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2020/02/27 10:34

The best views of An Teallach today
That beautiful image of An Teallach's Sgor Fiona & Corrag Buidhe seen from Bidein a' Ghlas Thuill is one of the finest panoramas in the Scottish mountains. The best time of day is dawn, like most landscape photography. Raphael was keen to come out with me to hopefully capture this stunning image. Raphael came on a 1 day winter course last year and was keen to combine another winter guided day with some landscape photography.
The snowy drive over to Dundonnell 
I met up with Raphael on Wednesday afternoon in Ullapool. He lives in North Uist so a long journey over. We had already shelved this da way back at the beginning of February. One of those many named storms put pay to any day of photography back then. Rescheduled to end of February and I was free for 3 days so we had a choice for the best possible weather day.
Snow to sea level
We looked at weather sites all the way up to the final evening before setting off. Unfortunately the reasonable forecast for Thursday had changed somewhat. With the NW airflow the North West Highlands were in for the snowiest, least clear sky conditions. There was just a small period of 1 in 3 chance of some brightness by late morning. We decided to give it a try and set off for Dundonnell to camp overnight on Wednesday. There was fresh snowfall down to around 100m and by the time we arrived at Little Loch Broom it had lowered to sea level.
Shin to knee deep fresh snow

After a breezy and snowy night under canvas we set off early morning.  If it was to be any chance of a good sunrise then our plan was for an Alpine 3am start. As it was unlikely we set off at a more normal 8am. From the word go it was hard work trail breaking in soft snow. Some big drifts above 200m making progress very slow and tiring. On top of this we had limited views and constant snow showers throughout the morning, some of these were bouts of graupal.
The North side of Ghlas Meall Mor looking icy
It took us double normal time to wade up to around 850m beside the Allt a' Mhuillin. We made a decision to bin the day. Probably the deciding factor was whiteout conditions at this point and a strong wind. An Teallach would have to wait another day.
We turned tail and headed back to Dundonnell. Of course we just reached the road when some sunshine came through a break in the cloud. Were we cheated? Driving back over the Destitution road we saw we were not! The grand view of An Teallach from the high point of the Braemore to Gairloch road was absent. We sighed a relief. Nothing worse than conditions improving after binning a day.
Our scenic highpoint

The Destitution road and An Teallach 

The Western Fannaichs

An Teallach will always be there, as they say. With these snowy, cold conditions continuing well into March then we still have plenty of opportunity for a winter sunrise. Watch this space.



2020/02/25 20:23

Showshoe heaven
 Day two on Steve & Marina's winter course with Tarmachan Mountaineering. We had a fabulous day on Sunday but today was something special. With a full cover of deep snow across much of the Highlands we decided on snowshoes for our day on Ben Macdui.
The way to go
Ready for action
There's probably only a handful of days in winter where snowshoes are a great choice. A typical Scottish mountain day will undoubtedly have varied snow conditions. Soft snow, ice, rocks, bare ground, etc. The conditions today were just perfect. Full snow cover from start to finish.
Deep snow 

 Cairn Gorm
We set off from a busy Coire Cas carpark.  Plenty of folk out walking, climbing, ski touring and snowshoeing. The drive up to the carpark was in itself a wonderful spectacle. Snow covered trees and a reflection in Loch Morlich. We could have had a lovely time just wandering around in the Pines. But Macdui beckond.

Snowy Caledonian Pines 

Burns filled in
We made excellent progress up Lurchers Ridge. Some great views and the burn crossing from Coire an Lochain is well  buried in snow. A joy. The blue skies and sun were a welcome surprise. Most forecasts stated overcast conditions.
Brilliant conditions 
Across the plateau was beautiful snow. By early afternoon the cloud was lowering and views of the Braeriach to Cairn Toul plateau were absent. Still brilliant afternoon.
Lairig Ghru

Macdui Plateau 

Fleeting glimpses of Braeriach 
We made good time onto the summit of Ben Macdui. Sadly no views but a great achievement for Marina and Steve. Steve said he wouldn't fancy walking across the plateau in rough weather. Enough said!
Ben Macdui

Atmospheric descent

Quieter on the way down
We decided to return the same route. S & M have a long journey home back to Penrith after the walk. A quick descent gave wonderful glimpses of the hills, super late afternoon light and atmospheric clouds.


