13:15 – Carn Bhac (M221), 3104ft, 946m
The first summit of the year has been eluding me – this time last year I had already bagged five. Partly because of a desire to avoid weekends and thereby not to participate in the inevitable morning scrum for parking at the most popular winter hills, and partly due to continuing challenging weather and still short days.
A lot of snow has been falling, melting and then freezing over. And then falling some more and thawing again. The freezing level has been rising and dropping. There has been a lot of wind from many directions. These are the most challenging conditions in the mountains with the greatest risk of avalanche. Already there have been fatalities and near misses. Mountain rescue services have been busy. My lovely wife is therefore keen that I remain safe, and is happy that I have a companion with whom I can enjoy the winter in relative safety.
After watching the weather forecasts together and comparing diaries, we decided that the eastern rounded mountains would be less troubled by prevailing storms than anything pointy in the west. With the wonders of the Google we were able to coordinate a meeting on Shaw Street in Blairgowrie, where our journeys converged, and then the next morning to drive into it at exactly the same time, where we parked one car and proceeded together in the other. We walked away from Inverey at about nine thirty in a sharp north westerly, taking the long flat route all the way up Glen Ey, curving round from the east and south and thus remaining sheltered for as long as possible from the wind.
We stopped for elevenses at Altanour Lodge looking out on Beinn Iutharn before following a line of ATV tracks through a squall of snow, at a very gentle gradient into increasingly crisp snowbanks, scattered with grouse butts. The snow continued sporadically, but never closed in. The clouds remained not far above our heads as we crunched upwards, always following lines of stable flat snow. Shafts of sunlight added colour to the mottled monochrome landscapes. Hares darted about almost invisibly.
At the bare summit we found brief shelter in the lee of the cairn, but we did not tarry long and headed off east towards the north shoulder of Carn Creagach, which we traversed until picking up a good track all the way back down to the glen at Auchelie.
We were back at the car before four and in time for tea and cake at the only café open in Braemar in January. It was a fine day out and very good first summit of the year. Thanks to Martyn and Col the dog for good company.