Ben MacDhui by Chris and Shirley

11351124_1000659536624903_6798101863957212320_n Driving through Glenmore Park on a cool, crisp April morning and already the signs were that today would be a better day in the Cairngorms than the previous one. The day before Shirley and I had climbed a well-known Corbett – Meall a’ Bhuachaille – overlooking Glenmore Park and the Cairngorm plateau to the south. Unfortunately the last 200 metres of the reasonably straightforward climb had been socked in with mist and drizzle, which reduced visibility greatly and blanketed out the views. Thankfully, on our descent, we spotted smoke rising from the Ryvoan bothy chimney and it wasn’t long before we were drying out in front of a nice warm fire. We spent an hour chatting to a local who was a mine of information about the Cairngorms and also knew a one Jim Sutherland from Torridon. What a small world it is in the Scottish mountains! The weather looks a lot more promising the day after. By the time we had of met up with our nineonesix guide Nathan at the Cairngorm Ski Centre car park the clouds had dispersed and the sun was starting to break through. We were a little worried about how long the circular walk to Ben Macdui would be but Nathan reassured us that, with the extra daylight of early spring, a climb to the summit and back would be achievable with a steady pace. We ascended on a well-trodden path to the west of Coire an t-Sneachda and it wasn’t long before the impressive buttresses of the Cairn Lochan came into view. When we reached the snow line at about 900 metres we had a pair of Ptarmigan for company. Crossing the frozen plateau between Cairn Lochan and the climb up to Ben Macdui Nathan advised that we put our crampons on as this would help speed up our progress over the hard packed snow and ice. We didn’t disagree as a trip to the Scottish mountains in winter would not be complete without wearing crampons for at least some of the time. Soon a brisk westerly wind had enveloped us in cloud and then it started snowing. At this point we were thankful of the expert navigation skills of Nathan who guided us up the summit approach of Ben Macdui where, miraculously, the weather cleared. The views of the surrounding mountains certainly made up for missing out yesterday. Climbing in the Cairngorms you soon realise, especially in winter/early spring, how few people you come across during a day out. We came across about half a dozen people during a seven hour round trip to the summit and back. If you are seeking space in a true wilderness setting then the Cairngorms is for you. The sheer size and scale of the mountains and valleys around you is something that everyone who loves the outdoors must experience at least once. We descended back to the Ski Centre car park via a different route, just under the west side of Cairngorm. This way back gave us a different aspect of the chasm down the Coire an t-Sneachda. From a distance we spotted two climbers making their way steadily up one of the Grade One gullies. That would have to be for another day! blog by Shirley and Chris, nineonesix-guiding return clients.

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