Beautiful light

Coire an Lochain
Nice and quiet final hour back to the carpark. A memorable snow show day and probably the best snow cover, sunshine and light since November! It's nice to get days like this after so many wild, cloudy days this winter. We had hardly any wind. An absolute pleasure.  Eating pic nic style on the hills and savouring the views with wonderful snow underfoot. More please.
Coire an Lochain

Here's one I made earlier

Drifts at low altitudes

Late  afternoon light

On a final note. Steve and Marina had originally booked Monday and Tuesday of this week for the two days out with me. We rescheduled the Monday  to Sunday because of the high winds forecast. Tarmachan Mountaineering always tryst to be flexible around weather. Another reason on choosing a smaller company for your winter (or summer) course. 



2020/02/23 18:56

Steve enjoying the fab snow
Nice to have a calmer day occasionally,  especially this winter which has been almost constant high winds and gales. There was snow on the ground at Aviemore this morning and a beautiful sunny, crisp morning. Return client Steve and his partner Marina out for two days of winter fun.

Beautiful and busy walk in
It was a busy day on the hill. Coire Cas carpark almost full. Lots of skiers, walkers and climbers. The walk into Coire an t-sneachda was very busy with large groups. A good trail had been forged through so very easy walking and the upper section was wonderfully icy, wind scoured after the last couple of windy days.

Good snowcover and blue skies
All the boulder fieldsboulder up at the Lochans are well snowed up and a joy to walk over. We went through some basic boot, axe and crampon techniques in the morning.  Lots of climbers in the Mess of Pottage.
Icy snow, great for cutting steps

Mess of Pottage 
After a bite to eat in calm winds, we headed up towards Windy Col. Some amazing snow all the way up. Firm snow and not too icy for novices. Perfect really. Despite large numbers of groups we found plenty of space and lovely conditions. The winds were higher towards the plateau but easily bearable.
Fab snow into the coire

Brilliant snow towards Windy Col
Up on the plateau it was a tad wilder and poor visibility. We headed over to bag Cairn Gorm summit. On the way up the winds weren't too bad and more wonderful icy conditions. We had the Munro summit to ourselves.
Climbers on the Mess of Pottage

Poor visibility on the plateau 

You'll definitely need these at the moment 
A great day and great company. Finished off with a hot chocolate in Glenmore.
Cairn Gorm

Northern Corries



2020/02/20 17:02

Lovely cold and clear morning 

Strath Nethy

Lovely snowcover

Minus 5 C at Cairn Gorm

Beinn Mheadoin 

Another Munri to Ric's tally

Blue skies on Cairn Gorm

Great cramponing terrain today

Ciste Corrie

Time for a quick snow shelter

Fourth and final day for Ric on his winter course. We had a cracking day on the long Northern slopes running up to Cairn Gorm. This is the finest route up from the north onto the 5th highest peak in the UK. It's also always quieter, especially in winter. We saw no one until Cairn Gorm summit. A beautiful morning with bright sun and drifting snow. Atmospheric conditions with near white out to sunny and clear. The temperature was minus 5 C at the top. We escaped the crowds and headed back via the Ciste Coire, whiteout conditions again here in the afternoon. Some wonderful  wind scoured terrain today. Firm snow and icy conditions. You won't get very far if you dont have axe and crampons just now. A top 4 days with Ric who got probably the best winter conditions so far this year.



