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Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Winter Munros wonderland

I'm not at all great in the cold. My hands and feet freeze up even when I'm sitting indoors so I had never imagined that I'd a) be able to cope b) enjoy myself in winter in Scotland's great outdoors. But all this was proven wrong a couple of days ago when I headed off to climb a couple of very snowy Munros, Carn na Caim and A'Bhuidheanach Bheag at Dalwhinnie in the NW Highlands.

On the day the weather was about as splendid as is possible in wintry Scotland. A bright sun sat in a clear sky above a landscape of stunning, dazzling white snow – and there was almost no wind and only occasional flurries of snow.

Temperatures were low and as the day wore on and the sun began to wane it did start to feel a lot cooler but I hardly felt cold at all. There were a number of reasons for this. Firstly, I was wearing a decent amount of winter kit, including numerous base layers and fleeces, trousers and waterproof outers, two pairs of gloves, two pairs of socks and sturdy, heavy-duty winter walking books.

Secondly, I had to carry a much heavier rucksack than normal because of the extra gear required for safe winter walking. So I had on board several extra layers, crampons, an ice axe, heated gloves, a flask of hot tea and plenty of food. The effort required to carry this heavier load helped to maintain my body temperature.

Thirdly, the knee-deep snow required so much effort to tramp through that I mostly felt warm and sweaty rather than cold and shivery. Because of fresh snow I was required to make new steps on virgin snow or walk, where possible, in other people's footsteps. Until you've tried you can never imagine how much energy is required to repeatedly lift your feet clear of the snow and then back down again into the deep, slippery powder. To put it in context, the Munros book reckoned that in good conditions it would take between 3 to 5 hours to summit both mountains (I'd normally be looking at being closer to the 3hrs mark) but thanks to the deep snow the whole outing ran to about 6.5 hours.

But the effort was so rewarding. The views at every turn were more amazing than I've ever witnessed in Scotland. And the feeling that I had really worked to reach these Munro tops left me feeling fantastically exhausted by the end.

Some people have described the walk to both these Munros as a little dull when compared to other more challenging trips but in snowy conditions they rank in my top 10 fave walks so far.

A couple of days later I can still feel an aching in muscles I rarely use, especially my hip flexors and core muscles. I know that the conditions on the mountains could have been so much less favourable – and if there had been any wind I would not have enjoyed the trip any where near as much – but the winter walking expedition has left me with a taste for some more. In fact, that's Hogmanay's plan and perhaps New Year's Day too!

I really should check to see how many Munros I have now completed.

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