Friday, 7 August 2020



High pressure system over much of Scotland today bringing warmer temperature and clear skies. A good day to head over the Cairngorm plateau and the wilder parts of the hills. I was keen to check out the big remaining snow patch on the Feithe Buidhe slabs. It's also, of course, a great walk to the finest place in the Cairngorm mountains. The telephoto camera goes along, as always.
To make the day even better and to keep away from the busy, crowded trails I headed into Coire an t-Sneachda and up onto the Fiacaill Ridge. Saw one person. Plenty of folk chattering away up the Goat Track but I was in amongst the boulder fields to check out and wildlife, especially Ptarmigan and Mountain Hare. No Ptarmigan but a lovely solitary Hare who shot of up below the Fiacaill Buttress and towards the plateau. Also spotted two Ring Ouzel.

There were a few folk on the Fiacail but by the time I had gained the ridge they were way ahead and I had the place to myself. It's always a fun route, scrambling along here. There's also a small buttress before the main ridgeline which is good fun too, so had a play on that.
There was a wonderful wee breeze on the plateau but still warm for just a T-shirt. Glad not to be down South were temperatures in the low o mid 30's! No thank you. 20's plenty. Across the plateau and from now on I was definitely off paths and almost guaranteed to see no one. In these times were the hills are becoming quite busy you can very easily 'escape' everyone if desired. The sure fire way of doing this is to go on any pathless route or mountain. 
I made my way across beautiful terrain to that most wonderful of views, the Loch A'an basin. The huge snow patch sits on the Feithe Buidhe slabs and only very slowly melts in the warm sun. There is at least 3 metres depth of snow. This area gets constant snow falling and blowing onto it through the winter months. As I picked my way down the wet granite slabs and mossy ground I reminisced about our first snowfalls here back in October and November last year, a while ago now! I weaved a route through the broken slabs. A beautiful place with Mossy Saxifrage, liverworts and mosses. If you know the area well it's easy, if not then you need to be careful as there are some steeper sections and big enough drops to easily have a slip and do yourself harm.
It was great to see the huge mass of snow has got a couple of tunnels formed now. They are big enough fhat the entrance into them is simple with just a small ducking of your head. One of them goes in to around 20metres in length and comes  out at the top. At the moment! This blog is NOT a guide to going into a snow tunnel! Common sense and awareness are key factors here, plus many years of mountain sense, skills and judgment. 

The 'Snow Tunnels' are formed by trickling water underneath the snowpack which gradually warms the rock below and the snow above. These form readily in this area because of the smooth granite slabs. As the gap gets bigger warmer air can get inside and the process accelerates forming sometimes huge tunnels. I chatted to a snowboarder poking about for a run or two on the snowfields, the second and only other person I met today. After playing about and photographing these brilliant natural sculptures I wandered across to the upper reaches of the Garbh Uisge Mor in search of a spot for lunch. Loads of wonderful, wild and remote places hereabouts with spectacular views. You can't go wrong wherever you decide to sit.  

 After a bite to eat I walked up beside the waterfall on big, easy angled slabs, wonderful. This leads up to the top of the Shelterstoe Crag and Carn Etchachan, wonderful viewpoints. Especailly photogenic is the big Grade I winter Gully, Pinnacle Gully. Its name given to the needle of rock near the top of the gully. If so inclined you can climb it, the Inn Pinn of the Cairngorms!

I walked further up to the source of the Garbh Uisge Mor and Garbh Uige Beag burns. Definitely not a place you'll see anyone, unless it's a group on an ML training or assessment course getting to grips with micro navigation in complex terrain! I was hoping to spot some Ptarmigan up here but not to be. What I did see was just wonderful though. Lots of Snow Bunting about in this location. I came across an adult male and his fledging. He was busy finding food and feeding up the youngster. The Bunting feed on small insects and flies. Fascinating watching them. Even though I was only about 3 metres away they were not at all disturbed or bothered. Food was the priority! I spent about an hour before tearing myself away as dinner beckoned for me!

The adult Male Snow Bunting is a beautiful white plumage in Spring when he looks his best and sings constantly. He is just starting to transform into the Autumn/Winter colours now so not looking quite has smart, but cute as anything. It's been a great year for Snow Bunting. good numbers I have observed in my days out on the plateau. Great to photograph these lovely birds. I never 'bait' any bird with boxes of Trill or seeds for my photographs. Keep it natural and learn your field craft for wildlife photography and you'll soon get some good images.
Heading back across the plateau the wind had picked up a fair bit and some clouds had rolled in across the tops. Strathspey was still blue skies and sunshine. I had a great blast on the bike from Coire Cas to the house. After all the wonderful fresh mountain ai it was a bit of a shock to the senses to get strong whiffs of burning wood, burning cooking fat and barbecues past Glenmore and Loch Morlich. The Cairngorms National Park and many other areas in The Highlands have loads and loads of beautiful places to visit. I know where I would go. Or maybe these folk love the smells of the city? Keep it clean folks. I live here. More importantly the many species of wildlife live here. 

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