Cairn Gorm 2010-01-28

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You have climbed 93/282 munros.

The weather forecast was better than the previous day: winds of 20+mph gusting 35+mph. Much better than yesterday's gusting 50+mph. I decided to go for it.

Windy ridge looked a bit laden and would be hard going. So I'd wander up the track and cut up on to the Fiacaill a' Choire Chais.

The track, looking up into the cloud

...and back down towards the car park

The conditions in the Cas didn't seem too bad, I walked up the track, under the funicular, put my crampons on and continued onto the ridge.

The ridge proper was where it started to get interesting. The wind was almost constant, from the north west, on the side of my face. It's steep and feels relentless, the ice crunching under my feet. I looked around a few times and whilst it didn't look great weather I didn't have many alarm bells going off. My timing up the ridge was accurate and I felt good. Until I got to the 1141m top.

1141m, top of the Fiaciall a' Choire Chais

I looked about

It wasn't any better with goggles on either! they just turned the white a fetching shade of rose. I'd been navigating by bearing and time anyway, so to continue wasn't any big deal. I examined the map and set a bearing. It didn't look right, it felt wrong. It had me going across the end of the Cas headwall - this was the 50k OS map. So I redid my compass work. It all looked good.

"Trust your compass" is the mantra I remembered. "Trust your compass". "You must trust your compass", is what my instructor had said.

I had been here before and I knew if you cut the corner between the 1141m top and the summit you can end up in deep trouble and potential avalanche terrain, so I decided to continue on my original bearing a few metres, then set the bearing for the summit and start timing from there.

Out from the shelter of the cairn the wind was ferrocious despite now being at my back. I didn't remember it being that bad coming up the fiaciall. I started up the final pull to the summit. The conditions underfoot went from solid ice to 2foot deep snow steps with a light ice crust. One foot went down and I ended up knee deep and off balance. I now started to doubt myself. These steps seemed very bad and I didn't remember seeing anything like it on my Winter Skills course. They seemed to take huge amounts of energy to climb up, and I didn't know whether I should really be there. Were they from avalanche debris? or other nastiness I wondered. I made another decision: to head back for the 1141m top to take stock, have something to eat and drink, and possibly head back down the ridge. Somewhere along the line I don't think I got my back bearing correct and started wandering down into Coire Cas. The slope, as far as I could see - about 10feet! was higher on my left. The only high ground should be the summit and that should be directly behind me. I climbed up the slope to my left and felt a little panic rising. Had I done something very stupid... I looked around and could see nothing. So I got out my map and took a bearing for the 1141m top again, taking care to get this right. No mistakes. Compass in hand and marking rocks and what little features I could see I set off on the bearing.

Within a minute or two I came across a group of people, obvious from the look of them they were from Glenmore Lodge. I was soooo glad to see someone at this point! Looking past them I could also see the 1141m cairn. Phew!

I asked their instructor if I could tag along with them to the summit, and after a few stern words about how these other people were paying for his time and he couldn't supervise me, he said I could.

He took the group straight up the strange snow steps as if they weren't an issue and didn't exist! Okay...!

Before long the steps disappeared, I had got soo close to getting through them! if only I had the confidence to continue. And then we were at the weather station.

So much snow!

...and some ski tourers too

I followed the group on to the Ptarmigan. That was interesting too. The wind was now into our faces and seeing anything was tricky.

The Ptarmigan

It seemed to me, having had an interesting time of things, that the best plan was to go and see if I could get a down ticket for the train! and sit a while and have a coffee. So off with crampons and into the Ptarmigan to de-ice! Taking off my pack everything was plastered with a layer of rime. Wow!

Tags: glenmore lodge, munro, scotland, walkabout 2010 Written 28/01/10 

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