2020/02/19 16:37

Super snow cover on the ridges

Lovely morning 


super snow and ice

Blowing snow

Ric on top

Winter sun

Great snow cover at lower altitudes 


Day 3 for Ric on his winter course with me this week. A beautiful clear skies morning over the Cairngorms.  The string winds soon got going on the loose snow,  plenty of wind blown snow getting chucked about. Super snow cover across the Northern Cairngorms with any wind blown areas having some excellent water ice and refrozen snow. Very  busy at Coire Cas with the car parks almost full when we arrived. Up on the hil was also busy with plenty of folk walking, climbing and ski touring. By mid day the winds picked up even stronger and some cloudcover. Full on winter conditions coming down Lurchers. The lower trail below the Northern Corries was well covered in fresh snow. Another top day in the hills. Love the wild conditions.



2020/02/18 20:32

Beautiful morning 

Beautiful Caledonian Pines

Gets harder soon

White out on a regular basis

Ric doing a grand job on the navigation

Another snow shower on its way

Summit views

Sgor Gaoithe 

More whiteout on the descent 

Nice end to the day

More snowy pines


Low snow

Crampons on, icy
There was another day of snow falling to Aviemore level. Snowing for much of the day but much lighter winds than of late and a chance to get onto the high tops for Ric on his second day out with me. We had a fine navigation day today on Sgor Gaoithe,  a favourite hill of mine. It's also brilliant for map and compass skills. It was a glorious morning with some sun shining on the snow covered Caledonian Pines. Soon after leaving the trees it was hard going with shin deep soft snow. Above 800m there was poor visibility and we were in whiteout conditions for much of the day a route to Sgor Gaoithe over a few of its minor tops. Sterling effort and skill from Ric who already has some great navigation skills. The essential,  No. 1 in the winter. We descended on icy slopes back to an even deeper snow over on the lower path back into the trees. We got another heavy snow shower here. In summer this lower path is a doddle and very well made trail. Not at the moment. Shin deep snow and low cloud. A different world! Top day out and we saw no one all day, think we had the mountain to ourselves.



2020/02/17 18:35

Geared up, ski goggles essential

Fabulous snow cover & sunshine

Great snow cover in Sneachda 

Atmospheric clouds

Climbers on Mess of Pottage

Good snow cover in Coire Cas

Blowing snow
The gales and storm force winds finally abated somewhat today. The Westerly winds were still strong, 50mph gusting to 70 on the tops. Staying cold with some fabulous snow cover in the Northern Cairngorms. Probably the best we've had all year. Ric is out with me this week on a 4 Day Winter course. We walked into Coire an t-sneachda on some brilliant snow. I always like to get off the main drag into the Coire when we get a complete, deep cover. Especially when there are a lot of groups about,  the busiest period in winter just now being school half term week. The boulders in Sneachda are well covered with snow that has consolidated on Western aspects so a pleasure. We covered some Avalanche awareness and a run through of axe and crampon techniques. Ric has previously been on a course a few years ago but always good to refresh skills. It was a blustery, gusy day with snow getting blown around but we also had bursts of blue skies and sunshine so very nice winter weather. On the plateau it was a battle but far easier than previous days! Some deep snow cover in upper Coire Cas and the Cas ridge. A joy to walk down here just now. Top day. Good to ha e a 'normal' winter day for a change.



2020/02/16 19:02

 Navigation in the white room

Great views on Sgor Gaoithe 

Trail breaking at low levels

Views in the morning 

Feshie hills

Trail breaking again

Sunny, occasionally 
Overnight snow to Aviemore level this morning. Summit temperatures on the Cairngorms down to minus 5 C. More gales on the high tops from Storm Dennis. Second day for Valeria & Ed on their winter course. After another cafe indoor session looking at navigation and Avalanche reports, we headed up beautiful Glenfeshie. Today we concentrated on Navigation. A good day for it with poor visibility and challenging conditions. Near white out in the full snow cover at various areas on Sgor Gaoithes many tops and featureless plateaus. Top Mark's for the couple who navigated well in the tough conditions. They said they'll be back for more.
More snow forecast every day in the coming week. Hills should look in a fabulous winter cloak, when the skies finally clear!



