Cairngorms Meet, December 2021

By Stephen M,

For me, this years Cairngorm’s meet started early on the Friday. With a day off and early season snow, Jack and I headed to the ski centre car park for a mid morning start.
Despite sub-optimal conditions, the optimists in us decided to have a crack at sliding down Cairngorm. Me with a snowboard and Jack with skis, we trudged our way up Cairngorms slopes, resenting the ski tourers in front of us and really finding out how fit we were.

With a brief stop at the Ptarmigan station, the wind kindly picked up for a last 500m to the summit, which I must say is interesting with a sail like snowboard on your back. Luckily, I could walk up in by board boots, Jack however had the pleasure of changing into his freezing cold, snow filled, ski boots on the windy summit.

Heading East off the summit, we worked our way back to the ski slopes, sticking to the best of the snow, which consisted of icy crust, small pockets of soft wind blown snow, to rock strewn dead ends leading to further walking.

Up and down in about 4 hours, ended our “interesting” ski excursion, giving us a good amount of time to kill, so we hit the Bothy bar for some beers.
If there’s one take away from the weekend, that’s don’t be the first to arrive at Mill cottage on a winter meet! Nestled near Feshiebridge, about 20 minutes from the ski centre, Mill Cottage has warm showers, large kitchen and decent beds, but its bloody freezing if your the first to arrive. It took at least 2 hours from lighting the fire before we started thawing out, but it was nice and warm by the time everyone else started turning up.

The weather for Saturday wasn’t look to good, with not ideal wind forecast. This altered some peoples plans during the Friday night planning.

Saturday morning, we were greeted with a couple of cm of snow at the cottage, first signs of what was ahead.
Cameron and Stewart were the first out at some point in the early hours. The story of there day is probably best coming from them, but involved triggering avalanches, escape climbing and a 7pm return.

For the rest of us leaving just before sunrise, we arrived at the bottom of the ski road with the snow gates shut due to snow on the road causing a car to leave the road. We wouldn’t know it, but the gate would be shut all day.

Some of the group would walk up to pursue there original plans, with Tom and Flo heading through the Chalamain gap to take there climbing rack for a walk, Moritz and Catarina heading for Loch Avon and Rob taking a small group up to Fiacaill ridge, which due to high winds and white out conditions ended in an abseil retreat.

For those who didn’t fancy the walk up the road, one group decided on a low level walk, whilst myself, Jack, Maddie and Michael, headed up Meall a’ Bhuachaille.

For most of the climb, only light snow showers accompanied us, however on getting up to the ride line, the wind started to pick up, a precursor of what was to come.
Goggles were very welcomed, as was another layer and thicker gloves.
An ill conceived decision to continue along the ridge to summit Creagan Gorm and continue towards Craiggowrie, found us in full white out conditions and at some points knee deep snow. Lunch required a survival shelter to get out of the wind and eventually things got to much and we bailed just after the Cairn before Craiggowrie. Dropping only 100m in altitude got us out of the wind and in a much happier place, before walking towards Loch Morlich and the safety of the car.

The snow on Saturday was much worse than forecast, which resulted in a number of avalanches in the Northern Corries, resulting in a rescue by Cairngorm mountain rescue. Thankfully all involved return safely.

The trauma of Saturday, lead to most of the group either staying at low level or heading South to hit objectives on the way home. Myself and Jack decided to stay and head up Fiacaill Ridge.

The weather was a stark contrast to the day before, with the sun poking through the clouds and only a light wind. The walk in was at times tough going, with snow drifts littering the route in, some of which were waist deep. Once up on the ridge, things got much easier and we stopped for something to eat just before the first boulder field, where Lee had caught us up and joined us for the scramble section.

The snow had filled in much of the ridge, but conditions had not been right for any build up of ice, so the route was basically a snowed up rock climb.
Once at the top, the sun came out giving a glorious view over the plateau and even prompted the sunglasses to come out.
Some areas of deep snow made the decent hard going at times, made us wishing we’d brought some skis, as conditions were brilliant.