After more than his fair share of faffing with his sandwiches, jackets, gloves and ice axes, the fourth member of our party, the driver, finally came outside and put his bag in the car. We set off towards Cairngorm car park for a long, intense day of climbing in Scotland’s finest.
It wasn’t to be; Scotland’s finest on this occasion was 90mph winds with 120mph recorded at the top station. With the road up to the car park shut, we dumped the car and decided to walk up. Whilst it was crushingly obvious climbing was not on the cards today, we figured hauling all our gear up the mountain would be a suitably entertaining alternative.
It was pretty blustery but it wasn’t until we rounded a corner out of the shelter being offered by the side of the mountain, that a huge wall of air smacked us in the teeth. I’d heard that it’s pretty hard to walk in that sort of wind but I wasn’t quite prepared for quite how ‘exciting’ it would be.
Bearing in mind that at this point all we were trying to do was walk up the road, the four of us are being thrown around quite uncontrollably. Then there’s a stronger gust, I’m now looking up at Matt stumbling around try to regain his footing, something that had escaped me and resulted in my watching the hilarity from the concrete.
As we got pretty close to the car park it became apparent that this was as far as we were going; the air currents were now starting to throw rocks in our direction; all things considered we thought a wobbly descent involving a woolly hat chase and several stumbles followed by a coffee and a cake was preferable to an old fashioned stoning; we turned around. Hopefully the following day would be better.
It was, or seemed to be at least as we woke up and headed back up to the car park; in the car this time. After navigating through and around the labyrinth of queues made up of skiers we found ourselves in Coire an t'Sneachda, but it could well have been the Alps, perfect snow covering, blue skies and the sun just appearing from behind the crags. The wind was all but gone.
The Coire was getting busier by the minute so we decided to start plodding up towards the crag on the left, we moved under a few groups who were edging their ways up a few lines that looked much harder than anything we had come to do... The nerves made an appearance, I hadn’t done this for a year... but the sun beckoned us up.
We popped into a narrow gully to find the start of our route; it was pretty obvious where it was; just above the two groups waiting at the bottom of it... ah... It transpired that matey who was sat in his harness waiting, hadn’t been climbing in Scotland for two years but had timed his return to perfection with a ‘crampon emergency’ in the group above
Everything was under control so having decided we’d just go straight up the gully we were in we bid farewell and began daggering up. At this point Scotland slapped us with its superbly predictable unpredictability. Our sun had legged it and in its place a good amount of yesterday’s wind had returned. It’s change in direction became apparent as the first face-full of freezing cold spindrift flew up from between my boots and filled my mouth. Damn. That was cold.
As we climbed it got stronger and each burst was more and more prolonged; it became suffocating, not to mention freezing. The new sample jacket I was adorning was doing its job perfectly; apart from my cold nose and eyebrows, now frozen solid, I was nice and toasty.
Nearing the top, I was at the front; I appeared underneath the biggest cornice I’ve ever seen that close up. Fortunately an early bird had already come along and made a nice Jack sized hole in it earlier on, but I was painfully aware of the sudden drop in snow quality... it was pretty soft where I was trying to get up.
I found myself willing the cornice to stay right where it was every time my elbow caught the side of it. Topping out became more and more awkward and so I went for the put as much of myself in the snow as possible technique to avoid dropping. It wasn’t the most glamorous of entrances to the top but fortunately no one saw it because there was nothing there except white...
Ten minutes later we were on our way down. We all had goggles except the driver who had forgotten them despite all the time he had spent faffing, that he had called preparing. His face was as red as his jacket, I’d like to say he received plenty of sympathy, but it was more like ridicule. More so once we had got down and he discovered that his goggles were in his bag after all.
Less than an hour later our gloves had thawed and the membrane of ice coating our jackets and bags had crumbled off. We found ourselves having a few beers and were already looking back on the day more philosophically. And what’s more, the sun was back out