Friday 19th June: day 6.
The astute amongst you will notice that there is no report for day 5, the Thursday. We had three days in the Cairngorm National Park with our main aim one of the big summits, in particular Ben Macdui (GM/ES-001), but this would mean walking on the main massif. This featureless arctic plateau above 1000 metres is not the place to be in bad weather and it was obvious on the Thursday that the rain and strong winds were not going to go away. The weather reports suggested that it was going to get better over the weekend but we hoped our last day, on the Friday, would be just good enough.
So the morning of day 5 was spent going on the funicular railway in the ski area up the northern side of Cairngorm mountain (this is not a SOTA as it is a sub-Marilyn to Ben Macdui by about 5 metres). The top station, Ptarmigan, is about 150 metres below the summit and has a viewing platform and restaurant. One of the conditions for the construction was that people that go up on the railway cannot leave the station but to be honest we would not have wanted too! When we out on the viewing platform there was no view due to the low cloud and we were nearly blown off our feet. The hot chocolate and cake was good value and a welcome treat before we headed back down.
I was dropped off in the evening for some caching on a long walk through the Rothiemurchus Estate back to the campsite because I had too much energy to sleep. It was a great area to explore and I spotted lots of wildlife including a red squirrel and a deer. The weather at the end of the day was good again and the mountain tops were visible, but that was no guarantee that it would be that way the following morning.
Our last day arrived and the weather had held. We went off to the funicular base station to check the weather forecast and chat with the rangers. We checked our proposed route to Ben Macdui (GM/ES-001) and they said that it should be ok on the plateau if we had the right kit but to decide when we got there. At this point it was actually quite warm and calm even though we were already at 600 metres and the main ridge that runs from Cairngorm mountain round to the hidden summit of Ben Macdui was visible.
So we kitted up and made sure we had all our wet weather gear including the new dry packs containing the radio equipment. Although the gain in altitude is only about 700 metres, the route we took up the corrie is a long walk (about 5 miles) and most of the climb up to the main plateau is in the first 2 miles. The weather was warm and we could see some groups of people on the first peak of the plateau ahead of us. As we ascended some of these were returning, one saying that once they got to the first cairn they decided the weather was too bad and another couple that realised they did not have the right gear to complete the walk. We continued wondering what awaited us but when we arrived on the plateau the weather was no colder than you might expect at 1100 metres and the wind was still weak. It was obviously cold because of the snow wedged in the large crevices.
Another mile and we had gone up and down over a small ridge onto the rocky bare landscape that is the arctic plateau. The track became less obvious on the ground but there were substantial cairns every 20 metres that trailed off to the final climb to the summit. At this last scramble the weather closed in and the view we had been told was spectacular was hidden in the mist; this seems to be just my luck lately :o(
We started to set up the dipole antenna just after 13:00 and, although it was not too cold or windy when we first arrived, by the time we had finished the wind was very strong and had blown in heavy rain clouds leading to a large downpour. Carolyn started on 80 metres, initially to silence, as we tried to shield the kit from the big raindrops. I started to add a spot when MM0USU popped up at 13:45z. Three confirmed contacts followed with GM7UAU, G3OHC and GW0DSP; G0NES and G3RMD were both heard and contacted but QSB prevented an exchange of reports. There was silence apart from the hiss on the radio and the rain dripping into the bags.
To ensure we both activated the summit I took the mike as GW4BVE called. A series of quick, strong contacts with GM7UAU, G3OHC and MM0USU followed ensuring that I had bagged it too. G0NES and G3RMD then came up stronger and could hear me so we got them into the logbook too.
The band had gone quiet and the rain had now turned to hail. A quick look at each other confirmed that neither of us wanted to spend any longer than we needed to sat in the cold and damp. Sorry to those who could not hear us on 80 metres (we only had 5 different callsigns in the logbook) but conditions were really not conducive to a long activation.
The walk back started in the cold and hail and with the mist it became apparent why the cairns were so close together, as we could not see more than 10 metres! We had intended to walk back along to ridge to Cairngorm mountain and descend there but decided that it would be better to go back the way we came. The hail turned to rain and as we descended into corrie the weather improved until we were in the sun again. Aviemore and Loch Morlich, near where we were camping, came into view and the rest of the walk was pleasant.
With hindsight perhaps we had made a mistake using only 80 metres, but it was probably for the best; when hail is cutting into your face it is a good time to leave! Not our best activation on this trip but the area is stunning in a desolate sort of way and a place we will have to come back to explore again (in better weather).
After 4 seasons in one activation, what weather would we get as we went further north island hopping…?