the same route, therefore going over Stob a' Choire Mheadhoin twice. We did notice some folk dropping down into the Northern coire between the two main summits. I think this is a longer, boggy and pathless way back to the carpark at Fersit?
After a hot day on the hill theres nothing like a wee swim in a nearby loch. The water was almost as warm as the air temperature (apparently). Another top day out in the hills. It was 27 C at 5pm on the way home. Thought it was warm.
SUNDAY 16TH AUGUST
A more relaxing day out today. The Monadhliath hills are some of the largest tracts of mountainous land in the country. There are just three sumits in the entire range that gain Munro status. Many of the hills are between 500 - 800m and remote. You could easily spend weeks climbing all these! You would probably not meet another single hillwalker too. Just like us today really. Apart from the walk in along the glen we saw no one high up. What we did see was plenty of wonderful wildlife, mainly the birds. Golden Eagle, Buzzard, Periguine Falcon, Whaetear, Pipits and probably lots more birds of prey that were looking at us but we didn't see!
MONDAY 17H AUGUST
The weather was again forecasted to be hot but a tad cooler than the weekend. Morning sun giving way to some thicker cloud and rain later. I set off for a short day onto Cairn Gorm in search of some wildlife. The Dotterell have now probably left the Scottish hills and are well on their way back to North Africa, their home. Of course we have lots of resident, permanent wildlife here in the Cairngorms. Up on the mountains and higher places are the Ptarmigan, Mountain Hare and Snow Bunting. Three of the animals I love to see and photograph. I set out from Coire Cas carpark in a cloud of midges. It wasn't until 800m that the breeze kicked in and they were gone. Thankfully. The temperature inversion was already breaking up by 10 am and beautiful to look at the clouds slowly melting away.
I wanted some peaceful walking so quickly got away from the main paths and into pathless terrain, heading up towards Cairn Gorm summit. At 1100m I was so privilaged to come across a Ptarmgan Hen and her 3 youngsters. Brilliant. Hopefully this bodes well for the population up here.
Before walking up to the top of Cairn Gorm itself I had a look into Ciste Mhearad. This bowl just off the plateau is a well know snow hole location in winter. The snow here usually lingers on into the summer months. There is still a 30 - 40 metre length of snow and a small tunnel underneath.
On the top of Cairn Gorm it went dark with thick clouds everywhere. I got rained upon on the descent. It was a lovely feeling of being cooler, wet and a good Cairngorm breeze blowing. A very welcome change from the heat we've been experiencing. Some folk dressed in summer cotton clothing looked a tad wet and miserable on the way back down Windy Ridge. Worth checking out weather forecasts, it was spot on today.