The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Wednesday 5 November 2014

GT Day 10: Cairn Lochan

Wednesday 5 November 2014

Yesterday was mainly spent with friend Laura, indulging in much chatting. We would have liked to have gone for a walk, but were both equally decisive in our declarations of “I’m not going out in thatas we watched the rain pour down.

As daylight started giving way to darkness, I repositioned myself into the Cairngorm Ski Centre car park. Sitting in the cloud, listening to the rain drumming down, I had faith that, per the forecast, today would prove to be the best weather of the week. The mountain forecast told me that there would be little wind, only a few passing showers and an 80% chance of cloud free Munro summits, with good visibility.

The morning didn’t start with promise: the rain was now snow, but the cloud was still low. I set about wasting some time to delay my departure. Alas, the number of daylight hours at this time of year don’t allow for indefinite waiting around, and my objective of Ben Macdui was far enough away to need quite a few hours, so I had to make a decision: go anyway, or go somewhere else. Whilst I’m not one for climbing hills for the sake of it (I want a view at least most of the way up, if I’m going to go to all that effort), I clutched at the straw that the cloud would rise at a faster rate than I would, and off I set. 

There was just one set of footprints in the snow heading in my direction. I discerned that it was a big-footed chap, with a very short stride length, who stopped every few paces and turned around. When I finally caught up with him, it turned out that he was looking for ptarmigan, which explained the odd trail of prints. Of course, having passed him, I no longer had his prints to follow. He said he would follow mine instead. He did. That may not have been wise. 

I should probably mention that by now I was well and truly in the cloud and visibility was severely restricted accordingly. Plus, of course, as I was getting higher the snow was getting deeper and obscuring the path, although I only lost it once, and not for more than a couple of hundred yards.

My ‘Plan B’ had been that if conditions weren’t conducive to going all the way to Ben Macdui, then I would instead pop up to Cairn Lochan and walk the edge over to Cairn Gorm, which looks a lovely walk (in good conditions…). As I trudged along, Plan B got elevated to prime position, but just as I might have turned off the path to take a more direct line up to Cairn Lochan, there was a glimpse of blue sky and even a small window of a view. Optimism soared that this was the first sign of the cloud lifting and that Ben Macdui would be back on the cards, so instead of turning, I carried slowly on, delaying the decision for another few hundred yards.

My optimism wasn’t warranted. In fact, after that brief glimpse of blue, conditions got even worse. I turned off the path, got out my compass, and with absolutely no visual aids (other than the compass in my hand), eventually made my way up to Cairn Lochan.

A bite to eat and the quick downing of my flask of tea and onwards I continued … for about 50 yards, whereupon I decided to abandon my circuit. I just couldn’t see any point (in fact, I just couldn’t see!) in continuing on a navigation exercise; I’d rather complete the circuit when I can enjoy the surroundings. So, I did an about turn and followed my footprints all the way back to the place where I had lost the path on the way up, not seeing a single other person’s prints on my way.

The originally-missed bit of path was far more obvious in reverse and at the end of that untrodden section I found that other people had come up the hill after me but every single one had followed my prints as when I had accidentally left the path. Ooops! I’ve no idea where those people went, as I saw no evidence of them further up the hill, although the it appears that some turned back, as the path from there on down was full of prints in both directions.

Arriving back down at Colin the cloud base was clearly lower than when I had set off; the Corbetts, across the other side of Loch Morlich, which had been fully visible when I set out were now heavily shrouded. As the day raced towards dusk, the sky did gradually clear, but too late to be of use to anyone but a night-hiker.

Objectively, it wasn’t such a bad day to be on a hill really. The few showers which passed through were all snow (and thus didn’t get me wet), and the wind was so low as not to be noticeable. However, I can’t really say that I enjoyed my outing (8.4 miles with 2000’ of ascent) and to add insult to injury, I finished with wet socks (the snow up high was deeper than I had expected – beyond ankle deep in many places – and I hadn’t taken gaiters)!

There was rather an absence of photo opportunities today, but I did take a quick selfie at the top, to illustrate the view behind me…IMG_7751


  1. I agree with you Gayle. I need a view in reward for effort. But I must say well done all the same.

    1. Thank you. Considering that I didn't think that I much enjoyed it at the time, I now note that I look quite cheerful on that summit photo. Maybe I was just overjoyed at having located the top!