Walk out in the rain

Lochan Uaine, Cairn Toul, Angel's Peak and Garbh Choire Mhor in the Cairngorms

The drama of the Cairngorms

I love the photo at the head of this post. It was one of several I put in a Facebook album and it was the one that got all the likes.

Now the camera it was taken on was nothing special (a Canon Ixus 860 IS if you’re really geeky about these things) and the photographer definitely not particularly skilled – I pointed, zoomed in a little, and clicked.

Yet it captures something of the qualities that make the Cairngorms so special: the sense of scale, the unyielding bulk of the mountains, the distances. The threatening sky over the rain-cleared brightness of the corrie with fresh green amidst the glister of the granite slabs brings out a sense of drama missed by those who thrill only at pointy peaks and narrow ridges.

In short: I love the photo at the head of this post.

It’s not there, however, to show you how good I am – the sight was there, I only had the sense to notice and click – but to underline something I forget too often myself. And that’s to GO. Get out there. Use the forecast to prepare, but get out onto the hill and discover what it reveals.

The day I found this scene really was a day for sitting at home with a good book and a roaring fire. Summer had forgotten its place and allowed November to gatecrash the party, with winds, low cloud, rain and stinging hail. All sorts of plans had been devised and ditched, and even Sunday’s first choice was abandoned as the legs didn’t feel up to it, but by that time I’d walked up Glen Derry to the Hutchy Hut, so thought I might at least go up McDui. It had already rained by the time I reached Loch Etchachan but I followed the path on up until I could traverse across to the foot of the slabs on the other side of the stream, where the bedrock of the mountain is bared.

Slabs on Ben McDui, Cairngorms

The slabs. My route went up the right side of the gully with the snow at the top, although you could make a few wandering routes across the slabs themselves.

These slabs are part of a broad ridge hiding the remote corrie of the Garbh Uisge Mor from the main ascent path. I climbed easy ground to the right of a gully up the north edge of the slabs to gain the crest of the ridge. The rain was back, the wind had more of a bite on the exposed ridge and the cloud was down over the main and north tops of the hill, but looking down the ridge made that all by the way. It was one of those views, like the first image in this post, which – to me – captured something of the nature of the Cairngorms: looking down over granite boulders to the waters of Loch Etchachan and, beyond that, through a cleft in the mountains and almost 700 feet nearer sea level, a glimpse of Loch Avon. Conditions for the photograph were poor, but it was a shot I had to take.

Loch Etchachan and Loch Avon, Cairngorms

Lochs Etchachan and Avon, separated by almost 700ft of altitude.

The rain turned to hail and the cloud on the summit didn’t look like shifting, so I decided to head back down and cross over to Derry Cairngorm, which had remained below the cloud ceiling. I knew it was likely to rain again (and it did) but had it in mind that it was a day when at least one summit should be reached. In any case, it was a more attractive return route that all the way down Glen Derry again, or down the boggy Coire Sputain Dearg (whence I’d seen a damp Aberdeen Mountain Rescue Team descending, bearing a laden stretcher as part of an exercise).

And that’s how I got the picture at the head of the post. Just after disturbing a mother ptarmigan on the Derry Cairngorm screes, seeing her trailing her wing in one direction and her five fluffy chicks scattering in all other directions, I looked across to Coire an Lochan Uaine and stopped.

The colours of the corrie were bright after the rain, and beyond the sweep of the corrie rim were the receding and increasingly blue layers of Cairn Toul, Sgorr an Lochan Uaine and the innermost recesses of the Garbh Choire Mhor, highlighted by the unseasonably diminished ‘eternal’ snow patches. It’s a view that should stop anyone in their tracks, but the weather added a sense of drama that made the whole scene even more special. This was a view worth getting wet for. The wind, the rain, the hail… they hadn’t spoiled this day at all – they’d made it.

Lochan Uaine, Cairn Toul, Angel's Peak and Garbh Choire Mhor in the Cairngorms

And one more time…


This entry was posted in Stravaiging, Topography and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Walk out in the rain

  1. piper says:

    Great picture looking doon Loch eatchachan, n, Loch an .

  2. Mike W says:

    And some folk think the cairngorms are dull

  3. Paddy says:

    Great post – very atmospheric reminder of what I think of as the very heart of the Cairngorms – the path above Loch Etchachan.

  4. Colin Munro says:

    Keep them coming – the day improves when a new post appears in the inbox.

  5. Moody weather always makes for the best shots! Might not be so pleasant to walk in but always great for photography – well, unless you’re in a total clag I suppose 😉

  6. Dave says:

    The great wanderer right enough Neil. Good read as always

  7. john vaughan says:


    You are spot on with your comment on that picture and I am so glad you had so many ‘likes’. I am not quite sure what ‘likes’ are but they sound good to me. Back to the picture – I was first inspired to spend most of my life on the hills of northern Britain by a photograph taken by Tom Weir showing the full extent of the Fisherfield Forest in The Big Walks by Ken Wilson. What I loved was the sheer emptiness with no human interference! Later, when supplying pictures for Irvine Butterfield, he told me to always have a person in the foreground and “no dogs”, although Jet (a licourice allsort) was my constant companion and lover of such remote arenas! Dear Irvine – he loved the hills too but in a different way to you and I, methinks. I now have trouble getting out of bed but still remember the nights spent sleeping on the high Cairngorms, under a rock or in a bivvy or whatever. My little book tells me I went up Beinn Mac Duibh a dozen times and just remembering those ascents, through your picture, is wonderful. Whether it was with friends or just that doggie, afore-mentioned, or when I did a grade 3 up Coire Sputan Dearg or camping by the wee lochans between MacD and Cairngorm with 2 young lads and a surprised lady who thought she was out for a gentle stroll! Or was it when I woke, with a ‘sair heed’, in the heather outside a locked campsite gate in Glen Derry, had a coffee and a bacon butty at the ‘red squirrel’ cafe and then did the four 4,000ers in 9 hours??? Your pictures have brought these wonderful memories flooding back and the writing in this latest post is high quality if you will forgive the presumptuousness of this comment.

    Good luck. John Vaughan (aka The Headingley Bugle, Mickey Mouse Mountaineering Club).

  8. Kenny Ferguson says:

    Thanks Neil. another great post, reminding us once again,what is really special about these hills.The big picture set against the small details.Braw Sir

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