We've been enjoying some fine weather these last few days. High pressure over much of Scotland. Warm (even hot) sunshine, very light winds and virtually wall to wall sunshine since last Wednesday. Certainly higher than average temperatures on the mountains for late September. An Indian Summer? Well for a short time anyway. Here's a summary over the last few days of my activities in the hills, work and play.
THURSDAY 17 SEPTEMER
With a great forecast for the entire day I decided on a good leg stretch on the Braeriach plateau. The finest route up to the Munro of Sgor an Lochain Uaine is via Angels's Ridge. This easy grade 1 scramble is one of the remotest scrambles of this grade in the UK. It's a long approach, full of wild scenery and almost guaranteed to have it to yourself!
Any kind of day on Braeriach and its surrounding summits will be a long one, whichever way you approach it from. I always bike in from my house which knocks off at least 3 hours of walking time. There are various routes to take. For Angels Ridge I bike up to the edge of the Larig Ghru
Angels Ridge lies directly below the Munro of Sgor an Lochain Uaine. To reach the foot of it requires walking into the wonderfully wild and remote Garbh Coire Mor. Access to this magnificent coire is up the Liarig Ghru, to it's highest point. This long pass that dissects the Central and Western Cairngorms plateaux is of truly immense scale. Surrounded by some of the highest mountains in the British Isles. I only saw a few folk whilst walking through here. I chatted to a couple of guys who were heading back the way they came having missed the junction of paths for their intended ascent of Braeriach. Shortly after the highest point there is a vague, seldom trodden path that leaves the lairig and heads into the Garbh Coire below Braeriach. Another person behind me started following in my footsteps. I think he meant to stay on the Lairig Ghru path, he realised after 10 minutes then waded the burn to get back on his route.
This trail leads to one of the remotest 'shelters' in the Cairngorms. The Garbh Coire Bothy. Not only is it the remotest, it is one of the smallest! Last time I was in the area the bothy was undergoing major restoration. It's now finished. looking very smart and weathertight. From the bothy it's a steep walk up into the coire that is nestled below the ridge. One of the gems of the Cairngorms lies here in this 'Hanging Valley'. Lochain Uaine. The name given to the Munro above it. The renamed 'Angels Peak' is one of the most annoying and incorrectly named Munro summits. 'The Devil's Point' being the second most annoying. Apart from them being anglicised they are not even a direct translation, 'Angels Peak' is actually a completely different name! Sgor an Lochain Uaine. It's not that difficult to pronounce! It's also beautiful Gaelic wording.
The start of the scrambling starts shortly above the lochan. At first their are some huge boulders that give way to more solid rock and the ridge becomes narrower. Much of the scrambling is very easy and any harder steps can be mostly avoided. The views behind and to the right are beautiful with big open spaces and grand mountain scenery.
The scrambling is all too soon finished and finishes directly on the summit. I had a liesurley day and reached the top at 3pm. The afternoon light and sun were just beautiful. I saw a handful of folk but they soon disappeared, going different directions and speeds. The summit of Braeriach lies some distance away across the huge plateau. All the way along there are magnificent views across to Ben Macdui & Braeriach. Some grand views are also enjoyed into the upper reaches of the Garbh Coire Mor. Here lies one of only 2 locations were snow patches can linger for an entire year and not disappear. Now in the shade there is every chance 'The Sphynx', as it is named, will survive.
I noticed there were 4 separate tents pitched up near the highest spring in the UK, the Wells of Dee. Here, above 1200m. the infant River Dee begins its long journey. The gentle burn flows across the Braeriach plateau and suddenly plunges in a beautiful waterfall down into the Garbh Coire and into the Lairig Ghru, eventually forming the wide River Dee running East. Braeriach has many 'highest' records. This is the highest waterfall in the UK too!
It takes around 1 hour of walking from Sgor an Lochain Uaine to Braeriach. This afternoon I took longer. Enjoying the sunshine and views. Hardly a breath of wind. A t-shirt only required. Don't forget to keep looking back, a magnificent sight and a good profile view of Angels Ridge. Mmm, I think I want to just call it the NE Ridge of Sgor an Lochain Uaine!
Eventually I reached Braeriach's summit in the late afternoon sun. Just a few folk still lingering but they soon left and I had the summit to myself for 30 minutes of
peace, solitude, views and warm sun. There really is nowhere like these mountains in the UK. Some folk say the Cairngorms are 'rounded and boring'. They need to delve deeper and appreciate the enormous sense of space and huge corries.
Finally it was all down hill walking in the late afternoon. Fabulous watching the light changing has the sun went down. I reached the bike just has it got dark and a fabulous down hill bike ride back to the house, with headtorch of course. Have you packed your headtorch? Mine is in the rucksack all year round.
FRIDAY 18TH SEPTEMBER
Another hot day in store. More wall to wall sun, some cloud drifting around mid day then a gorgeous afternoon with beautiful light. My usual few days a week visit up on the Monadhliath to photograph the mountain hares. There is one wee chap who I have now identified and a regular 'poser'. When you see and are able to photograph an individual on a regular basis then it's only right and proper to give him or her a name surely? So this lovely, friendly chap I have given the name of Fionn.
Photographing the hares is not just about 'capturing a good image' for me it's the whole mountain day and experiencing other wildlife, plants plus stunning scenery with a few hours walking thrown in.
Colours are looking just stunning at the moment. The bracken starting to turn and the first leaves falling off the Birch trees.
SATURDAY 19TH SEPTEMBER
A day of work back up in the Cairngorms. I was running a 1 day Navigation Course for a couple from Edinburgh, Caz & Jamie. They have some good mountain days already but use mainly GPS and downloaded maps/guides for their mountain walking. Today it was all map and compass.
I left Aviemore to travel up and meet my clients. There was dense cloud low down in the Strath and Glenmore. I stopped off at Loch Morlich. The loch was ghostly looking with the cloud all the way down to the water. Travelling up to Coire Cas carpark and I came out of the cloud into sparkling clear skies above about 500m. A stunning Temperature Inversion. These are special moments. Mother nature at its best.
