Saturday, 7 December 2013

Goatfell after the Storm: The Evidence of Things Unseen

Its been quite a week, between the weather, international and personal events it's all felt a bit monumental. I found myself in a pensive mood on Friday morning after a hectic couple of days on the mainland and as I arrived on Arran, decided I needed a some Lucy time to get my feet back on the ground. My favourite mountain fix is a round of Coire Lan, with the summit of Goatfell at its highest point. On this occasion I decided to walk up from Corrie, and return via the Brodick path, taking in the Stacach Ridge on the way. 

Setting out on the Corrie path- Goatfell just visible.

The sky was grey but the peaks were clear of cloud as I set off. The dusting of snow and the early winter colours gave the light a beautiful sepia glow. It wasn't long before I was crunching through snow and ice on the steep track in to Coire Lan.  I could feel the temperature rising as I climbed, and soon the ridges were disappearing in to a soft mist. 

Coire Lan with Goatfell on the skyline.
There was plenty of evidence of wildlife, with marks everywhere in the snow from the previous night's activity.  I found the prints of a mink running up the track for a 100m or so.  This is an invasive species that has had a devastating affect on Arran's ground nesting birds.  It used to be seen often all over the island, but is now a rare sight, pushed in to an ever tighter niche by the apparent increase in otters.  The fresh tracks proof however that this fierce member of the weasel family survives on Arran.

Mink tracks in the snow.

Tracks of a small bird, my instinct says wren, but the book says wren tracks are symmetrical (?)
Field vole tracks, complete with vole holes.

I dawdled for quite a while in Coire Lan, distracted from my walk with so much to look at.  Eventually I found myself on the long pull up on to the bealach between North Goatfell and Mullach Buidhe.  My intention had been to traverse the ridge with a direct route over the top of the tors, as from a distance the rock looked snow free.  However, on close inspection, and after a futile 20 minutes of tip toeing down the slabs off the back of North Goatfell, I decided to retreat and take the lower path.  The rocks were indeed mostly snow free, but a thin veneer of ice made the going very slow,  and really there was too much ice to proceed without crampons, but not enough for crampons to be fun. I stayed bare booted and took the traverse path below the buttresses.  Even here I cut steps in a couple of places, before rejoining the ridge beyond the difficulties.

View in to Glen Sannox from the bealach.
Mullach Buidhe living up to its name of "Yellow Hill" even in the mist and light snow.
Wobbly icicles blowing in an imaginary wind are signs of the storm of the previous day.

By the time I made it to the summit of Goatfell, it was snowing gently and there was absolutely no view whatsoever.  I'm lucky as I've been up there so often I can sense it even without seeing it- but there is a little plaque on the summit pointing out the bits you can't see if the mist is down when you arrive.

Goatfell Summit

Descending the main path back to Brodick, the snow got deeper, and was lying in little drifts on the path where it had blown in the previous day.  I cannot imagine the wind speeds up there yesterday- they measured gusts of over 100mph in Saltcoats just across the water.  The snow up here looked like little round balls of polystyrene called graupel- rimed up snowflakes that fall to earth from turbulent air masses. This stuff forms persistent weak layers of ball-bearing like material that if buried and can cause avalanches.  Thankfully a mega thaw set in today so I imagine it has all gone by now.

Graupel- rimed up snowflakes

WH Murray wrote of the "evidence of things not seen" in the mountains, this gave him faith in a world filled with pain.  For me, the stories that the rocks and the snow tell about the world give me similar comfort, if not evidence of a divine presence, at least a connection to something much bigger than the bewildering lives of human beings.


Ithankyou said...

A lovely post Lucy and I completely agree with the sentiment.

As David and I stood on little Standon Hill tonight watching a massive sunset over the gently rolling Hertfordshire hills we were thinking something similar... we're all part of the natural world and just being out there makes you positively humble.

Best wishes


seoherts said...

I feel the same way. You in your work help people to access this feeling and they take it away with them for the remainder of their days. It's very special what you do.