There was just time to get one more hike out of 2017 and as luck would have it, one day of good weather forecast during Jen’s stay with me between Christmas and New Year. Now we just needed to decide where to go, a decision complicated by the recent snow and our lack of both crampons and ice axes and the know how for using them. Fortunately there’d been a bit of a thaw and as we stared at the mountains on the horizon from Kinpurney Hill on Wednesday afternoon it became clear that whilst the Cairngorms were still heavily blanketed in snow, Schiehallion was looking fairly dark in the distance and therefore hopefully more accessible. We decided to go for it, in the knowledge that in the worst case we would just have to turn back if it became impassible.
We’ve actually made a previous visit to Schiehallion back in September, in which we only made it about 2/3rds of the way up, having started mid afternoon on a very dreich day. I have to admit that my heart wasn’t in it that day and every step felt like a huge effort. I don’t think I’ve ever been so glad to turn around and head back downhill and if I hadn’t been with Jen I doubt I’d have managed to coax myself out of the car at all. I was therefore looking forward to having another shot at Schiehallion, but also feeling quite some trepidation as my previous memories of it were so dire.
With the days being so short and with the overwhelming desire to schedule in a visit to the Watermill Bookshop and Cafe in Aberfeldy on our way home we did some careful planning and hoped that our timing wouldn’t be too far off. We arrived at the car park just before 10am, a little later than planned, which is pretty much typical for most of our jaunts! According to the mountain forecast it would be -5C at the summit with a windchill of -15C. Even at the car park it was clear that we were going to need all our layers, not to mention our new winter gloves. Without any consultation we’d each gifted the other a pair for Christmas.
Heading on to the path we could see quite a few walkers ahead of us and Schiehallion’s bulk looming in the distance.
The sun was only just beginning to peek over the neighbouring hills as we set off and the light was fantastic. Already this was shaping up to be a far better day than our previous visit.
It didn’t take long before we were seeing the first signs of snow on the side of the path and once we started to climb we had to be very careful of icy patches along the way. There were a few Bambi like moments with legs skidding in all directions but no falls! This was where it began to feel like a real slog and I was having a hard time ignoring the little voice that was reminding me how miserable my previous visit was. Fortunately the bright skies and the views were sufficient distraction and even if I had to stop frequently to rest my legs I was beginning to remember how much I love being in the mountains.
About a third of the way up the snow was becoming more evident, although the path was nice and clear. Now that we were getting higher the views were really opening out and I had to make plenty of stops for photographs.
The wind was getting stronger and we were really beginning to feel the cold, so when we saw a big rock to huddle behind we decided it was the perfect moment to get the camping stove out and heat up the hot chocolate that we’d brought with us. I dug out the stove, the gas canister, dropped half the matches on the ground, found the cocoa and then stopped in bewilderment. I was missing something, what was it? Oh. The pan. Rats. Fingers getting numb we packed everything back up again and mourned not only the lack of hot cocoa but the fact that we wouldn’t be able to heat up the thai curry we’d brought either. Having forgotten the CF card for my camera, this wasn’t shaping up to be the most organised of hikes!
Finally we reached the end of the main path and the point at which we’d turned around on our previous visit. The rest of the route was across a boulder field, with the challenge of picking our way along increased by the snow. Although this part of the walk was technically more difficult, the gradient was slightly less and I found it more comfortable. By this point all memories of our previous visit were receding and I was just grateful that we hadn’t slogged on up to the top on that occasion as it was so much more beautiful in the snow.
As with any self-respecting mountain there were a few false summits to tackle but the top was nearly in sight. We were beginning to see people coming back down off the top, all looking rather frozen and windswept.
Finally we were on the last climb, battered by the wind, but the views were incredible. We were treated to some small cloud inversions and the most exciting of spectacles – a Brocken spectre!
A bit of scrambling and were we up on the summit. We didn’t manage to last there too long as it was just too cold.
We made pretty good time heading back down again, I don’t think we’ve ever done a walk where we’ve stopped so little.
The icy patches seemed to have doubled whilst we were on the summit and it was quite a relief to finally make it back on to the lower path where it was both warmer and less skiddy underfoot. We eventually arrived back at the car at 3 o’clock, right on our prediction, which has to be a first! We even had time to take a small detour along the road (with a bonus red squirrel sighting) before heading back towards Aberfeldy and enjoying a very well earned hot chocolate and a piece of cake.
Hills climbed: Schiehallion (Munro)