Place diary: pursuing in the footsteps of Nan Shepherd | Mountains

Creag Dubh is the to start with hill that the Scottish character author Nan Shepherd climbed on her journey into the Cairngorms, explained in her 1977 book The Residing Mountain. It implies “black crag” but, on the day we wander, its slopes are lost in white cloud. Captivated by these mountains from childhood, Shepherd manufactured this method as a younger woman in the 1940s, on your own and excited by her very own daring. It was “blue chilly and outstanding right after weighty snow”. For us, there is also cold and snow, but the earth is sodden and the skies are significant.

Even so, it is enjoyable. I have been up the Cairngorms often, but this is my to start with time following Shepherd on this route by using Creag Fhiaclach, one particular of the past remaining stands of montane scrub in this fragment of historical Caledonian forest. We consider what she calls the “unpath”, throughout humpy, heathery floor. In this article are spiky, fragrant junipers, Scots pines with red bark and needles of unfailing green, and birch, their lichened trunks increasing as a result of a haze of purple branches, beaded with drinking water droplets.

Like Shepherd, we toil up the slope, slower with each and every snow-sinking action. But we do not achieve the breath-catching watch of Glen Einich down the other aspect. As an alternative, we walk deeper and further into mist. By the time we get to the scrub, the dwarf trees are like the ghosts of departed bonsai. We listen to pink grouse gurgling but see only their prints and two drifting feathers. Examining map, compass and aspect of slope, we climb bigger, till even the rocks vanish and there is almost nothing but white.

No seam now between sky and snow, up or down, below or there. Tiny brown tendrils flicker across my eyesight and vanish like smoke. I am dizzy. For a moment we think that the cloud may well dissolve to a singing blue sky, but a hard stare renders only blankness. When Shepherd attained the prime, she “jumped up and down … laughed and shouted”. We help you save that for a different working day. It has taken far too lengthy to get this significantly previously and we have to switch household ahead of the short day turns darkish. As we plough little by little back, knee deep and led by the voice of a buried stream, the lightest motes of snow start off to drop.

Creag Dhubh in mist.
Creag Dhubh, which indicates ‘black crag’. Photograph: Merryn Glover