On the hill we quickly got onto pathless terrain and covered plenty of vital map and compass skills. Timing sections, taking bearings, contour interpretation and some pacing towards the end of the afternoon. It certainly wasn't poor visibility but the Cairngorms can still be a confusing place even in clear conditions. Rounded plateaux, featureless and pathless terrain can get you thinking a lot!
Inbetween all the navigation and brain power, we had time to explore and enjoy some of the finest viewpoints in the Cairngorms. Many of which do not have paths or internet sites giving directions to! Great banter and lunchtime views to die for.
A beautiful bike ride back down and home from Coire Cas. Late afternoon sun beautiful and you could now see Loch Morlich and the Northern Corries now that the morning cloud had melted away.
SUNDAY 20TH SEPTEMBER
Same old story, hot and sunny and hardly a breath of wind again. It was a chilly night, that meant no midges! We set off for a couple of Munros around Loch Laggan. Beinn a' Chaorainn & Ben Teallach. The morning drive was stunning. Some cloud hanging in the glen and corries. Instead of the usual 'trade route' up Beinn a' Chaorainn we opted for the far more spectacular way onto the top of this Munro, via one of it's Easterly ridges. Far more exciting and brilliant views into it's impressive East facing coire, the mountains finest feature.
The choice of an easy, steep walk one of these ridges leads to the mountains South top. Alternatively the adjacent ridge which leads to the mountains Central summit requires some scrambling. There are fabulous views over to Creag Meagaidh's vast Western slopes if you look back.
From the top we had fab views. The air very clear. Aonach Mor, Beag and the Grey Corries easily identified. Further West and North there were unlimited views of many other mountains.
Easy slopes lead down to the bealach between the two Munros. It's only 300m or so to the top of Beinn Teallach. Before heading up again we visited the lonely Spudaig Lochan. Beyond the loch our first roar of the Red Deer stags could be heard. Earlier in the day we spotted a Raptor soaring below us but were not sure exactly what bird species. Other notable sightings were a flock of several Golden Plover and a few Mountain Hare on the descent from Beinn Teallach.
Indian Summer? Well a mini one. Wednesday onwards and snow is forecast on many high tops. Winter is coming!
We're into a settled spell of weather last few days here in the Cairngorms. On Monday it was quite warm, Summer like in the Northern Corries but with Autumn colours. I don't see Golden Plover in this area very often, so was nice to spot a group of 4 in Coire an Lochain and another small group high up above Coire Ciste today.
After a dull and wet morning yesterday it turned out to be a lovely afternoon. I took a late wander up to my usual Mountain Hare Photography spot in the Monadhliath. Sometimes with wildlife it all comes together. I got to my 'favorite' Hare spot just as the wonderful late afternoon light was at its finest. The Mountain Hare was very relaxed and taking it easy in the sun. Crossed legs and dozing..A few stretches, scratches and then some munching, finally some posing. Brilliant!
Today I had a wander up to the area North of Cairn Gorm summit. All pathless and beautifully quiet. Another change in temperature this morning. It was a chilly wind, 3 layers, hat and gloves job. The cloud was down to around 800m so conditions not great for seeing wildlife. I saw my first geese flying South above the Cairngorms this morning. Later on, high up, I got to find one lone Ptarmigan. Surprisingly he looked like he was getting into his Winter plumage, quite early as we are still in Autumn. Then again it is October in a couple of weeks and the first snows may well fall on high ground.
The snow patch in Ciste Mheared is still holding on but diminishing slowly. The sun finally broke through about 1pm and the temperature went up as the winds eased. Surprisingly I have seen Trailing Aazalia still in flower at various places on the plateau above 900m. This beautiful flower blooms in late May and is normally finished by August.
A few more photographs from the last few days.
DAYS OF WILDLIFE
I was guiding a group of 5 family members on that iconic and instantly recognisable mountain, Suilven. The weekend weather forecast was not looking very promising a few days prior to the booked day out on Saturday. I was guiding for Steven Fallon.
On Friday I travelled up to Lochinver which is the start point for the hill. I've done a fair amount of camping this summer for work purposes. Today there was a strong wind and therefore not a single midge in sight or bite. Bliss. I chose a nice spot down by the lochside close to our start of the route.
At dusk and early morning the air was filled with the wonderful sound of a Black Throated Diver. A very beautiful and unique song. At 6am on Saturday morning a very black cloud, very strong gust of wind and heavy rain shower heralded a lightning strike which seemed to make a direct hit on Suilvens summit!
Not a good omen for our walk today! The sun came out and the clouds became more friendly by the time I met my group. The family had arrived from Hampshire yesterday evening on a short visit to the Highlands specifically to walk Suilven. Inspired by 'that' film, Edie.
All the group were excited by the prospect and thrilled to see the mountain looking stunning in the September light. Despite Suilvens modest height of just 722m, it's a decent length day of 8 hours return. The long approach walk through Glencanisp is beautiful and the good track makes fast walking.
The section of path that links the Glen to the start of the steep climb to the ridge has been extensively repaired over the last few years. Indeed it was very boggy on my previous visit back in 2016. Completely transformed now by great work from the John Muir Trust. The 2 year project was finished in 2018. This section is now a wonderful easy path that is well constructed and much, much more enjoyable.
It's still a steep climb up to the ridgeline, however well made the path is now. My fit group were going well but the winds were always going to be the deciding factor today. Forecast of 40mph gusting 50+ mph were probably just about spot on. There is always the option of course to retreat. But they dug in and persevered.
Along the way we saw several parties on their way back down from the top. They seemed to be all ok in gaining the summit. The summit ridge narrows in parts so we were cautious in our approach. The views were stunning in the bright, sunny spells.
I bumped into my friend Murray who also was guiding his own group up. It was a sociable time. Everyone enjoying the wonderful hill.
A brilliant day to be out and we were so fortunate to get great weather despite a grim forecast prior to this day. We just got back to the carpark when the heavens opened and it hammered down with rain. Satisfying.
Today I was guiding for Steven Fallon.
Fiona and Calum were out on a 1 day Navigation course today. I was guiding for Steven Fallon Guiding.
It was a beautiful morning so I decided to cycle form the house up to the Coire Cas carpark to meet the Brother and Sister team. Its always a beautiful bike tmride, especially on a glorious morning like we had with sunshine and no wind and not hot. Only spoiled by some inconsiderate and sometimes dangerous driving by a small minority of motorists. There's been a 30mph compulsory speed limit on the stretch of road alongside Loch Morlich for a few weeks now. Some people were just blatantly ignoring this.
