Monday, 18 November 2013
Winter Backpacking on the White Mounth
Dave and I continued to climb steadily until we reached the cloudbase at about 800 metres. Visibility in the clouds was about 200 metres with a chilling NW'ly wind at about 30mph - in other words perfectly acceptable and normal Scottish winter conditions!
Our route took us uphill on a line of old iron fence posts marking an estate boundary. Placed on one strainer post was a piece of aircraft engine. It is very likely that this is part of the wreckage of an RAF Canberra WJ615, a bomber/reconnaisance aircraft which crashed into the mountain in level flight on the evening of 22 November 1956, killing its crew of two, Flying Officer Redman (pilot) and Flying Officer Mansell (navigator). The subsequent enquiry was unable to determine the cause of the crash. The wreckage is scattered across a wide area of the mountain; I've seen odd pieces including a wing section around this location.
Our climb soon levelled out and we navigated across to the summit cairn; or one of them, there are two which seem to be of equal height and about 200 metres apart. Carn an t-Sagairt Mor (rocky hill of the big priest) is 1047m/3435ft, and up here the scene is Arctic even this early in the season. We'd seen Hares and Ptarmigan on our ascent, both in full winter garb of white streaked with grey and perfectly camouflaged and adapted for life here. Unlike us. Although our Buffalo Mountain Shirts are great for these conditions, the exertion of carrying fairly heavy rucsacs meant that we'd begin to chill down if we lingered. A brief five minute stop for a snack and a drink, then we took a compass bearing for our next destination and set out across the broad summit area of the hill.
We visited the second cairn on our way across the broad dome of Carn an t-Sagairt Mor, where the rime icing was quite impressive for November. The "feathers" of ice are depoisted on the upwind side of rocks (and in this case old fenceposts) in a cold, moist airstream and can grow out to a foot or more. They are one of the real features of Scottish hills in winter and I've always thought them beautiful, even if it takes hostile weather to form them.
As we descended below the cloudbase, our next destination showed itself in a window through the clouds - we were right on track.