I was out with my nephew doing my tourist bit when the weather brightened I saw there was plenty of snow and Cornices still in the Cairngorms and a fair snow cover on the plateau. It has been a long winter for me as I am still recovering from illness and then picked up a chest infection that battered my ribs for over a month recently. I had met my old pals on my travels the day before John and Mary in Aviemore and John had bought his new winter boots and was looking forward to trying them out. We decided to meet yesterday at 0800 in the Cairngorm car park. It was an early start for me up at 0530 and was raining all the way over to the Cairngorms, I nearly phoned and cancelled it, John and Mary thought the same! We had a cup of tea in their van ( remember the sugar next time) and set of in a gloomy wet day to see how we felt as we are a combined age of 192 years. I was a bit worried about my ribs but we had plenty of time and the path is good on to the ridge. We had planned a winter scramble on Faicaill Ridge and old favourite for many years. We took a short rope and a few slings trying to keep the weight down on our old bodies.
On leaving the lower car park we had an easy walk along the path and saw in the distance the Cairngorm Reindeer herders out with the animals getting ready for another day. I shouted them but it was lost in the rain and mist. It was very quiet on the hill for a Sunday and still raining and the odd snowflake fell we would see how it went and John atill wanted to get his new boots some action. We took it easy and were soon on the ridge it is still a hard pull and there was plenty of snow about. The visibility was not bad and the main ridge towered in the gloom. It was pretty snow plastered and heavy going a lot more than John and Mary expected. There were a few Cornices drooping and dripping and it was mild but great to be out and we got some views of the Coire of the snows and Core an Lochan and saw one party getting ready to climb a fully snow covered Fiacail Couloir with the big chock stone covered. We took it in times breaking the snow trail as there was plenty of fresh snow about and hard work on the boulders and rock.
We decided to see how it went and wandered along the ridge, we stopped and geared up putting harness , helmet and crampons on and then decided to climb the short step of blocky rock instead of taking the easy ground round to the right. We were now caught up by a couple one an ex RAF Mountain Rescue troop Dave his wife and their dog Glen who was on his first winter climb. They had enjoyed following our hard-worked steps and they were heading for the snow ramps that miss most of the climbing a good choice for today.
We had the odd snow and hail shower but it was warm and the snow was balling up on the crampons as it was wet but we would need the crampons on the granite rock on the short climb ahead. We had a chat and left the others and John charged off up the short step wishing he had some rock gear and had to clear the rock of heavy snow cover. As always John managed to get up and a good thread belay. Now we met the RAF Lossiemouth Mountain Rescue Team on a training day we caught up and they wandered up the easier line. They had been climbing yesterday on Goat Track Gully and had a great day, it was good to see them and we caught up while John was clearing the snow off the rock. After they left myself and Mary were soon up with John on the belay and it was good to climb a bit of winter even something as short as this. I took care and did not want to strain the chest and found one move interesting on the blocky rounded granite with wet snow and was glad of the crampons!
It was a crowded belay with our short rope but very friendly and a good laugh and it snowed a bit but no wild Cairngorm wind. It was warm and their was plenty of snow and ample belays if needed but I would have liked some rock runners as always it seemed easier when we were younger as it always does.
The company was good and a lovely place to be on the ridge with the big drops into the Corrie and with the mild weather and odd snow falling a great atmospheric feel. How I had missed this and though only a short winter climb it was magic combination and I was enjoying it even this late in the winter. It is so good to be back on these places and see these wonderful places that makes the Cairngorms so special.
We kept the rope on until we hit the plateau and I am glad we did as to have a slip here could be costly and it is easy to switch off near the top with the end in sight, hopefully we are old and wiser nowadays. The weather was fine by Cairngorm standards and we even got a bit of a view of the gloomy Cornices and met the couple who had climbed Faicaill Colouir. We then headed of along the plateau looking at the familiar cliffs and the Cornices, it was a slow plod and with a bit of wind and snow blowing this would be tricky ground, featureless and with the cliffs so close care has to be taken.
The light was gloomy and atmospheric and the plateau quite for a winter’s day, I was surprised how few were out. There were tracks going into Alladins Coulior and as we rounded the Corrie we met Jonathan Preston a Mountain Guide on the Mess of Pottage just finishing a climb. It had been a long winter for him 5 months since November and he was saying that there was a lot of snow about. We wandered on to the top and had a break and then the long wander down through the ski area.
We were all feeling our age but were soon down at the van and had a brew and some bruffen and then I got a message that my nephew and his daughter were in Aviemore and would I join them for tea in the local fish and chip shop. It was a quick change and then into Aviemore, John and Mary went straight home and I had a great meal and caught up with their adventures. I was tempted to go to the pictures with Scott and Beth to see Eddie the Eagle but I was tired and it was the right decision. I was soon home and the gear sorted a bath and a relax and fell asleep watching the golf!
It was great to get out and finally get a winter wander in such a place as the Cairngorms with two great pals and despite the body hurting a bit I may get another day out soon.
Winter is still on these hills be careful and enjoy these special places!