Fiona and Calum have a good amount of mountain experience under their belt already. Many years experience of walking in the Scottish mountains and Fiona has climbed half of the Munros already. So we discussed what they wanted to get out of the day and concentrated on pathless terrain, taking bearings on featureless ground and lots of timing and pacing.
It was a glorious afternoon, sunny and visibility was superb. Always seems to be the case when running navigation courses. Never get cloud when you want it! It was a great day and they went away with some new skills to put into practice for their week long holiday in the Highlands. I'm sure their Munro tally will increase and confident of ability in any weather the coming days will throw at them.
It was a much more pleasant ride back down the hill late afternoon. :)
It was a changable day with weather. I set out in the dry but cloud was well down to around 600m. By mid morning there was some steady, light rain. Definitely not weather for any kind of photography, especially wildlife. Never mind photographing it, I couldn't even see more than 50 metres in front. The forecast suggested 'sunshine and 40% chance of showers' so I persevered and trudged around in cloud for a couple of hours. By mid day the cloud blew away for a couple of hours and some beautiful sunshine, that's more like it!
The Mountain Hare were plenty today and very active, even in rain, wind and cloud! hen the sun came out and visibility improved I managed to confide in 3 separate Mountain Hares in 3 different locations. Spending a good 30-40 minutes with each individual. Pure bliss. There were at least 2 leverets still aabout.
A big black cloud came drifting over from the East for another downpour. Time to go home.
Just before getting back to the bike there were a load of Pheasants and their young offspring about. I caught a couple of shots whilt the were hiding about in the heather. The last of the ling Heather is just fading now but still vibrant enough for some photographs.
SUNSHINE & SHOWERS
The 1st of September marks the Meteological Autumn. Yes! July and August are my least favourite months in the Scottish Highlands. Too warm, usually wet, midgey, poor clarity of air and too busy on the hills and on the roads. The best months are now here. Mother nature knows this well and the weather today reflected the change in season. A good stiff Cairngorm breeze was blowing, much cooler temperatures, beautiful light and the wonderful colours of Autumn starting to show through in the vegetation. Oh, and no midges :)
I took a wander up on the long Northern ridge that runs up to the Cairngorm plateau from the Ciste carpark and the finest, quietest and least 'ski industry infected' route to Cairn Gorm summit. It's also a great area to see some wildlife for those reasons. My previous visit here I was priveleged to spot Ptarmigan with 3 Juveniles. You get a grand view looking down Strath Nethy if you stick to the edge of these broad, grassy ridges
The wind was quite strong from when I set out. Higher up, above 1100m, I dropped down into Ciste Mheard to get out of the breeze and to check out the lingering snow patch in this area. There is a 30 m long patch of snow hanging on. A snow tunnel has formed but it's quite low and the roof quite thin so I never ventured far into it.
There had been clear skies early morning but by mid day the cloud was building from the South on the Southerly winds. It is always quite dramatic here in the Cairngorms when a strong South wind blows over the plateau. Huge billowing clouds are created, usually topping the high ground and leaving Strath Spey to the North in the clear.
After lunch I walked up onto the Eastern slopes of Cairn Gorm. This is pathless terrain and you'll see no one in this area. I did get a nice encounter with a Mountain Hare at around 1150m, high altitude hares are brilliant to see. They must be in a select club. Usually lone hares up on the highest slopes, plateaux and summits.
There are still some late Summer flowers about. Devils's Bit Scabious, Harebells's and Alpine Ladies Mantle, even at high altitudes. I ventured across to the top of Stag Rocks it was great to see a couple of Ptarmigan. I'm now seeing these wonderful birds every time I am out in the Cairngorms. This is a good sign that maybe their numbers are on the way back up.
I walked over to the finest viewpoints looking down to Loch A'an. By now Ben Macdui was now in thick cloud and the sun was getting blanked out. I headed back across the plateau via Feithe Buidhe. Up to this point I had only seen a few folk, from a distance. Nearly all my route up to this point had been off a path. At 3.10pm I spotted a few folk wearing shorts at Lochan Buidhe, heading up on the Ben Macdui path. I was feeling slightly overdressed in a fleece top and softshell trousers with thin waterproofs on top. It had started to lightly rain.
I eventually dropped into Coire an Lochain, even here the winds were gusting to above 40mph at 900m. The winds had steadily increased since this morning. On the walk back down to the Cas carpark the sun was shining over the Rothmurchis Forest and Strathspey. Meanwhile, behind me, the clouds were thick, dark and rain bearing.
It was a fabulous weekend working over in Kintail guiding some lovely folk. I was assisting a large group of hillwalkers over several Munros working with Allan, Alistair and Blair on behalf of Waymark Oudoor. The Kintail and Glen Shiel area has so many Munros and wonderful ridges, it is hard to choose which to walk in just 2 days. You could very easily spend at least a week in the glen.
I've been doing a fair bit of low and high level wild camping this Summer. It's not the best time of year to do this because of the dreaded midge, but work is work! We've been plagued by some quite bad midgy conditions on the hills and definitely at lower levels this year. Arriving up at Glen Shiel on Friday evening with Allan, I pitched my tent expecting the worse. Fortunately the temperatures were quite low for the time of year and we had a gentle breeze so this kept those pesky biting insects at bay. The following morning it was a joy to cook my breakfast in peace with no disturbance from the midges.
Our walk for Saturday was the long ridge line taking in 7 Munros on the South Glen Shiel Ridge, alternatively known as The Cluanie Ridge. There aren't too many single hill days where you can link this amount of 3000ft peaks in one day (for normal fitness people that is). We set off up the old Tomdoun Road to gain the excellent stalkers path that winds up to the first Munro summit of Creag a' Mhaim. We were walking in 3 separate groups, I was with Allan for the day and our group of 12 folk. The day started off fine and some lovely sunshine with great views.
The hills on this ridge are mostly broad, grassy, easy angled and not too steep. There are some narrower sections, most notably between the Munros of Druim Shionnach and Aonach air Chrith, the second and third tops. Some very easy, small sections of 'hands on rock' but not really scrambling as such.
