We met in the Coylumbridge Hilton on Friday evening, and in the warm and with a pint discussed our plans. It is always nice and far more comfortable to be able to do this beforehand if possible and you can issue/check kit, fit crampons etc without shivering and loosing gloves to the wind! We could see that the torrential rain was forecast to turn to snow at last, but that the gale force winds would continue, albeit with breaks in the cloud occasionally. We resolved to try a lower route, which would give us an element of protection from the wind, but which would hopefully be frozen enough to give us some usable conditions.
The Burma Road is a track rising from Lynwilg, just across the A9 from Aviemore. It is not totally clear why it has been named thus, and my take on it is that the labourers who built it may well have likened the arduous nature of the work to its infamous namesake, built by allied POWs in the Second World War. It is unlikely that any Axis POWs would have named it so I feel, had they built it, as it would not have been known at the time. Anyway, whatever the reason, it gives an easy ascent into the hills above the strath, with great views between the squalls.
The weather was a mix of violent squalls of driving snow, interspersed with beautiful sunny spells. We had to don goggles early on, as progress was impossible without them, and they helped to counter the stinging spindrift even when it wasn't snowing. Due to the warmth in the ground and the heavy recent rainfall, the burn was flowing hard, so I didn't fancy an early crossing, and we continued as far as the bridge over the Allt Dubh, the Black Burn. There we had a snack in a lull, and I showed the principles of a rudimentary emergency shelter. The snow didn't allow for it to be as well-engineered as I would have liked, but the relative comfort out of the wind was experienced by all as they took it in turns to have a wee sit down.
After covering some of the basics of bootwork on some rather too crusty snow, we succumbed to a particularly violent squall, and decided to capitalise on a break and make our way over the summit of Creag Gleannain and onto its Easterly slopes. The wind was gusting 55-60mph, and I held on to Katy as she was the slightest built to prevent her being blown over. As I guessed, there was nice slope of windslab which we were able to cover self-belay techniques and a little ice-axe arrest, albeit in rather soft snow. The guys were absolutely up for everything, and literally threw themselves into it with gusto.
Presently it was time to descend, and after an interesting little burn crossing (with only a couple of damp feet), we found some shelter for a drink, snack and some photos.
The weather had gotten more clear with fewer snow showers, and the walk down was pleasant, planning for the next day. This was forecast to be clearer, (not so in actuality), but still 55+ on the summits. The ski area was to open, which would have allowed us a chance at higher terrain, but we opted for a more sure option. It always pays to be pragmatic when choosing your day - You MAY be able to cope with the ultra-challenging conditions, and you MAY find that it is better than forecast....but equally, it may NOT, and then you have an issue. By choosing our more benign option, we knew we would be able to relax, knowing it was do-able.
We parked at Glenmore and walked to Ryvoan through the Narnia-like wood. The shelter afforded was lovely, and we had to be careful to not over-heat. At Ryvoan bothy we stopped for a snack and a cuppa, chatting to a folks about to start a 5 day RAF Winter Foundation course, before making our ascent of Meall a'Bhuachaille, 810m. It got progressively windier as we climbed, but never too much so as to unbalance us, and we coped in sunglasses rather than goggles. We played leap-frog with the RAF group, and the importance of pacing the ascent was discussed, the leader maybe going a little too quickly initially, (oops!).
At the summit the wind was biting, and the cloud level dropped to envelop us in one last squall of snow as we descended. It was easier to be off the path to avoid the icy trodden terrain, and with care we got down to the wood without mishaps. Crampons would have been both awkward and useful in equal measure, but we elected to just use our boots and balance.
We finished the long morning's walk with a welcome pint and a chat at the Pinemarten pub. Andy and the team, Katy, Phil, Richard and Ilawi (forgive the spelling, I couldn't find it even in Google's Top 20 Jordanian Boy's Names!) were great company, asking all the right questions and keen to absorb the skills. Their attitude to the conditions was commendable, and I feel we have inspired them to more mad Scottish adventures.