Yesterday afternoon we were standing at a height of 1,052 metres on the summit of Carn Ban Mor in the Cairngorms. Why? Well, yes, I asked myself this question many times on the way up! Colin has a commission to paint some dotterel, and these elusive little birds are migrants that are found only on the very highest peaks – and even then, they can be impossible to locate.
We’d been planning to climb Carn Ban Mor for some time, because birdwatching friends had told us it was a good place for dotterel, and the weather forecast yesterday seemed perfect.
We finally arrived at the car park near Glen Feshie around lunchtime, and set off on the track to the top. This leads up through some pine forest and emerges in full sight of distant snowfields and rounded peaks – I couldn’t really believe that we were going to make it up there!
The track was well-worn, stony and very dusty – the ground obviously hadn’t had rain for a long time. We found a number of frogs, which were, surprisingly, out in the sunshine on a dry day, and lots of uncommon plants which we stopped to photograph (a great excuse to catch our breath!)
Having seen the extent of the track we were following, and where it led – right up beyond the distant snow that you can see in my first photo of Colin – I must admit that I doubted our ability to reach the top, loaded down as we were with photographic equipment, binoculars, food, bottles of water etc. Colin was even carrying his 500 mm lens, a feat which most photographers in their right minds wouldn’t even consider!
Just to add to our sense of being embarrassingly unfit, two athletic-looking fell runners passed us on their way down, having appeared as tiny specks on the horizon only ten minutes earlier. This strengthened our resolve to prove to ourselves that we weren’t middle-aged wimps!
The wind was warm but the temperature dropped considerably as we reached the big expanses of lying snow… these were hollow underneath where the snow had melted, leaving a hard crust that seemed to be resistant to the hot sunshine. The views were simply astounding. And to be able to make a snowball at midsummer – I’ve never done that before!
The weather stayed clear, fine and sunny, with clouds way above the summits. Perfect. If only I’d remembered the sun cream…
Arriving triumphantly at the top, we were surprised firstly that we were still alive (!) and secondly, at the sight of two dotterel, admittedly quite far away. These appeared to vanish into the ground, because, try as we might, we couldn’t re-locate them. We wandered around for a while and went over to the cairn that marks the summit, just to prove our achievement. In every direction there seemed to be a track leading to another peak – but somehow we resisted the temptation!
We’d almost given up looking for more dotterel when we came across an adult bird with – to our utmost joy – three cheeping chicks in tow, SO cute and fluffy, all white with speckles of brown and black. These take the prize for the cutest chicks that I have ever seen, as well as by far the greatest effort involved in getting to see them! They were running around after their parent on very strong little legs.
Colin got some good reference shots for his painting, and we started to make our way back down the track, stumbling a bit because the stones just gave way in the dry soil. I thought going down would be easier!
We made it back to the car around 7 pm, and had fish and chips in Kingussie – we can totally recommend Happy Days Fish & Chip Shop! – before arriving home at about 10.30. We were exhausted, aching and sunburnt, but we still found some energy to look at the photos on the computer!
This morning I am still sunburnt, and I could do with a stairlift because one of my knees has forgotten how to work. But what an achievement – it’s at least 20 years since I climbed a mountain of that height, and in those days we were probably much fitter! I’m so glad we did it, although I know I complained rather a lot. I hope that the photos speak for themselves. The downside is that I’m stuck to the chair here in the office today, because moving out of it hurts too much!