An August day on Bynack More

We’d arrived in Scotland on the back of disrupted preparations and less hill fit than for many a year. A sequence of illness and hospitalisations on both sides of the extended family had simply eaten up the weeks preceding the holiday – to the point where the whole trip had been in doubt right up to the final week. Among many others we have the NHS to thank for the fact that we managed to get away at all.

The break, when it did arrive, was welcome; notwithstanding that we had swapped rehearsal days in the Shropshire Hills for long afternoons and evenings in A&E and RESUS units and were as physically underprepared as we were mentally drained. Having got there, could we walk ourselves fit? Or at least fitter? By the midpoint of the holiday it was time to find out…

The bridge spanning the River Nethy

For anyone walking to Bynack More from the Glenmore Visitor Centre there must be a point somewhere along the route where the walk-in gives way to the climb; we could debate forever the precise location of that transition, but a reasonable suggestion would probably be the footbridge crossing the river Nethy. Routebuddy makes that about five and a half kilometres out from the start point; whether that qualifies as ‘a long walk in’ I have no idea, but in the context of Bynack More it’s just past half-way and once across the bridge there’s soon a sense that you’re now on the hill.

The hills above Strath Nethy, mostly in rolling cloud

The track is nicely engineered, not too wide (and thus not too obtrusive) and climbs steadily towards the shoulder. Blessed with a benign combination of pleasantly warm weather and a gentle breeze our progress was steady and relatively midge-free. The rim of Cairn Gorm’s eastern face – where it looms dark above Strath Nethy – was never free of rolling cloud, which from time to time spilled over the edge and cascaded down the shadowy, forbidding eastern wall of the mountain. The summit of Bynack More itself was intermittently in and out of wispy cloud – suggesting that the cloud base was somewhere below 4,000 feet, which corresponded with the MWIS prediction for the day. Looking back across the pass of Ryvoan, Meall a’ Bhuachaille was consistently free of cloud as we headed across the shoulder towards the short, steep climb towards the summit of Bynack More. We didn’t pass up this opportunity to take in – and photograph – the views to the south and east, which was fortunate – they were soon to become unavailable!

Bynack More and Bynack Beag flirting with the cloud

As the ground began to steepen, one final look back in the direction of Meall a’ Bhuachaille revealed the ‘consistently free’ assessment to be in need of an update, its summit and those of the adjacent hills having been enveloped by a bank of cloud approaching with some speed from the northwest. How quickly things can change…

Fresh cloud rolling in from the north-west

A few seconds after this shot was taken we were – quite literally – in the thick of it

We found a level vantage point a few feet below the exposed summit – a secure spot from where we could assess the nature of the incoming. There wasn’t long to wait: almost immediately we were blanketed in thick cloud – like a clammy duvet and accompanied by that uncanny silence which often seems to be a characteristic of hill fog. Visibility dropped to a few yards and the first spots of rain followed within seconds; in unison we dived into packs for waterproofs, which were barely zipped when the first strong gust of wind brought a volley of stinging hailstones. We laughed, albeit not for long, at this being just another day in mid August, then quickly reminded ourselves that – August or not – this is The Cairngorms and we’re up above three and a half thousand feet in poor visibility. Time to start down…

Low cloud rolling around the rock formations just below the summit

Dropping towards the more level ground, the path was at first defined by a sequence of pools which had quickly formed in the undulations and hollows. Having reacquired the red/brown shale of the main track we were now also below the heavier cloud and able to relax a little. Within half an hour we were walking in warm sunshine and shedding layers as clouds of water vapour and midges began to rise from the heather.