Despite a good forecast all day with only 'less than 5% chance of rain' we did get an hour or two of drizzly, light rain and the cloud rolled in over the tops at times. This was interspersed with some brighter moments. It was quite atmospheric cloud and we also got a beautiful rainbow at one point.
There is options throughout the route to 'escape' off the ridge if it's feeling like a long day or your tied. or both! Allan and I had a good, strong group who were all moving at a nice steady pace with plenty of breaks for food. It was a cooler day than we've had recently, so no midges! We were off and on with waterproofs, hats and gloves as the rain and cloud arrived or disappeared. Autumn is knocking on the door and your kit should now be tailored to these conditions.
We arrived on the final Munro summit, Creag nan Damh at 5.30, 9 hours after setting off. A big day out but a satisfying one and a good tally of 7 Munros if you're counting them up. From our final top there is still some up and down including a wee, easy scramble up. Don't be tempted by a rough path that goes down some horrible scree into a pathless coire. This is NOT the route off, we did see a few folk heading down here. Get your map out, the generally good path down to Glen Shiel is on there!
A great effort by the group and we got down to the glen in time for dinner and well earned pint in the newly revamped Cluanie Inn.
SUNDAY 30 AUGUST
A slightly sorter walk today. The Forcan Ridge onto the Munro, The Saddle and Sgurr na Sgine. The Forcan Ridge is probably the finest route in Glen Shiel. Indeed it probably ranks in my top 30 mountain routes. We had two smaller groups today, Alistair and I on the Forcan Ridge whilst Allan guided the others on a easier, walking route avoiding the scrambling up to The Saddle.
The two routes set off on a fabulous, well constructed stalkers path from Glen Shiel. An easy angled trail takes you up to almost 500m at the Bealach Craiobhe where you get your first profile view of the Forcan Ridge. Unfortunately the cloud was sat some way down on the mountain and we didnt get to see this impressive sight.
The path continues in a lazy fashion all the way to the toe of the ridge and start of the scrambling. We had just arrived at this point in time for a light rain shower. Once again the forecast of '5% chance of rain' seemed optimistic! Nevertheless the Forcan Ridge group were up for it. We parted company with the other half of the party, Allan taking 6 folk along the walking route which runs below the ridge while Alistair and I guided 7 folk along the ridge.
Shortly after the first section of scrambling, the rain ceased and the cloud lifted to reveal the fabulous sight of the ridge. Looking very fine and intimidating at the same time! Despite a fierce looking angle the scrambling is quite easy and any harder sections we bypassed.
Around 3/4 of the way along there is a sudden down scramble which is quite steep and probably the crux of the route. This is easily avoided by a steep path down and around this section.
The sun popped out just at the right time for the classic view of the ridge. Looking stunning. We had the whole ridge to ourselves with just 2 folk way ahead of us. Waterproofs off now as the temperature rose. It was a fair bit warmer than yesterday.
The scrambling is virtually finished once you reach the Munro Top of Sgurr nan Forcan. It's just a short walk from here to the main Munro summit of The Saddle. The cloud rolled in again and no view but everyone happy after an exciting and thrilling scramble. Our day wasn't over, we continued with a walk up to the adjecent Munro, Sgurr na Sgine.
It's a fair descent on a rough, bouldery path before heading up again to this 946m mountain. More cloud and some more drizzle. We met up with the other group just before the cloudy summit and walked back down together. The rain stopped and cloud lifted again.
Good to get the 'profile view' of the Forcan Ridge on the way back to the glen.
A great couple of days with a fun and lovely group of folk. Good to be working with 3 too chaps too.
A fabulous weather day. Light winds and bags of beautiful late Summer sunshine. Perfect condtions for one of the finest mountains on the planet, Liathach. I can never tire of this amazing hill. It's now over 100 times I have traversed it's beautiful pinnacled ridge. I met up with Aileen & Ian for a late morning start on the second finest mountain. It was a memorable day.
We set off from Glen Torridon in T-Shirt and shorts (for some). Liathach's main carpark is little more than a layby, it was full. When I say full we are talking less than 10 vehicles. With a late start we were onto a winner with regards to meeting any other people on the traverse. Instincts were right. We saw less than half a dozen folk who were either just out in front or came running past us. Now we could guarantee we'd have the mountain to ourselves and savour it.
It's not long up the good path that gains the ridgeline, despite the trails relentless angle. From the ridge you get wonderful views of the Flowerdale Forest to the North. We wandered East to the obligatory Munro 'Top' of Stuc a' Choire Dhubh Bhig. This should not be missed out on the traverse as it is one of the finest (of many) viewpoints throughout the long traverse.
The rollercoaster ridgeline can now be enjoyed with stunning views either side of the rocky ridge. There are a further two Munro Tops to go up and down before reaching the first Munro summit, Spidean a' Choire Leith. There was a chill in the air but the strong sun meant it was T-shirt weather most of the time. The clarity of light was brilliant for photography. Days like this you should take your time and savour every minute and every metre.
After our break on the summit we dropped down to the start of the pinnacles, Am Fasarinen. This series of Torridonan Sandstone pinnacles is where all the scrambling on Liathach is. Some easy and some harder sections can be taken direct or bypassed. There is a much lower 'bypass path' but I personally would never go down onto this. Some of this narrow path is seriously exposed and eroded as it weves around the hillside and steep gullies on the Gen Torridon side of the mountain. You also miss all the fun and excitement!
We kept stopping to admire the scenery and enjoy the sunbathing/photography/solitude. We now had the hill to ourselves.
All to soon the final, highest of the pinnacles, Am Faserinen is gained. All the scrambling is now over and it's back to 'normal' walking for the final 20 minutes to Liathach's second Munro, Mullach an Rathain.
It was now late afternoon and some high level clouds had drifted over. From this fine view you get to see the entire Upper Loch Torridon and out to sea with the Cuillin of Skye now easily reconisable.
A long descent down into the Toll Ban Coire. I noticed the burn running down through here was very low, the lowest I have ever seen it. Enough water, though, for a refill of water bottles to see us down in the glen and a terrific end to the day. Brilliant company with some great banter along the way.