2020/02/15 19:47

Valeria enjoying the snow

Steep and soft

Ed testing his new kit
I thought it was only me who coined the phrase 'Dennis the Menace'. Seems everyone has named this latest Storm, Dennis. Another difficult day in the hills, locations and activities limited by high winds again. Valeria & Ed are out with me this weekend, learning essential skills for hillwalking in winter conditions.  One of the many lessons to master is just coping in high winds and very wet conditions. We had that today in The Cairngorms. Once more the snow gates at Glenmore were closed. So after discussing options at the friendly and welcoming Cobbs cafe in Glenmore,  we set off up to Craigowrie. A good choice, being low altitude and having a sizeable area of deep snow on its Northern aspects. We got some good axe and boot movement on various slopes in a sheltered location. It was raining all day so perfect to test out Goretex gear.



2020/02/14 19:15

Sheltered and sunshine

Avalanche Assessment 

Snow shelter for lunch


Plenty room for 2

Route planning and Navigation in the cafe

..... and on the hill

Pleasant afternoon on the top

Northern Cairngorms from Meall a' Bhuachaille 

Good visability 

Winds easing

Hungry work this digging

Afternoon shelter

Second day out with Seb & Thomas on their winter preparation for a Cape Wrath Trail walk starting tomorrow. After yesterday's wonderful respite from high winds we were back to the norm of this season, gales. The snow gates were closed at Glenmore this morning. With wind speeds in excess of 80mph on the big mountains, we opted for a lower level area to work in.  That was after obligatory coffee in Glanmore of course. Here we discussed options for the day. We walked up to the NE slopes of Craigowie for some shelter and here there is a good patch of deep snow to play in. We went through Avalanche awareness again and various ways of assessing the snowpack. We extended our snow pit and constructed a snowshelter for lunch. In the afternoon we braved the winds again  and walked over the summit of Meall a' Bhuachaille and down to Ryvoan. It was quite bearable windspeeds on the top and very pleasant in some afternoon sun.
Great couple of days with the guys. Good luck on their Cape Wrath adventure. Not many folk do this wonderful long distance trek in winter!



2020/02/13 19:04

Blue skies and fab snow

Seb & Thomas

Coire an t-sneachda 

Good snowcover to low levels

Axe arresting

Self belay 

Step cutting

Lovely afternoon light

Quiet dpot

A small weather window for just one day before the next system of lows come racing in. A welcome calm, dry and sunny spells day today. Cousins Seb & Thomas are planning on a 14 day winter Cape Wrath Trail next week, self supported. So they have booked a couple of days with me to get some essential winter skills in preparation. The trail is well stomped into Coire an t-sneachda so we took advantage of this for a speedy walk-in to the foot of the Fiacaill Coire Sneachda. Good firm snow around here and further up the ridge to cover plenty of movement skills including step cutting,  cramponin & axe arrests.
A good day out and lovely to be in windless conditions with freezing levels low and good snow cover to low elevations.  It will be a lot different tomorrow!



2020/02/12 21:40

Crested Tit

Great Spotted Woodpecker



Great Tit

Lovely afternoon

Fabulous Cakedonian Pine Forest


Good snow cover on the hills
The high winds on the Cairngorm mountains eased off this afternoon. After a couple of snowy, stormy days it was very nice to see blue skies and sunshine down in Strathspey. Here in the Carngorms we have the largest tracts of ancient Caledonian Pine Forest and within lie some wonderful and unique species of animals. The Crested Tit is a bird that is only found in these forests. Unmistakable with it's 'Punk like' crest of feathers on its head. A wonderful wee character of these forests. It was lovely to photograph them today. Great Spotted Woodpecker and the Goldcrest were two other great birds that were on show too.
Looking like a nice dry, calm winds and cold day tomorrow. An 'ease in' work day before Dennis the Menance arrives on Friday. A big chunk of back to back work for me, always the busiest time in the season. Looks like were in for some wild and snowy days. We have plenty of snow on the Cairngorms now. Winter continues....



