Life Above the Clouds : A journey into the Cairngorms (and a test for some new Fjallraven gear!)
‘Best day of the winter season so far…’ ‘most memorable cloud inversion…’ comments like these were flooding in on social media pages from friends and colleagues, so it took no further persuasion for me to pack my ruc sac and head up onto the Cairngorm plateau.
Avalanche forecast noted, filed and similarly the weather forecast. The whole of Strathspey [and beyond] was covered in a low lying blanket of cloud, but those
Facebook messages and photographs from above Cairngorm ski centre showed what else was happening weather-wise… blue skies by day and star filled at night. The combination of hot days and freezing nights on snow fields were ideal conditions to field test some new Fjallraven clothing and equipment.
From the ski centre car park at 600 metres it was a steady uphill climb through sunshine and shade, sometimes on rocky ground, higher up on hard frozen neve where crampons were worn. Finally cresting the slope of Fiacaill a’ Choire Chais and the welcome sight of the large cairn at spot height 1141m, a key navigation point in bad weather. Clothing consisted of Lappland Merino Henley shirt , Buck Fleece and Keb trousers. I was glad of the venting zips on the Kebs as when in the sun it was hot work. But I was on the plateau before mid morning which meant the snow was still frozen apart from the top 1-2 centimetres.. ideal for walking on without the crampons.
Walking poles off the kaipak ruc sac and crampons into the net side pocket. Around the edge of Windy Gap and across the summit of Stob Coire an t-Sneachda. A perfect vista far and wide over the snow laden plateau as the sun got higher. Perfect easy travel over the snow and great visibility with no navigation issues enabled me to traverse quickly across the basin of the Feith Buidhe to the magnificent overlook into the Loch Avon basin, this is without doubt one of the best viewpoints anywhere! But little time for awe inspiring views I wanted to get to my overnight bivvy spot before the snow melted too much. Down into the Garbh Uisge Beag drainage and luckily a collapsed snow bridge over the burn, perfect place to fill my water bag. A full four litre water bag added considerable weight to my pack and such bags are invariably unstable but the Kaipak has enough straps and buckles to make this item reasonably secure, though this didn’t seem to make the uphill pull onto my target Carn Etchachan feel much easier.
Home for the night was a one man tent perched on the small shoulder at the end of the Etchachan ridge 1120m. Firm flat snow col, great all round views and if I’d guessed right I’d get late sun in the evening and early sun in the morning. Arriving somewhere like this is always a highlight, finding just the right spot to camp or bivvy, setting up the gear quickly and efficiently and then the crowning moment sitting back with a brew! Like many who work in the great outdoors I’m not ‘minted’! But moments such as this… I’m endowed with riches and treasures…
Light and shadow begin the dance as the sun lowers. Wandering above the precipice of the Shelter Stone crags, hearing rock and avalanche [cornices slumping off], picking out climbing lines on Hells Lum remembering faces and deeds from the past thereon, Raven calls and I salute him, as he is my brother.
Rapidly it cools. The Sun drops further towards the ridge north of Ben Macdui … cold is on its way! Time to don the Pak Down jacket. Almost immediately I feel warmer, a snug hood [but sadly no draw cord, this its only failing], good pockets. More photos of the ever changing colours. New Forest Gloves on for first time and again almost instant warmth, which I find unusual for gloves [ and most winter days out I’ll carry 3-4 pair]. An hours wander in the fast fading light before checking in to the tent.
Tent entrance fully open and rolled up so its more like a tarp. Now will be a full on field test. Sarek Three Season sleeping bag ..do your stuff! And it did. I wore only shorts and the Lappland shirt inside the sleeping bag and feel more than adequately warm. Estimated overnight temperature -3c. That’s a great performance from a three season bag. One snag was I didn’t like the leather tightener on hood drawstring, much prefer [ or possibly just so used to] plastic toggle. I did however think it a fantastic sleeping bag, light, packs down really well, and a major plus is Fjallraven info on their ethically produced down. I think we have , at last, moved far beyond companies just offering a ‘green wash’ version of production and ethics.. great to see this.
Up next morning to greet the dawn, still well below freezing so another test for the down jacket.. flying colours again. Then sun up and basking time with hot coffee before striking camp. Enough room in the Kaipak 58L ruc sac for all kit and such a comfortable carry too. I’ve used a smaller version for day pack and knew how simple but effective a pack it was. I’m not a big fan of packs with’floating lid’ and there was some slippage on the waist belt, but apart from these small niggles I think this is an outstanding pack. Out and up across to Ben Macdui summit, mine the first tracks this morning. A nice steady decent, blether with some ski tourers skinning up… and then down, into the valley and the ‘unreal’ world waiting beneath the cloud.