LIATHACH. LATE SUMMER TRAVERSE
Another wonderful day up on the Monadhliath. My usual haunt for Mountain Hare Photography. Today was special as I was privileged to spend some quality time with one young Leveret. This wee fellow was so preoccupied in feeding himself up that my presence was of no interest or worry to him. Earlier in the day I saw plenty of adult hares who were quite active. Also of not a wonderful flock of 6 Golden Plover, a mix of adults and Juvenile. Wheatear still up on the hills too. All wonderful stuff and quiet area on pathless terrain. There are huge areas to escape crowds if your hillwalking or indeed wildlife watching. It's a big country we live in.
MOUNTAIN HARE PHOTOGRAPHY
WEDNESDAY 19TH AUGUST
I mentioned on my previous blog post that I may have seen the last of the Dotterel for this season. How wrong am I? I was very pleased to see a beautiful group of 4 this Wednesday. I had a visit to my usual haunt in the Monadhliath.
It was another hot day with the usual theme of a temperature inversion in the Strath. This slowly broke up through the morning. There wasn't a breath of wind all the way up to 800m early on in the morning. I was engulfed by millions of midges! If you're just 'hillwalking' then at least you are going at a reasonable pace to get away from them. For the wildlife photographer it is a nightmare! The midge net was on as well as a pair of gloves. Trying to see any wildlife through the mesh of a net is well nigh impossible, never mind getting the camera up to your eye. I was about to give up after two hours of this, that was until I had walked up to the 800m level when a breeze kicked in and the hot sun eventually got rid of the blighters.
Below me was a sea of cloud and it was a relief to be able to sit in the breeze and hot sun without the pesky midges biting. Apparently a 9 mph wind and above is enough to see them off. Direct sunlight and heat is another deterrent. In our recent spell of hot and sunny weather I am convinced that these conditions hasn't really had much affect on them. Maybe they're becoming immune? I roamed about now I was unconfined by midge net and swarms of insects. Beautiful views with a bank of cloud sitting on the high Cairngorms to the south. The Mountain Hare weren't sitting about much today, probably cursed with the midges as us humans, no doubt.
By mid day I thought it was safe to walk back down the hill as the breeze seemed to have increased at lower elevations. Then I spotted 4 Dotterel right in front of me. I backed up the hill a bit and lay down behind a couple of rocks. Lovely to watch them as they just sat and stood about in the sun. The adult female Dotterel loose their vibrant rusty red breeding plumage by late Summer and into Autumn. So much so it can seem difficult to identify if they are adults or juveniles. I am pretty sure these were all adults. I reckon it is the same group I have been observing all Summer. What a treat to see them again and in beautiful sunlight.
I must have lay on the ground the best part of an hour watching these wonderful, beautiful migratory waders. Only a couple of hours earlier I was thinking of going home because of the horrendous clouds of midges. I wouldn't have been lying on the ground then, that's for sure. Eventually I left the Dotterel to get on with their last days on a Scottish mountainside. The priority when photographing any wildlife is always, always the welfare of the species, no mater if they are common or rare. The animals should never feel in threat or disturbed.
Also spotted today were a group of Golden Plover, Wheatear and lots of flocks of young Meadow Pipit.
Maybe that was my last sighting of the Dotterel for 2020? Maybe....
THURSDAY 20 AUGUST
A much fresher feeling day. A stiff breeze blowing from the west, temperatures back to normal Summer values and clearer skies. The wind meant no midges (hooray!). I went for a nice afternoon mountain bike ride on one of the many routes we enjoy here in the Cairngorms and Strathspey region. One of my regular routes is Ryvoan Pass from Aviemore up Glenmore, returning via Nethey Bridge via the Speyside Way. Virtually all of it is off tarmac roads so nice to get away from the busy traffic we are experiencing just now. Having said that it wasn't very quiet up the Old Logging Way in Glenmore. Lots of bikers out. Once past Lochain Uaine and Ryvoan Bothy it was much, much quieter with hardly any bikes or walkers.
The heather is just wonderful right now. Huge swathes of it throughout my route. This bike ride is a very easy and short day. If you want to make it even more relaxing then there are cafes and pubs throughout the route and very conveniently placed! You are never more than an hour from refreshments! To make the day longer you can keep an eye out for wildlife. The route goes through the two biggest tracts of Caledonian Pine Forests in the UK, the Rothiemurchus & Abernethy Forests. Plenty of wildlife abut here. Today's highlights were the many species of Dragonflies around the may wee lochans and pools of water beside the trail.
Dragonflies, just like the Dotterel, will soon be gone, until next Summer. Until then, enjoy the last of the Summer days. 'My' Osprey has already departed on his long journey back to West Africa. Autumn not far away.
LAST OF THE DOTTEREL THIS SEASON?
Catching up on 5 days of fun in the mountains. It's been another week of very hot weather and hardly any breeze, even at Munro level. A lot of days with low cloud in the glens and clear above, or clearing weather. These conditions are known as temperature inversions or cloud inversions. These are usually more common in the Autumn and Winter months. With the high pressure sat over much of Scotland and hardly any winds then these were ideal conditions for this. The cooler air sinks into the valley floor while the warmer air mass is pushed upwards, the exact opposite of 'normal' atmospheric conditions where it's colder the higher you go up the hill.
WEDNESDAY 12 AUGUST
A very hot day at all levels with absolutely no breeze up on the Monadhliath. A day of Mountain Hare photography. With the hot conditions it was frustrating to get so much heat haze coming off the ground and distorting any images taken from a distance. Still it was great to be amongst the hares again.
THURSDAY 13TH AUGST
Another day of Mountain Hare Photography (it's addictive)! The heather is just about into its prime condition just now with the hillsides looking stunning, especially in the Eastern Highlands where we have an abundance of Ling, the most common and most colourful of the heathers. I wanted to try and get a good image of the Mountain Hare in amongst the heather. A very muggy day with no wind again but lots of cloud cover in the morning. Ideal midge conditions! Even the hares were scratching and rubbing their faces. Another tricky day for photography, this time it was the midges getting in the camera lens and my eyes! Thankfully a wee breeze higher up the hill and toward the end of the day to get rid of them. I need to go back to get the 'perfect' heather and hare shot. In photography no one, ever as had perfect shots. That's why we keep going back!
