It's traditional for some to arrive a day early and go for a walk - it is a walking club after all.
So after yesterday's driving - those arriving from Aberdeen encountered snow - nearly thirty of us enjoyed an evening in front of the Fife's roaring fire. Until we were elbowed out by the Golf Club.
I also enjoyed a pleasant hour or two chewing over backpacking routes old and new with TGO Challengers Doug and Richard, who braved a snowstorm to reach the Fife from their respective homes.
We woke to more snow this morning. Apparently all roads to Braemar were closed. So why did a couple of buses arrive from Aberdeen whilst we were breakfasting?
Various walks were planned. Nine of us elected for the longest of them, Creag nan Gabhar, a Corbett to the south. Others would tackle closer objectives.
Laurence, sadly, faltered on the starting blocks and was disqualified by virtue of his non-appearance. That left me, Mark, Ian, Gus, Margriet, Paul, Jerry and Dave strolling up the road past the golf course shortly after 10am. The fresh snow glinted under the low sun on the branches of the trees on the walk to Auchallater (top picture).
The going got harder as we ploughed through deep snow to reach the track that leads to Lochcallater Lodge, a haven for TGOers in May (but deserted today). Why did I leave my snow shoes in the spare bedroom at home? They would have been ideal for today's knee to thigh deep snow.
A dark black cloud developed over Braemar, but the sun illuminated our pause for elevenses (bottom picture).
As we left the snowy track to ascend the rough hillside towards Sròn Dubh, Paul peeled off as planned, in favour of an easier outing.
A little further on, as the first flakes of a snow shower dampened his trendy sunglasses, Gus declined to continue, perhaps distracted by the stress of having to guide a timid driver (his bus shy wife) from Aberdeen to Braemar.
That left six of us on the long plod up the ridge in deep snow to the 834 metre cairn that tops Creag nan Gabhar. Mark and Margriet surveyed the surroundings. The rest of us had been there before (four times in Dave's case). It looked to me much as it had done on my previous visit (5 January 2005) - snowy, cold (minus 7C), and with a limited view due to its incumbent snow shower.
It had taken four hours. Time for lunch - in the coldest, highest, most exposed point of the entire walk. My phone rang; too deeply buried to be answered, but I guessed correctly that the next part of this trip had been abandoned.
We debated whether to descend to the road, but by consensus decided to retrace our steps, literally, to Auchallater, from where we would stroll down the road, across the golf course, and back to the Fife for 4.30, just as darkness was falling.
On the way we encountered grouse, deer, and a couple of cross-country skiers (I wish...!).
It was a nice walk despite the absence of much needed snowshoes, a satisfying 20 km with 700 metres ascent in 6.5 hours, featuring Deep Snow.
Now for the annual bash - it's time for cocktails.
Oh, and my trip to Poolewe tomorrow has been abandoned due to snow on the west of Scotland that has foiled a brother and his wife in their bid to reach Poolewe today (that was the lunchtime phone call). A shame, but Sue is pining for her catering staff to return, so it seems I will be welcome at home.
May try to pop up something on the way home tomorrow...
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