The high Cairngorm Plateau has more in common with the Arctic than the Alps. In the depths of winter, the vast landscape is a serious place. More than anywhere else in the UK, this is not a place to be caught out at night. However, due to the vast distances, challenging conditions and navigational difficulties, it is relatively common that Mountain Rescue have to venture up to aid stricken hikers gone awry. I can not imagine what it is like up there in the dead of night when the temperatures plummet and the wind howls over the tops.
Cairn Gorm mountain itself holds the record for the highest windspeed ever recorded in Britain. Winds of 173mph screamed across the summit and into the record books on 20th March 1986. When you combine this with the fact that the Cairngorms are generally the coldest place in the UK, then you have a recipe for some interesting winter conditions.
The Cairn Gorm Mountain ski development means that this high mountain area is very accessible. It is rare to step out of the car so high, so cold and into such driving winds. Within half an hour, I had left the human world behind and entered a savagely beautiful and wild windswept environment. The higher I got, the more vast and ethereal the surroundings became, until I finally topped out onto the plateau and the full scale of this winter wonderland became apparent.
This is a land where the ground shifts in the breeze as if you are walking on the clouds, where distances seem intangible and the land waxes into the sky. Do not let this beguiling beauty fool you. After just twenty seconds out of its glove, my hand starts to ache from the cold. I am well aware that the weather up here is fickle and we make our descent just as it begins to turn. Winds that can knock a grown man off his feet sweep in from the west as we descend the mountain. I am just glad the the Cairngorm Plateau welcomed us into its embrace for a few hours at least. They are hours to cherish and savour.