Monday, November 15, 2010

In which we are defeated by wind and rain on Cairn Gorm and Ben Macdui

Here is a little background on the previous post and the quote from Tolkien's Return of the King, in which Frodo sees the Grey Havens for the first time.
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Our plan was to hike out to Ben Macdui, Britain's second highest peak, from Cairn Gorm.  They are among the cloud capped mountains above.
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But that plan bit the dust once we entered the clouds and were subjected to fierce winds and rain.  I have never been as cold as I was on the side of Cairn Gorm.  We were prepared for wet conditions, but not for wet conditions, 30 mph winds with occasional wicked gusts greater than that, and a windchill of 26 degrees that came out of nowhere.  One minute, we were hiking along, damp but comfortable; the next minute, the temperature plummeted and the wind came.

We were so cold, we lost all sensation in our hands.  It took me several agonizingly slow minutes to put my gloves on.  I had to consciously tell my fingers when to open and when to close.  It was strange to have no sensation in my hands and stranger still to have to work at communicating with this part of my body.
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Also unnerving were the clouds.  They moved to and fro according to the wind's fancy.  One moment our view was obscured,
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and the next moment, the cloud blew away and we could see how close we were to edge without realizing it.
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The cold befuddled us. This was the most disturbing thing of all.  It's hard to describe.  I only have a vague memory of how heavy my body seemed (I was no longer feeling the cold) and how tiring it was to form a coherent thought.  It seems obvious to us now, warm and cozy inside the house, that we should have turned around and gone back once we realized that our gear was not adequate for the weather conditions, but it took our cold-addled minds a while to come to this conclusion.

When we turned to go back, the clouds lifted, oh so briefly, and revealed the far green country and lochs we would not be able to explore.  Then, as quickly as they dissipated, the wind drew them back, walling off the view behind a dank grey veil. 

The cold and the befuddlement have heightened my memory of that brief moment to the point of a dream.  For the first time, I keenly understood how Frodo felt when he saw the Grey Havens for the first time. 

But at least he got to go on. 

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Rain in the Cairngorms

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"The grey rain-curtain
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turned all to silver glass
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and was rolled back
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and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country
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under a swift sunrise."
(J.R.R. Tolkien, Return of the King)

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Encountering the ptarmigan in the Cairngorms

Spot the ptarmigan
We startled this ptarmigan and her chicks while out hiking. There was an explosion of feathers and frantic clucking as the chicks scurried to their hidey-holes and mama ptarmigan boldly remained in full view.

She then proceeded to lure us away from her chicks (we humored her, as we were going in the right direction anyways) by dancing in and out of the nooks and crannies of the boulder field, always just ahead of us.

Spot the ptarmigan
When J. made the mistake of detouring around a boulder and thus towards her chicks, she came right up to his feet, flapping her wings and squawking a racket.

Several times, we thought she had left, now that we were clearly moving away from her chicks, but, nope, she would pop up from behind a random boulder, like a mole in the whack-a-mole games at Chuck E. Cheese.  It was quite amusing to be treated as bothersome predators.

Later on, a gentleman gave us a ride into Aviemore. He was an avid birdwatcher, out on a bird-watching expedition around Europe. We told him about the ptarmigan and learned that it is actually quite rare to spot one. Not only are they reclusive, but they blend in so well with their environment--as you can see from the picture above.