FRIDAY 14TH AUGUST
A good sunny skies forecast for the high Cairngorm mountains. The low cloud was going to give the temperature inversion conditions I was hoping for. At Coire Cas it was a blanket of cloud (and midges)! So that got me moving quickly. I was on the plateau when the skies started clearing to the South and West. Behind me the wall of cloud sat in the Northern Corries.
I reached the summit of Ben Macdui in 1 hour 45 mins, it must have been the midges keeping me moving fast! Or was it the anticipation of getting some photographs of the cloud dispersing?
I sat just off the summit of Macdui for over an hour, gazing out to the Cairn Toul-Braeriach plateau across the Lairig Ghru. Beautiful.
From just beyond Macduis summit you get a fantastic panorama of the Cairn Toul - Braeriach massive. From here you get a look into the huge Corries on these mountains. The snow patches in Braeriach's Garbh Coire Mor are looking good. This time last year they were just about melted away. This location and Ben Nevis's Observatory Gully are the two places were snow lingers all year round and only on a handful of occasions has the snow completely gone.
I headed East off Macdui's summit and into a seldom visited area where no paths exist. The last time I was here was in winter many years ago. The source of the Garbh Uisge Mor burn begins up here. A fascinating place with a few small snow patches hanging on amongst the boulders and beautiful vegetation. A fine place to camp in solitude. I spotted a few friendly Wheatear and Snow Bunting on my way down and across to Carn Etchachan
After lunch I visited the Snow Tunnels at the Feithe Buidhe slabs. A 'new' tunnel has formed since I was last here just over a week ago. This new one has a slightly low entrance of about 1 metre so a crawl was needed to explore inside. I came out wet with snow melt drops and the wet floor. Within 5 minutes I was completely dried out, a hot afternoon in store.
This whole area above Loch A'an is one of the finest places you can ever visit in the Cairngorms, indeed in the whole of the Highlands. A place with no paths just grand mountain, rock and water scenery. Since posting up pictures of the snow tunnels in the last week or so I have had 4 'enquiries' from folk on social media channels who have requested 'written route descriptions' of 'how to get to the snow'. As mentioned in earlier blog posts, it's half a day on pathless terrain at high altitudes. A full day in total. There is some knarly ground to get to the snow then it's a case of assessing the snow on the day to see if it is safe to explore. All this comes with experience of being in the Scottish mountains over many years. The main concern here is navigation. It would be completely unacceptable and unprofessional of me to start giving out route descriptions to folk. Someone even asked me 'what carpark do I start from?" I'll say no more on the matter!
After immersing myself in such beautiful and raw surroundings I then wandered back across the plateau late afternoon. It was still hot but a wee breeze so just enough to feel very comfortable and enjoyable and not overheating. I was just at the top of Stag Rocks getting some photographs when suddenly a beautiful Mountain Hare came running up from below me and abruptly stopped only a metre above my head. It looked straight at me in surprise! I'm not sure who was the most surprised though! Then a couple of minutes later a wonderful pair of Ptarmigan appeared. Brilliant.
Just 20 minutes from 1141m and I spotted another pair of Ptarmigan. This is great to see. Numbers of these beautiful birds in the Northern Cairngorms have been woefully low in recent times. Hopefully numbers are on the up. I hardly saw anyone all day until coming back down into Coire Cas. Another great bike ride back to the house from the carpark in beautiful early evening sunshine. Top day.
SATURDAY 15TH AUGUST
Another hot day in store with wall to wall sunshine in most places across the Highlands. The usual cloud dispersing by mid morning in the very warm temperatures. We headed out west and a couple of new Munros for Karen. Stob Coire Easain & Sob a' Choire Mheadhoin make a lovely ridge walk above Loch Treig. It must be nearly 20 years sine I last visited these mountains. It was quite quiet compared to stories I have heard from other Munro areas, we only saw around 20 folk all day. Another midgy morning and flies and deer keds and the odd cleg, but hey, it is like living in a different country just now!
These two Munros are commonly known as 'The Easians'. Being a ridge walk from East to West you have to return the same route, therefore going over Stob a' Choire Mheadhoin twice. We did notice some folk dropping down into the Northern coire between the two main summits. I think this is a longer, boggy and pathless way back to the carpark at Fersit?
After a hot day on the hill theres nothing like a wee swim in a nearby loch. The water was almost as warm as the air temperature (apparently). Another top day out in the hills. It was 27 C at 5pm on the way home. Thought it was warm.
SUNDAY 16TH AUGUST
A more relaxing day out today. The Monadhliath hills are some of the largest tracts of mountainous land in the country. There are just three sumits in the entire range that gain Munro status. Many of the hills are between 500 - 800m and remote. You could easily spend weeks climbing all these! You would probably not meet another single hillwalker too. Just like us today really. Apart from the walk in along the glen we saw no one high up. What we did see was plenty of wonderful wildlife, mainly the birds. Golden Eagle, Buzzard, Periguine Falcon, Whaetear, Pipits and probably lots more birds of prey that were looking at us but we didn't see!
It was another hot day but unlike yesterday we didn't get midged, flied on or bitten by any nasties. A lovely gentle breeze to keep them at bay.
MONDAY 17H AUGUST
The weather was again forecasted to be hot but a tad cooler than the weekend. Morning sun giving way to some thicker cloud and rain later. I set off for a short day onto Cairn Gorm in search of some wildlife. The Dotterell have now probably left the Scottish hills and are well on their way back to North Africa, their home. Of course we have lots of resident, permanent wildlife here in the Cairngorms. Up on the mountains and higher places are the Ptarmigan, Mountain Hare and Snow Bunting. Three of the animals I love to see and photograph. I set out from Coire Cas carpark in a cloud of midges. It wasn't until 800m that the breeze kicked in and they were gone. Thankfully. The temperature inversion was already breaking up by 10 am and beautiful to look at the clouds slowly melting away.
I wanted some peaceful walking so quickly got away from the main paths and into pathless terrain, heading up towards Cairn Gorm summit. At 1100m I was so privilaged to come across a Ptarmgan Hen and her 3 youngsters. Brilliant. Hopefully this bodes well for the population up here.
