It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

by Matt McDonald

 

‘How can it be’, I hear you yelling angrily.  The air is getting colder, the days shorter and the feeling of rain turning to sleet throughout our cities is not welcome. It’s tempting to hide indoors and pack away the walking boots, vowing to bring them back out at the first hint of spring sunshine. But wintery weather does not mean the end of the great outdoors. Quite the opposite, Scotland still has a lot to offer in winter. Sleet down low, means snow up high, and that to me is worth the wet feet on the walk home from work.

To me, snow means skiing, which is my favourite way to keep active through the winter months.  For 4 years I have been a ski instructor, firstly throughout my time at university and then last year in Hokkaido, northern Japan.

In the search for new things to try in winter, about 18 months ago I decided to start ski touring. For those of you who’ve never heard of ski touring before, it’s when you walk up the hill on your skis (with sticky things on the bottom) and then ski back down. Whilst I’ve had some awesome touring experiences since, my first time sticks out for a number of reasons and it’s the one I’m going to talk about.   

   

Braeriach over the Larig Ghru

 

The Cairngorm mountain range is home to some of the most stunning scenery in Scotland and on a good day (I promise they exist), looks exactly like the picture above.  My brother Ali and I began our day’s touring trying to convince a man to let us on the funicular railway to near the top of Cairngorm Mountain. We failed. Instead, we trudged 1km upwards and then used a tow, finally and angrily getting to a similar height as the railway. We set off on the short tour to the top of Cairngorm mountain. The Scottish mountains are many things, including difficult to navigate and when you add snow, the challenge gets even trickier. It helps to have a brother who likes to look at maps, even when it might seem obvious where you’re going…  

The beauty of touring is that you get to explore mountains with fresh, untouched snow, which is exactly what we found when we set off down the steep pitch into Corrie Raibert.  Following this was one of the most stunning hikes (pictured below) I had ever been on, up towards the top of Scotland’s second highest Mountain, Ben Macdui.

Ali on the hike up to Ben MacDui.

 

Atop Ben Macdui we were treated with the stunning views over the Lairig Ghru and met 4 guys who had snowshoed up to the top.  Their morale seemed to drop when we told them we would be back down in half an hour, when their walk would take about 4 hours! The ski off the top began gradual and wide open allowing for a fun ride down before a short climb back up found us our way home.  As we took the turn down into the famous Lurchers gully the snow was starting to look thin. I knew there was a river hiding somewhere underneath this thin snow, so as the older and supposedly wisest brother, Ali went first to find out just how thin the snow was.  When he survived, I agreed that it was safe, and set off after him down the gully, back to where we started.

Hiking along the plateau to Ben MacDui.

 

The winter wonderland of Scotland has so much to offer and this is my new favourite way of exploring it.  Respecting and understanding the area you explore, means taking seriously the navigation and weather, but it doesn’t mean the exploring has to stop. The activities on offer in Scotland over the winter range from running in the city to winter walking in the Highlands. So basically, be safe, but get out and try something new. You never know, you might love it!