Distance: 6 miles
Munro Count: 1
Munro: Cairn Gorm
Who with: JP
We arrived at the top car park at Cairn Gorm at around 6.45am, and other than a couple of cars that looked like they had been there all night, it looked like we were the first to arrive.
The forecast the night before was for light winds of 7mph, but there had clearly been a change overnight, with gusts of around 60mph. The air was fresh to say the least, so we didn’t hang around getting our gear together and instead donned our head torches and headed round the back of the funicular, where the path took us up a snowy hill side, Sron an Aonaich.
There had been quite a bit of snow overnight and the last bit was still falling, as we made our way in the dark, up the icy path. It wasn’t long before we needed to put on our crampons, as there was literally no traction under foot. The wind continued to batter us as we pressed on, and there was very little conversation between JP and I, which was unusual. Instead, we both had our heads down, preferring to make progress into the wind.
As the view started to open out, as daylight was beginning to creep in, it was clear that the lifts were unlikely to be operating at their usual time given the conditions. We were making good progress and slowly the conversation started, following us taking a few minutes to admire the views that greeted us. JP, a mechanical engineer, was also admiring the engineering work that had gone into creating such easy access onto the mountain.
I have mixed views about such lifts, in that they are fantastic if you are using them for snow sports, but they do make access onto the mountains too easy, in my opinion. Then the Ptarmigan café came into view, which again is a fantastic feat of engineering, but like Snowdon, for example, I have mixed emotions.
Anyway, we pressed on and following the fence line, we could see the snow ploughs preparing the mountain for its hundreds of visitors that would eventually make their way onto the hill. We reached the Ptarmigan and it was now around 8.15am, and coming daylight. The snow ploughs were still working away on all the ski runs, with one passing us at close quarters, whilst the driver gave the thumbs up. There are worse offices, I’ll tell you!
We were having a leisurely walk and a stretch as you had probably gathered, so we trudged up the final stretch towards the weather station, which sits on the summit of Cairn Gorm. We decided to have some breakfast on the top, albeit being battered by the wind, and spindrift. As we sat there with our mugs of coffee, we had the pleasure of watching the weather dial take its reading. The station was thick with ice, and it is no surprise with such a cold wind-chill of around -21degrees. The day before had recorded winds of 125mph on the top, which is a fair old wind to say the least.
Unsurprisingly, given the temperature, we didn’t hang around long, and instead of walking the horse shoe as planned, we decided (unusually) to go back down the way we came, and spend a few minutes at the Ptarmigan café which would hopefully now be open.
As we descended back down, the lifts were opening, and the area soon became a hive of activity, with skiers and the CairnGorm mountain team buzzing around. It was interesting to watch and see some of the folks who had reached this altitude in a matter of minutes, having walked a few yards from their car.
We decided to grab a brew and people watch for a few minutes, before retreating back down the mountain. A few minutes with so many people was starting to take away from what had been an enjoyable, leisurely walk. JP and I had flowing conversation all the way down, which was back to usual, and were now passed every few seconds by skiers who were enjoying what were now fantastic conditions, which looked as though they would get better by the hour.
The sun lashed the snow, which made for some fantastic views across the range, which made me keep stopping to look behind me. As we dropped back down, the car park came into view and was unsurprisingly full, with only a handful of walkers having passed us on our way down, which surprised me somewhat, on such a fantastic day.
We were back down at the car by 10am, as we had stuff to do that day, but it was a most enjoyable stroll!