Before walking up to the top of Cairn Gorm itself I had a look into Ciste Mhearad. This bowl just off the plateau is a well know snow hole location in winter. The snow here usually lingers on into the summer months. There is still a 30 - 40 metre length of snow and a small tunnel underneath.
On the top of Cairn Gorm it went dark with thick clouds everywhere. I got rained upon on the descent. It was a lovely feeling of being cooler, wet and a good Cairngorm breeze blowing. A very welcome change from the heat we've been experiencing. Some folk dressed in summer cotton clothing looked a tad wet and miserable on the way back down Windy Ridge. Worth checking out weather forecasts, it was spot on today.
HEAT, INVERSIONS, WILDLIFE, SNOW & MIDGES
A good weather forecast for the weekend so Karen and I set off for a wild camp up near Bod an Deamhain (The Devils Point isn't even a direct translation of the mountain). One of the few Munros in the Cairgorms area that Karen had not climbed. The usual routes folk take are either from Linn O' Dee via the Lairig Ghru, Rothermurchus voa the Lairig Ghru or a traverse over the plateau including Braeriach, Sgorr an Lochain Uaine and Cairn Toul. Instead we decided on a more adventurous and seldom walked way from Glenfeshie.
SATURDAY 8th AUGUST
We set out early from Achlean in beautiful Glen Feshie. At 0800 it was already hot with no breeze to speak of. Flies and midges soon fell by the wayside has we gained height on the excellent path that heads up towards Carn Ban Mor. Quite quickly you are up at 1000m on the Western Cairngorms plateau.
This high level plateau is a land of wonderful Arctic Tundra which boasts a wealth of habitats for wildlife including Dotterel, Ptarmigan, Golden Plover and Mountain Hare. There are a few estate stalker paths which cross this high area. Once you leave the path that connects the Munros of Sgor Gaoithe to Mullach Clach a' Bhlair you can almost guarantee not to see another human being.
This high tundra is named the Moine Mhor (Great Moss). If you're on an Mountain Leader Course undergoing assessment its alternative name is 'The Graveyard', depending on success or failure of your navigation assessment! This is a huge chunk of high level ground dotted with small lochans and burns. No need to worry about not getting any drinking water up here on a hot day like today.
After passing Loch na Stuirteag a big, high level traverse is required to gain the bealach between Cairn Toul and Bod an Deamhain, our planned spot for this evening. The ground is a delight to walk on with a real sense of wildness. No paths here, no phone signal here, no roads within a few hours walking. My kind of place. We came across a pair of beautiful Ptarmigan has we walked high above the remote and spectacular Glen Geusachan.
We made good time and reached our chosen camp spot by mid afternoon. Some perfect places to pitch the tent here. Flat, beautiful short cropped vegetation. Deciding on staying well away from where most folk camp which is right on the path between the two Munros and the path running down to the Lairig Ghru. We came for wild camping and quiet camping. I had a feeling there would be other groups camping high whilst doing the Braeriach-Cairn Toul traverse. Some folk chose to stay overnight in Corrour Bothy in the Lairig Ghru but at the moment all bothies are closed due to COVID restrictions. Of course we are all allowed to camp now.
After getting the tent up we had afternoon coffee. Sitting outside the tent at 1000m in hot sun was magic. There was a gentle breeze that came and went. Hopefully midges would stay away in the strong, hot sun and wind. After coffee and cake we headed up to the Munro summit of Bod an Deamhain. It is but a short, easy a angled walk and takes just 20 odd minutes. Superb views from the top looking across the Lairig Ghru to Ben Macdui.
Dinner at camp was spoilt by the dreaded midge. Still, it is August I guess and we were expecting the wee buggers to invade. The only way to enjoy being outside in Summer is a midge net. The most effective barrier. Although eating and drinking is a problem! Keep your expensive repellents..Especially the ones that melt plastic watch straps, scary what they must do to your skin?
We went for a after dinner walk up to the start of the Cairn Toul ridge to get a sunset. Some cloud had built up during late afternoon so not the pinky skies hoped for, but the views were wonderful.
It was a relief to feel the temperatures drop during the night. We woke early to clear skies and beautiful sunrise. I walked up to the Bod an Deamhain summit again to capture the sun slowly rising from the East. There were 2 folk bivvying bear the top and 6 tents down at the bealach..pleased we were camped in a beautiful, peaceful place away from the masses! All relative I guess.
SUNDAY 9th AUGUST
A leisurely breakfast outside of the tent with no midges this morning. That was lovely. We packed up and set off back home. Walking the same route out. Always different views and different things to see. Also Karen fancied a wee dip in one of the lochans on the Moine Mhor.
The path down from Carn Ban Mor was just beautiful. Lots of heather in bloom, in fact it looked like there was more colour than just 24 hours earlier! A fab weekend and a little wild corner of the Cairngorms discovered and enjoyed. There are lots of them in The Scottish mountains, no need for everyone to go the same places now is there? True Wild Camping this weekend, it's the only camping I know of.
MONDAY 10th AUGUST
Another warm and pleasant day in store. I had a wander up to my usual Mountain Hare photography area in the Monadhliath. The day I don't get excited seeing the hares, or any other wildlife is the day I hang up my boots and camera. The Mountain Hare is just one of those adorable creatures that everyone loves to see.
I roamed about the usual haunts for a couple of hours before getting settled in with one lovely character who was half asleep when I spotted him. Eventually he woke up, yawning and stretching and not at all bothered about my presence.
It was also nice to still see Wheatear about up high. They looked like mature Juveniles, if that's such a thing? Still some fluffy feathers on them, they were looking beautiful in the summer sunshine.
WILD CAMPING & WILDLIFE
High pressure system over much of Scotland today bringing warmer temperature and clear skies. A good day to head over the Cairngorm plateau and the wilder parts of the hills. I was keen to check out the big remaining snow patch on the Feithe Buidhe slabs. It's also, of course, a great walk to the finest place in the Cairngorm mountains. The telephoto camera goes along, as always.
To make the day even better and to keep away from the busy, crowded trails I headed into Coire an t-Sneachda and up onto the Fiacaill Ridge. Saw one person. Plenty of folk chattering away up the Goat Track but I was in amongst the boulder fields to check out and wildlife, especially Ptarmigan and Mountain Hare. No Ptarmigan but a lovely solitary Hare who shot of up below the Fiacaill Buttress and towards the plateau. Also spotted two Ring Ouzel.