2020/02/11 10:28

Day Walks in the Cairngorms 20 circular routes in the Scottish Highlands

by Helen & Paul Webster

Vertebrate Publishing

Current Retail Price: £14.95

This pocket-sized guidebook is the latest offering from authors Helen & Paul Webster, most widely known for their popular and informative Walkhighlands website. This handy-sized guidebook covers 20 circular routes in the Cairngorms National Park. This is a fresh approach to the local walks in my area, many of which I walk and guide on a regular basis.

It can’t have been an easy task to select twenty from the huge number of fabulous walks in this area. However, the Websters have managed to choose a mixture of well-known and less well-known trails that range from low level, short walks (around 6km) to full-day high-level mountain hikes that involve Munro summits. There is a walk that will suit everyone’s individual taste, fitness level and navigation skills. Not forgetting to take into account that day’s weather forecast, of course!

The routes are described using Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 scale maps which are clear and easy to follow. Having said that, I would hope that most experienced hill-walkers would carry a map and compass as well. There is an amazing amount of information packed into this small guidebook including stats on distance, timings, height gains and descents. There is also information on those all-important refreshment stops, cafes, accommodation and outdoor shops. It has never been more important for guidebooks to describe the local wildlife, conservation issues, geology and history, and the Websters have done this expertly. Paul & Helen are keen photographers, so it is no surprise that this thoroughly well-researched portable guidebook to Cairngorm National Park walks is punctuated with beautiful photographs of this unique and fascinating landscape.



2020/02/10 17:00

Snow covered trees in Craigellachie 

Some afternoon sun

Wind blown

The odd glimpse of The Cairngorms 

Deep s ow in places 

Aviemore town looks so much nicer in snow!

Another snow shower

Only light winds at 500m

Love snowy trees me

Ok, final one

Plenty of snow falling down at Aviemore level overnight and through today. This is only the start of it. Forecast for more constant snow the rest of the week and beyond, on the mountains. We've not had too many low level snowy days this winter so it was great to see at last. I  had a stroll up to Craigellachie at lunchtime. It's one of my favourite wee strolls from the house. From the middle of Aviemore main street you can be on the top in less than 40 minutes, or if you want to take a million photos of snow covered trees, 1 hour. Autumn and Winter are my favourite times of year in this lovely nature reserve. The woodland is a joy and the view at the top far outweighs the effort it takes to get there.
The was hardly any wind at 500m, I think a different story on the Cairngorm plateau.



2020/02/09 13:09

Braeriach plateau from Ben Macdui on Thursday
Catching up on my blog from the last few days. A grand spell of fine, settled weather with some welcome sunshine. It's always a joy to get an high pressure system over The Highlands in winter. We've not had that many this season!


The best day of the week. Light winds, wall to wall sun and temperatures above freezing on the high Cairngorm summits. Despite the 'warmer' temperatures there was still icy conditions on the lower paths aswell as high up on The Cairngorm plateau, all day long. Even in Februray the sun still needs time to make a big impact on melting.

The Reindeer enjoying some sunshine
I took a wander over to Ben Macdui via Coire an Lochain. There seemed to be a few fairwether wildlife photographers heading out, presumerbly to photograph the ptarmigan. There was a beautiful wee temperature inversion in the morning, this soon melted away to leave blue skies. Paths were icy at lower elevations and from about 800m there is now good snow cover.

Temperature inversion

Improved snow cover

Icy conditions
Up on the plateau there is excellent snow cover, surprisingly. The Cairngorm plateau has been bare of snow for a big chunk of the season. I would say you can even get a ski tour in, if you take your old skis :) .

