Return to Home Page
About The Club
Muir Cottage
Club Activities
Meets Calendar
Past Meets
Club Membership
Club Contact Information
Club Forum
Miscellaneous Items

Last updated: 31/03/16


Cairngorm Snowholing
26 - 27 March, 2016

With limited snow cover about, the four of us (Garry, Carlos, Izy and I) chose the “northern option” of aiming for Ciste Mhearad or Mhairearaid (“Margaret’s coffin or kist”) on Cairngorm, despite a MWIS forecast “Saturday upland gales and rain (intermittently snow higher areas)” We emerged from our cars at the lower ski parking area at 13:00 after a quick trip over the Lecht into drizzle, wind, and cloud above, and walked up the Creagan Dubh ridge in these unpleasant conditions, things not improving as we approached the top of the non-moving ski lifts in cloud.



A few bedraggled figures about, some trying mistakenly to ski in patches of slush. With morale falling, and thoughts of Ryvoan, the Shelter Stone or even our cars, we headed for the Ptarmigan Restaurant for a very welcome coffee before being chucked out as the last train left at 16:00, and decided that, being so near, we might as well at least have a look at the Ciste. So we headed over snow fields in the rain, to descend slightly to the expected snow bank at 011046, where we found not one but about a dozen snow holes all ready and waiting for occupancy.




We chose the largest and very fine one, which had two entrances, three platforms, half-a-dozen ledges and ample standing height, and spent an hour on finishing touches such as blocking up one entrance against the wind.




After dark and a meal, we undertook an expedition up to the Cairngorm summit, with snow (rather than rain) falling, and thanks to Garry’s compass work bumped into the weather station bang on target. Down again – a surprisingly long way - by following our tracks, and settled down for the night with plenty of space.


My rest (at least) was disturbed by drips from the roof, which I had failed to smooth off (maybe that wouldn’t have worked anyway), and then by increasing cold later on, but I managed the odd doze. A necessary mid-night excursion was made into driving snow – very glad to be inside a snowhole! In the morning, got up late (at Garry’s insistence), and had to dig our way out, the six-foot entrance having been blocked up by drifting overnight. Away from the snowbank and its falling drift, things looked better, with a view out southeast, and patches of blue sky; not much new snow on the stones over the way. Snowhole Village was completely invisible, except for our own abode: a good thing it hadn't looked like this the evening before!





Packed up (not a quick process), and eventually got away at about 10:00, descending SE on a vague path across awkward snowfields, ice (on top of half-frozen burns), rocks and heather to the Saddle at the head of Strathnethy.




Good views up Loch Avon to the Shelter Stone crag.



Then NE over snowfields with the wind behind us up A’Choinneach and finally past rocks to Bynack Mor in wind but clear weather. Excellent walking, and views back to Cairngorm showed our snowhole site (small black dor below the snow shadow):







At the summit, good views and mutual congratulations all round, though the highest summits (Macdhui, Ben Avon, etc.) remained in cloud.




At this point, we made the mistake of following Garry’s advice to return to the car via the highest notch in the lower part of the easternmost ridge of Cairngorm, rather than taking the low route down towards Ryvoan and round by the Glenmore Lodge track. First over Bynack Beag, then down a crumbly gravel path and ever-deepening heather to the Nethy burn, the Allt Garbh.



This, with a good deal of meltwater coming down, proved crossable only by a quick wade – not that a little dampness worried us much by this stage. The western side up to the notch proved a real nightmare, an ever-steepening and ever-lasting slope with heather between ankle and knee height, steep snow patches, and no path (despite Garry’s promises) except occasional semi-vertical peat slides with heather roots sending boots downwards.



It took at least an hour to do this with heavy packs, zigzagging madly where possible. At last we emerged through the rocky notch onto the ridge to see the car park in the distance – a very welcome sight.



A wet and peaty/boggy path down to near Loch na Beinne, and then a final pull up a moraine or two to the car park, which I reached in the dry (so to speak); the others had to endure a vicious snow shower which came sweeping off Cairngorm as a farewell. Back home over the Lecht in dreadful weather: we’d certainly made the most of the weekend!


Author - Ken Thomson
Photos - Ken Thomson