Chris Townsend describes one of his favourite routes during winter in the Cairngorms
The highest Cairngorms are challenging mountains in winter. However to their north, rising above Loch Morlich and Glenmore Forest, is a lower, more easily accessible hill, 810-metre Meall a’Bhuachaille. In stormy winter conditions it still shouldn’t be taken lightly and full winter gear is still needed, but distances are shorter and navigation and terrain much less difficult than on the bigger hills. As a winter walk it is still superb, however, as Meall a’Bhuachaille is a magnificent viewpoint for the Northern Cairngorms and the great dark sweep of Glenmore and Rothiemurchus Forests split by the shining jewel of big Loch Morlich.
A good footpath runs over the hill, though this may be buried under snow, and a couple of circular routes can be followed, both beginning in Glenmore. I think anti-clockwise gives the best views, starting with the walk through the forest past lovely An Lochan Uaine to the Pass of Ryvoan and its eponymous bothy. Here the climbing starts as the path zigzags up the eastern slopes of Meall a’Bhuachaille with the views opening out as height is gained. As the angle eases and the ground becomes more stony the big summit cairn appears. There’s a crude stone shelter here, in which I’ve sheltered from winter winds many times. There are grand views all around, with the Highlands stretching out on one side and the vast Abernethy Forest covering the lower ground on the other.
From the summit the path continues north to a col with the next hill, Creagan Gorm. Here it splits with one branch heading down towards the forest and Loch Morlich and the other continuing along the broad ridge to Creagan Gorm. If time is short or conditions foul then the descent back into Glenmore reduces the time spent up high to a minimum – the whole walk can be done in three hours, making it a good one for a short winter excursion when it’s dark by midafternoon and you didn’t manage an early start. However, when there’s time and the weather permits, continuing over Creagan Gorm to the final summit of this line of hills, Craiggowrie, is a fine walk with excellent views throughout. A final descent into the forest and a walk back to the start via Badaguish ends the day.