Round of the 18 Cairngorms: Day 5
Cairn Gorm

Saturday 28th July 2012

Weather/Conditions: Slightly drizzly in the morning but with a high cloud base - all very atmospheric. All hell let loose on Cairn Gorm's summit with high winds and a hail? shower! Heavy and utterly soaking. It was the only soaking we got on the trip, it lasted several minutes and happened on our last summit! Clearing skies on descent and more heavy rain setting in on the drive home.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 10.3km / 600m / 3h 40m
Accompanying: Struan

The final day of our trip was just a short morning, a quick hop over the summit of Cairn Gorm to gain the ski centre, Sugarbowl and thus close the loop that we'd made over the previous five days of self-propelled, entirely self-sufficient travel. It's always a wonderful buzz, these final days, the joy of a difficult task finally complete yet with the lightness of knowing what it really took to get it.

The weather had closed in a bit overnight. I was now really suffering from this cold that had begun on the Moine Mhor and I'd wake up periodically during the night feeling horrendous. I'd been knocking two sh**s out my body over the past few days and it just let that cold worm it's way in until I was physically depressed both by physical exertion and infection. I also found waking up in the pitch darkness of the Fords of Avon highly disorientating and uncomfortable. I would not recommend spending a night in this little windowless shed.

But otherwise, I was absolutely over the moon. Struan and I had put in some big days, we'd even felt so good the night before we'd tagged on Bynack More in the afternoon. And now as we sat in the hut, one summit remained and it was en route back to the car. I might feel awful, but there really wasn't anything separating us from the end.

We left the Fords (unfortunately having to piles of rubbish that had been stashed there - presumably DofE??) and wound a course up toward the Saddle. The day was desolate, but the clouds were high and the Loch Avon hid in half-obscurity, with the rain haze mashing the details and picking out the plunging drops. Visually, it was heart-wrenching, this place carved out in hard lines so sensitive yet so bold. Shelterstone Crag is utterly magnificent.

A long plod brought us up the side of Cairn Gorm. I had to breathe so deeply to get anywhere. I was so shattered, so physically done, and every step took effort. I was sure it wouldn't be like this if I hadn't had the cold, but it had also been compounded by the fact that we'd packed less food than expected and had been on a restricted diet of sorts. Struan asked if I was ok. Yes, I was, I would just take my time and we would get to that summit.

The summit slopes arrived, and then the weather station. We hit the top just as some immensely heavy showers hit us - and we got soaked. In the summit photo we're drenched, but also looking happy. I get so much enjoyment out of this kind of thing, but it's always so tiring too - I found myself thinking about how I plan to do the Munros next summer - how will that work if I'm this tired now?! Shelve that thought and be glad you did the Cairngorms in one...

Through complete laziness we didn't take a real bearing off the top and followed another group of well intentioned hillwalkers who also intended to go down to the ski centre. We instead ended up at 1141m, somewhat to the west of where we meant to be, and for a moment I was a bit angry that they should go the wrong way, completely forgetting I really should have taken a bearing myself! But a fast descent followed and suddenly we were back in the land of convenience. It was just an easy walk to the ski centre.

We dropped in for a while and got some food. When you've been away even for just a few days, this feeling of convenience just hits you. We gorged on hot food and cups of tea - it was a good place to dry out before the last sunny walk to the car at the lower car park...

All in all, an utterly successful trip in every capacity. We set out and finally achieved our aim with a purity in style - one single loop, passing through this mountain range, seeing it's many corners. Those moments on the quiet moors sometimes seem so fleeting in the scale of things and yet they are the moments I look to find on a mountain trip. There is something about travel through trackless regions that really opens you up to a place. We covered a lot of ground in in those full days...

Times (Time relative to 0.00)
(0.00) 8.40am Fords of Avon
(1.50) 10.30am Cairn Gorm
(2.00) 10.40am 1141m
(2.45) 11.25am Ski Centre
(3.15) 11.55am Ski Centre (left)
(3.40) 12.20pm Car park

Written: 2015-08-03