The first bus meet of the year was to a local destination and the only one of the year to have a formal mountain skills session. Experienced club members Ray Harron and David “Heavy” Whalley kindly gave their time to pass on their skills to fellow club members. Luckily, there was sufficient snow for winter skills to be taught and learned. This has been a particularly lean winter so far for snow lovers.
First off the bus in Aviemore, was John and Bob. They walked to Loch an Eilean, then past the northern reaches of the Lairig Ghru and Loch Morlich to Glenmore for a coffee and cake stop before returning down the glen to Aviemore. So they say… although the fact that they were dropped off at the Cairngorm Hotel and were already there (or should that be still there) when the bus turned up eight hours later raised suspicions!
Next off the bus at Glenmore was a group of four that quickly split in two. One group of one was Tom, who set off home. Literally. He lives in Forres and walked the 40-odd miles home. The poor chap was charged full whack for the bus despite only getting it one way but hey, if it’s a good enough policy for rail companies it’s good enough for the MMC. He finally reached his front doorstep at 8.10pm, which, incidentally is about when the bus got back into Elgin which begs the question what were the rest of us doing for all that time?!
But as for the other three, Jake, Stewart and Joe set off up Bynack Mor with the intention of traversing it, A’ Choinneach and Cairn Gorm. A fine high traverse is perfect for a bus meet when people can start and finish a walk at different locations. Joe had prepared for a big day in the winter hills by attending a beer festival the day before. There had been at least eight beers on offer, all of them good, some of them needing to be sampled more than once, including the Windswept Werewolf, a thick black chilli-laced glass of delightfulness which at 6% abv was wonderful at the time but may have contributed to a slightly sub-prime Moray Mountaineer the following morning.
The walk to Bynack Mor is for at least a couple of miles an easy flat tree-lined walk which helped the hopeless case keep up with the two fit hillwalkers, occasionally bouncing off trees like a pin ball and wishing he could just curl up into a ball and wake up the next day. The summit was reached with an increasing westerly breeze but stunning clarity. Stewart enjoyed the views, Jake complained about the lack of Champagne and tablet “But, but, there was lots on offer last time I was here…” and Joe blinked stupidly at the views wondering where he was and how he had come to be there. By this stage the wind had reached ferocious proportions and a descent was welcome. The group wandered unsteadily down over A’ Choinneach to the very calm Saddle, with Strath Nethy to the right and the grand and sublime Loch Avon to the left before a wee wander over Cairn Gorm and back to the bus.
The main mission on this bus meet, and by far the largest group was Ray and Heavy and their merry band of followers, all keen to learn how to stay safe on Scotland’s winter mountains. They incorporated a lot of skills into their walk into Coire an Lochain and over the top of Lurcher’s Crag, such as safe use of ice axe and crampons, ice axe arrest, and navigation. Heavy emphasised the fact that nobody is merely a follower in the hills, especially in winter, and everyone should learn the skills to be safe and be able to look after themselves. It was great to get a decent turnout of ten people to take advantage of this session – David, Dotty, Fiona C, Fiona D, Lucy, Jan, Bob, Al and enthusiastic newbies Ellen and Stefan. All they need now is more snow to put their learned skills to practice!
Ray (no, not that Ray, the other Ray) had a fine scramble up Fiacaill Ridge and wandered down the far side of the plateau towards Loch Avon. He then traversed the tops of the cliffs, taking in the magnificent views of the Loch and hills beyond which are hidden from those on the very top of the plateau. Cairn Gorm’s summit was Ray’s final destination before descending to the bus.
Bob and Ella did the classic circuit of the Northern Corries, peering over the cliffs and checking out the gullies for some exciting ski descents if they ever receive enough snow (well, Bob was, Ella is much too sensible to contemplate such antics). They reported seeing a lot of people on their walk and they topped it off with an ascent of Cairn Gorm followed by a bowl of soup in the Ptarmigan Restaurant.
A fine day enjoyed by all, finished off with a sociable pub stop in Aviemore. The next weekend meet will be to Braemar, followed by the next bus meet to the Fannaichs. Weather as good as this bus meet can’t be guaranteed and there certainly won’t be a restaurant serving hot soup at over 3500 feet but both meets will definitely provide plenty of fresh air and good craic.