There were a few folk on the Fiacail but by the time I had gained the ridge they were way ahead and I had the place to myself. It's always a fun route, scrambling along here. There's also a small buttress before the main ridgeline which is good fun too, so had a play on that.
There was a wonderful wee breeze on the plateau but still warm for just a T-shirt. Glad not to be down South were temperatures in the low o mid 30's! No thank you. 20's plenty. Across the plateau and from now on I was definitely off paths and almost guaranteed to see no one. In these times were the hills are becoming quite busy you can very easily 'escape' everyone if desired. The sure fire way of doing this is to go on any pathless route or mountain.
I made my way across beautiful terrain to that most wonderful of views, the Loch A'an basin. The huge snow patch sits on the Feithe Buidhe slabs and only very slowly melts in the warm sun. There is at least 3 metres depth of snow. This area gets constant snow falling and blowing onto it through the winter months. As I picked my way down the wet granite slabs and mossy ground I reminisced about our first snowfalls here back in October and November last year, a while ago now! I weaved a route through the broken slabs. A beautiful place with Mossy Saxifrage, liverworts and mosses. If you know the area well it's easy, if not then you need to be careful as there are some steeper sections and big enough drops to easily have a slip and do yourself harm. I
It was great to see the huge mass of snow has got a couple of tunnels formed now. They are big enough fhat the entrance into them is simple with just a small ducking of your head. One of them goes in to around 20metres in length and comes out at the top. At the moment! This blog is NOT a guide to going into a snow tunnel! Common sense and awareness are key factors here, plus many years of mountain sense, skills and judgment.
The 'Snow Tunnels' are formed by trickling water underneath the snowpack which gradually warms the rock below and the snow above. These form readily in this area because of the smooth granite slabs. As the gap gets bigger warmer air can get inside and the process accelerates forming sometimes huge tunnels. I chatted to a snowboarder poking about for a run or two on the snowfields, the second and only other person I met today. After playing about and photographing these brilliant natural sculptures I wandered across to the upper reaches of the Garbh Uisge Mor in search of a spot for lunch. Loads of wonderful, wild and remote places hereabouts with spectacular views. You can't go wrong wherever you decide to sit.
After a bite to eat I walked up beside the waterfall on big, easy angled slabs, wonderful. This leads up to the top of the Shelterstoe Crag and Carn Etchachan, wonderful viewpoints. Especailly photogenic is the big Grade I winter Gully, Pinnacle Gully. Its name given to the needle of rock near the top of the gully. If so inclined you can climb it, the Inn Pinn of the Cairngorms!
I walked further up to the source of the Garbh Uisge Mor and Garbh Uige Beag burns. Definitely not a place you'll see anyone, unless it's a group on an ML training or assessment course getting to grips with micro navigation in complex terrain! I was hoping to spot some Ptarmigan up here but not to be. What I did see was just wonderful though. Lots of Snow Bunting about in this location. I came across an adult male and his fledging. He was busy finding food and feeding up the youngster. The Bunting feed on small insects and flies. Fascinating watching them. Even though I was only about 3 metres away they were not at all disturbed or bothered. Food was the priority! I spent about an hour before tearing myself away as dinner beckoned for me!
The adult Male Snow Bunting is a beautiful white plumage in Spring when he looks his best and sings constantly. He is just starting to transform into the Autumn/Winter colours now so not looking quite has smart, but cute as anything. It's been a great year for Snow Bunting. good numbers I have observed in my days out on the plateau. Great to photograph these lovely birds. I never 'bait' any bird with boxes of Trill or seeds for my photographs. Keep it natural and learn your field craft for wildlife photography and you'll soon get some good images.
Heading back across the plateau the wind had picked up a fair bit and some clouds had rolled in across the tops. Strathspey was still blue skies and sunshine. I had a great blast on the bike from Coire Cas to the house. After all the wonderful fresh mountain ai it was a bit of a shock to the senses to get strong whiffs of burning wood, burning cooking fat and barbecues past Glenmore and Loch Morlich. The Cairngorms National Park and many other areas in The Highlands have loads and loads of beautiful places to visit. I know where I would go. Or maybe these folk love the smells of the city? Keep it clean folks. I live here. More importantly the many species of wildlife live here.
One of my favourite birds in the Scottish mountains is the Dotterel. This beautiful and now rare wader can be see on our hills from April to around mid August. A migratory bird that travels all the way from North Africa to the highest mountain tops in Sprig/Summer to nest and rear its young. I've been keeping an eye out for these wonderful we birds every time I visit a particular area on the Monadhliath mountains. It's a place I go to on a regular basis and I've seen them a few ties this season in this particular location. So I set off in the hope to see them again today.
I was so happy to see the largest group yet on this occasion. Three adult females and four juveniles. In exactly the same spot as my first sighing the Spring. The Females which are brightly coloured with their vivid rusty red chest plumage in Summer are very distinctive. The male adult is duller. The juveniles stll have their creamy white feathers. The young are hatched around June time. So at the moment the juveniles are quite big an can fly. The have to! It's along journey back to Africa. They will stop off down in the south, possibly Wales. So if you are lucky you may see them in your area.
Once born the youngsters are looked after b he Males. Unusual role reversal. Meanwhile the Females enjoy the freedom of finding other partners, sometimes as far afield as Norway! So it was good to see them back has a family unit today. Of course I stayed a fair distance way as not to disturb them. They are quite a friendly wee bird and will, in fact, come quite close up to you if you intimidate their call. I have never done this. I don't think it's right to try and get them closer to you than you really need. They don't tend to fly off, just waddle about in the same small area.
Unfortunately the numbers of Dotterel have dwindled in recent decades, by up to 60% in 30 years. Climate change, food course and disturbance the main reasons. An interesting article here on this
So even more special and a treat to be able to spend an hour lying on the ground watching these colourful and beautiful birds. The Cairngorms is, indeed a special environment.
After my wonderful encounter I had a wander about to photograph another one of my favourite subjects, the Mountain Hare. They weren't has obliging for portraits today. But lovely to watch them bounding around the mountainside.