The Lairig Ghru from the Cairngorm-Ben Macdui plateau
Bod an Deamhain and a distant Beinn a' Ghlo
I headed away from the crowds and over to that finest of views in the entire Cairngorms, The Loch A'an Basin. It's a fine, easy stroll following the Feithe Buidhe which gently trickles across the high plateau before suddenly plunging down into the basin. 'Easy' in good weather and snow conditions of course. The burn is almost buried in snow but water is still running underneath the snow pack. I always arrive here around mid day, it's a great spot for lunch.
Loch A'an with the slabs buried under snow
Now I have wandered around the Cairngorms for may a year and have seen some amazing wildlife. Ptarmigan, Dotterel and Snow Bunting of course. I've seen some beautiful and amazing wildlife. On two separate occasions I have spotted the very rare Purple Sanpiper in summer (there are only 1 or 2 breeding pairs in the mountains) the second time she was with her newly fledged chick. But never have I seen the elusive, rare, almost mythical Snowy Owl. Of course this Arctic Owl doesn't belong here in the UK but apparently there is one on the Cairngorm plateau and some lucky folk have had the privilage to spot it. So with this in mind I wandered around into some obscure locations  between the Feithe Buidhe and Ben Macdui. The answer is no, I never saw it! There's always another time.

The NW slopes of Ben Macdui's North top, no Snowy Owl
By the time I reached the summit of Ben Macdui it was deserted. Everyone had headed down so I lingered a while and had a notion to spend the night out, just bivvying, on the top. But that idea soon vanished with the thought of spending about 13 hours in my bivvy bag with nothing to read.

Ben Macdui's summit

Rime iced rocks and The Lairig Ghru

Cairn Toul - Braeriach plateau
The best view is not from the trig point on Macdui. Get the map out and walk a few minutes to see one of the finest sights in The Cairngorms (after Loch A'an of course).

Views SW

Nice light and clouds
Heading back across the plateau towards dusk was just beautiful. The full moon was up as the sun was setting. It was magical walking across crisp, icy snow with nightfall approaching. There were a couple of folk in Coire Domhain snow holing. Would have been a great night for it. There was an Aurora Amber alert for the Northern Lights. Anyone know if they were visible?
I didn't require a head torch on the way down, the moon was so bright.
Coire Domhain at dusk

A bright, full moon over Cairn Gorm

Moonlight descent


Ptarmigan in croaking mode
Another beautiful clear skies morning across The Cairngorms. The winds were up thus morning. 50, gusting 60mph towards the end of the day. It was hard going walking into the strong blast. Temperatures had dropped with freezing levels around 1000m. A day for the coire and checking out the ptarmigan.
Windy clouds

More cloud out to the NW

Less windy here
Once into the coire there was some respite from the winds. Now we have reasonable snow cover the ptarmigan are a bit more camouflaged. With these higher winds they will usually come into sheltered areas. It's nice to now see the numbers are up again. I stayed with a group of around 10 birds today. They were quite happy feeding from some heathery places poking out from the snow. They must know we have a big dump of snow heading our way over the next few days. I was down lying in the snow for over an hour with this wee group. One reason you should always have plenty of warm, waterproof clothing for winter wildlife photography.




In the sun



Whooper Swans
Storm Ciara on it's way, not quite arrived yet. It was extremely windy in the high Cairngorms though with winds of 60mph+. So we settled for a low level, relaxing walk with some wonderful wildlife along the way. Just an hours easy walking from the middle of Aviemore and you get to see some beautiful countryside. A stroll along the Speyside Way then off track and down to a lovely unnamed loch, one of those 'hidden gems' that seem to be the latest buzz words.


Great birdlife habitat

Blue Tit

Long Tailed Tit (hiding)

Whooper Swan
During our meander by the lochside we spotted Whooper Swan, Long Tailed Tit, Goldcrest and Goldeneye. Back home before the clouds rolled in.

The next few days should get lots of snow into the mountains. Gales and heavy snowfall forecasted from today and all next week. Looks like we will get a bumper snow cover. Finally!


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