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Last updated: 15/10/10


'Laggan Bus Meet'
13 February 2005

Pick-up and return of the minibus went off without problems, the former taking place at about 9.30 pm on the Saturday evening (this having been ascertained acceptable to Central Coaches). Aberdeen pick-ups were quick, although George was not at Golden Square (as originally advised) or at Earl’s Court as listed (and no reply to phone calls the day before and after). At 6.45, a snowman in an Inverurie lay-by turned out to be Kevin.

The journey out took place in frequent snow showers and high winds, and experienced particularly poor road conditions – neither salting nor clearance was apparent, although two BEAR vans were noted, with interest and no a little exasperation. The Dufftown road appeared so bad on the first 100 yards that we took the A95 from Keith instead, and from Aberlour onwards there were very few possibilities of – and possibly little wisdom in - overtaking a succession of “cautious” drivers. During a short stop at Aviemore (to wait for the Tesco toilets to open!), we learned that the blocking of the A9 to the south – as advertised via roadside signs – had been due to a jack-knifed lorry. However, pressing onwards, we reached the Aberarder car park at about 10.40 (the only vehicle), and set off shortly before 11.00, a good hour later than expected.

Conditions underfoot were nasty – about 6 inches of snow on the road up to the farmhouse, and more further up. Since the path in places consists of railway sleepers about 6 inches wide, not easy to discern under 9-12 inches of snow, and is often flanked by a deep ditch equally difficult to differentiate from the path itself, progress was not fast. However, it was punctuated by entertaining episodes as the leader tried to extricate himself from thigh-deep pits. At the start, we were faced by a head-on wind carrying falling or drifting snow, and the path (and/or ditch) itself was not always easy to follow, but conditions improved as we entered the wood above the farm, with sunlight around (if seldom shining on) us, and good views back down to Loch Laggan and beyond.

At about 12.30, on the path just beyond most of the trees, luncheon was announced, beneath a gully descending from Carn Liath. The fact that the gully had obviously produced a recent avalanche coming down to the level of the path provoked a lively discussion between the co-drivers on the advisability of stopping at this point. One view was that further falls could well be expected; the other was that the avalanche track was itself an assurance that the worst had already happened. The loser of this argument went off a little way to belay himself to a nearby tree.

By this time, the main Creag Meagaidh cliffs were visible, and a little more blue sky had appeared to the south. However, given time and conditions underfoot, options appeared limited to continuing up the path to Loch a’ Coire for a closer look at the waters (unfrozen, surprisingly) and cliffs, or to ascend to the Carn Liath – Stob Poite Coire Ardair ridge to our right, to see what we could see. Fred and Willie chose the former option, but unaccountably took the wrong direction after lunch, and from above were seen headed straight back down to the minibus. Shouted instructions appear not to have been heard.

The rest of us (7 in total) proceeded directly up a heathery ridge (asserted to be avalanche-free) towards Meall an t-Smain west of Carn Liath, getting into a hefty snow shower and spindrift as the slope began to level off at about 2500 feet. Mairet did sterling work in route-leading at this point, as had Scott and Kevin on the footpath. The next half-mile or so were done in a white-out, on uncertain and often invisible ground. With the aid of Brian’s GPS, we navigated directly towards the Carn Liath summit since anything more adventurous seemed inadvisable. As the flattish ridge was approached, boulders – grey, as advertised - again became visible, making walking easier, but it was still a longish plod up to the summit in limited visibility and a strong wind.

At the cairn, a brief lessening of the wind allowed a glimpse down to Loch Laggan, giving directional re-assurance on top of Mairet’s heroinic(?) work with map and compass, but the first quarter-mile or so of the descent was often on hard wind slab until this turned into steepish drifts en route down to the An Cnapanan shoulder above Aberarder. However, there were welcome respites from the wind, and even the odd glissade – voluntary or otherwise – by Garry, Alex and others. A final snack on An Cnapanan provided a good view over Loch Laggan, before a descent through burgeoning vegetation and its accompanying snowdrifts back onto the path, and so to the minibus at 5 pm, where Fred and Willie were awoken from their slumbers.

The roads were now almost clear, and Aviemore was reached at about 6.10 pm for a stop at Smiffy’s fish and chips, and, for some, the Cairngorm Hotel bar. Leaving around 7.00 pm, Aberdeen was reached (via the Dufftown road) at about 9.30 pm.

Counselling for post-traumatic stress disorder appears unnecessary: most people said – with varying degrees of surprise – that they had enjoyed themselves, and had done more than seemed likely at the start of the day. A few more folk would have been welcome, but the survivors have had a day to remember.

Author: Ken Thomson