From the Cairn Ban Archives... 

Coire Sneachda

Ian Collinson, 29 December 2007

‘Run To The Hills’…

... was the title of the email sent through by Jerome complaining of post Crimbo Turkey Over Stuffing and the need to hit the hills. After the initial mental image of the awful Iron Maiden tune of the same name the image Jerome painted was of a trip to Coire Sneachda at Cairn Gorm, a winter camp, then some early morning gully climbs onto the Cairn Gorm plateau.

So off we set. I met up with Jerome and his pal, Andy, outside of Perth and into the dark north we headed. ‘Smiffy's Chippy’ at Aviemore provided sustenance of Fish Suppers with Mushy Peas before heading up to Coire Cas Car Park where there was, well, no-one else in sight at 8pm. We changed in the car park at zero celcius. Two chaps from the Lakes appeared looking nervous at spending the night in their car and looked surprised at us venturing up into the corries on a freezing black night. As we tramped across the frozen turf and paths I have to confess I was rather wondering myself just what the hell we were doing but hey, the adventure had started... 40 mins later we arrived at the flattish rim of the coire and decided to pitch camp.

It would have been easier if the ground had not been frozen but a few bent tent pegs later and both tents were up and ready for a sound night's kipping. I had my Mountain Hardwear PCT1 lightweight 1kg one man not-much-more-than-a-bivvy-bag-really number featuring mesh inner whilst Jerome and Andy had J's bombproof Macpac 2 man Antarctica Expedition 7 season demon.

A thick frost and hard snow covered the ground and a near full moon shone down on us as we toasted the night, the situation, the sheer devilry of the whole damned thing, with a throatwarming Ardbeg Uigeadail - a splendid nightcap!

Disaster! A puncture in my Thermarest required a puncture repair kit and gaffer tape which miraculously Jerome had but to no avail the hole was too big and I had to make do with an uninflated not very therma, not very restful ‘Freezanorest’ mat. To put it bluntly I had to wear every drop of down, socks, thermals etc. to keep warm, even with a minus ten rated bag. The real lesson though was brought home whilst watching the 4am mist curl under the flysheet and pour into the tent through the super-lightweight no-self-respecting-fell-runner-should-be-without-one utterly-useless-in-winter lightweight mesh inner tent!

Some readers may smile at the irony of this but as I slept fitfully waking myself up to rub my feet, change position, or put on more clothes, the only noises I could hear were the not so muffled sounds of Jerome's snoring from the tent next door!

6am saw a dawn chorus of Black Grouse wake up the neighbourhood and from 6.30am onwards a steady stream of climbers entered the coire, having, no doubt, spent a luxurously warm night, under some centrally heated duvet somewhere.

‘What an awful night!’, Andy exclaimed over breakfast Porridge… ‘It was so bloody hot in there, I had to get up and go out for a walk during the night!’ Personally, I had no sympathy whatsoever... just envy!

We selected Alladin's Couloir which was well packed with enough firm snow and ice to make ice axe and crampons the order of the day. It was busy, as was the rest of the Coire. One pitch of 30 feet or so of ice required roping up for security but other than that the Gully was straightforward, busy, and a delightful way to top out onto the summit plateau of Cairn Gorm and hit the sunlight on a magnificent day.

The hills were alive, at one point I counted 93 people that I could see. Cairn Gorm summit itself had snowboarders, skiiers, dogs, children in jeans and trainers - Cairn Gorm Summit has them all! We toasted ourselves again with Jerome's supplies of Christmas Cake and the World's Strongest Rusty Nail - Superb!

Andy and Jerome descended via another of the gullies and ended up assisting a party of hill first-timers without crampons, axes or ropes!

On the plateau the views were excellent across to Macdui, Feshie, Affric, Wyvis... everywhere! This really was an absolutely splendid day.

Breaking camp and returning to the car park proved quite dangerous as the sheer number of people had compressed al the snow on the footpaths to solid ice and it would have been a sensible thing to don crampons again for this path!!!

A major find though, was the truckers Diner outside Newtonmore who serve an all day Truckers Breakfast for £5- Double Bacon, Double Sausage, Double Egg, Double Hash Browns, Double Fried Bread, Double Beans and a whopping tea urn! There are some charming Eastern European chefs also...

A cracking adventure, a Thermarest consigned to history, a tent consigned to summer, an eatery extraordinaire, oh, and a cracking day on the hills too!

Happy New Year Everyone!!!