13:00 – An Socach (M227), 3097ft, 944m
I have now climbed both Carn Liaths, both Beinn a Chaorainns, both Meall Garbhs, two of the three Ben Mores, two of the three Carn Deargs, three of the four Geal Charns, all three Carn nan Gabhar/Gobhars and from today all three three An Socachs.
It was minus nine when I started the car and scraped off the frost. As I parked beside the road in Glen Clunie, it was minus six. It did not look as if the sun ever warms this side of the pass into Deeside at this time of year. Dry compacted snow squeaked noisily under my boots along the track to Glen Baddoch. A dipper flitted over the rocks in the burn, an artery of brown against the white. At the ford through Allt Coire Fhearnseagh I filled my bottle, knowing this would be the last water I would encounter until my return. It felt warm flowing over my hand. I began the ascent through deep snow and high heather over increasingly frozen ground, following imprints left by others. At a cairn at about 700m, having slithered too much to get there, I put on my crampons as the sun rose for the first time over the ridge to the south. From here the snow was deep where it lay and the ground rocky and icy. At the first summit I removed my crampons and began the walk along the ridge to its highest point, difficult to pick out in front of the amalgamated bulk of Ben Iutharn, Carn an Righ and Beinn a’ Ghlo.
The sun shone low in the southern sky, the air was still, ptarmigan croaked contentedly. Hares flopped about sunning themselves.
It was easy going along the top, surrounded by views of white mountains and distant peaks. It could have been the middle of summer.
It is not cold per se that takes the heat away from a body, it is the wet, a lack of sunlight and fast moving air.
Sitting at the summit with my flask of soup, the warmth of my body easily held the cold at bay under down, windstopper and layering.
Tarrying on the way back to take snapshots of the snowscapes and glittering ground, and to gaze at familiar outlines on the horizon all around, I was reminded of how little daylight there is at this time of year.
At two thirty I was back at the first summit. The sun had already begun its descent behind Beinn a’ Ghlo, giving the surrounding mountains an amber glow.
Coming off the ridge, I gazed back at the Cairngorms for the last time, dominating the northern horizon, smiling under their winter blanket.
Stomping back along the path and squeaking over impacted snow, I sensed that the sun had not been seen here today. Yet it did not feel cold, and my feet were hot from their day’s work. Back at the car, the temperature read minus eleven.
This was a day that will stay with me for a very long time.