THE weathermen were pretty accurate. The snow they had forecast dwindled out late on Friday evening and Saturday dawned still, quiet and peaceful, the landscape muffled under a deep spread of snow.
I had a pair of snowshoes collecting mould in the garage. I had bought them three years earlier after spending a delightful week snowshoeing in the Alps but rarely used them in anger in Scotland. It was time they made their debut on the Cairngorms.
I set off from the Cairn Gorm car park and within minutes had the contraptions strapped to my boots, waddling my way across the Northern Corries towards Lurcher’s Meadow.
Novices can regard snowshoeing in a couple of ways. Is it the the fastest growing outdoor activity in Europe, as many claim, or is it simply a method of allowing eldery outdoors folk to move around on snow covered terrain? Or is snowshoeing the last reincarnation of the old hide and birch contraptions that allowed Yukon gold moilers to move around in winter, the final throw of the footwear of the heroes of Nordic sagas?
Perhaps we should think of snowshoeing as all these things, and more. Think of it as a traditional, fun-filled and often demanding form of winter travel, used by mountaineers and snowboarders as well as the long-in-the-tooth hill walkers. And what’s more, the gear is a techies-dream. Although the French still refer to snowshoes as raquettes, dismiss all thoughts of tennis rackets that tie to your foot, forget about birch and bamboo and leather thongs. Modern snowshoes are lightweight, highly engineered and extremely technical and come in a wide array of styles.
Snowshoes are essentially flotation devices, spreading your weight over a larger area and so allowing you to walk on the surface of the snow rather than sink in to your knees with each step. Combine the snowshoes with a pair of ski poles or trekking poles and you’re good to go.
As I climbed the long boundary ridge of Coire an Lochain I passed a number of walkers who were experiencing some difficulties in the deep snow – I reckon I could have sold them my snow shoes for a wee fortune.
Climbing up the final, steeper, slopes towards the plateau I wondered why I hadn’t used snow shoes more in Scotland? In the Alps snowshoeing is enjoying something of a rennaisance not only amongst seasoned hikers but also amongst young snowboarders, who use snowshoes to climb high before boarding, off-piste, back down again.
I stopped on the edge of the Lairig Ghru, the deep-cut pass that cuts through the Cairngorms between Rothiemurchus and Deeside before stomping around the edge of Cairn Lochan towards Lochan Buidhe, or where Lochan Buidhe should have been. Like everything else it had vanished beneath the overnight snow.
I considered plodding on towards Ben Macdui, the UK’s second highest mountain, but on an impulse decided to follow the course of the Feith Buidhe down towards the point where it crashes over the granite slabs on its journey towards the deepset Loch Avon. I’m glad I did.
This is one of my favourite views in Scotland, looking down on the frozen loch from the crags of Carn Etchachan. Down there lay the celebrated Shelter Stone howff and the route to Loch Etchachan but today I was content just to gaze at it, a view winterised and made more dramatic through the wind-whipped spindrift but the weather felt as though it was changing again. Time to head downhill.
Unless you are experienced in the hills book a guide to take you out to enjoy the mountains safely!
For more ideas please read our blog on things to do in winter in the Cairngorms.