A warm front from the West overnight means a big thaw, we aim for Loch Einich from Coylumbridge though a forest, dripping in slow motion.
Its heavy winter bags on a big bike track all the way through, and on the way we spy a good few camp spots for if (and when) Ross' path looks too dangerous. As we emerge from the forest the landscape changes, the old wood trees giving way to strangely uniform miniature hills either side of the Am Beanaidh.
The Sgorans are ever grander, and the plateau looms on our left, both snow scoured and wind blasted. The loch is very low and almost dry. Ross's path looks more than a little risky - with knowledge we have now, the wind direction, quick thaw, big cornices and our heavier loads mean its not for us, this time. In summer first, to get the lie of the land, wethinks.
Back to the edge of the forest, to set up camp in the gloaming, eat in the dark and hit the hay for twelve whole hours of sleep! Awe, lovely. There's a fresh load of snow overnight, a blanket of peace on our sheltered campsite. Moist n' warm inside the tent, much colder outside. Chip the ice off the fly sheet, down to the water to wash off the cooking kit, then porridge and coffee. No hurry today, we don't get gone till past 10am, it's a great spot.
Back up the path to the right fork. Fresh tyre tracks and 2 reservoir staff in the distance are the only people we see for 2 days. Off road to the Cadha Mor, shell off, down to base layer and fleece, that's better, I can breathe. Snow is deeper here, some scoured and some soft. Crampons on and first lunch under the bulk of Creag Dhubh. The sun breaks through, its a polar wilderness, the Lairig Ghru on our left, Chalamain Creag spotlighted at its foot, the plateau under smeared, swirling cloud, and the Sgorans ahead.
It was a heavy imprint day
We move up slowly through knee deep drifts to the top of the mound and cast our eyes towards the Monadhliath, where turbines for the rich are planned. Can you put a price on serenity? Now onwards, towards the Argyll stone, met at 1.45pm, after mistaking our landmarks and then realising we needed to get back on the ridge.
Now the down. Meeting the nose of Creag Follais and coming off the hill between two streams. Its a long shlep and sometimes we're up to our thighs, wading and kicking, then other times floating high and crunching through gracefully sculpted wind blown ice formations. Hard going physically, but the novelty of winter walking and this incredible weather mean we're still loving every second of it, like giddy teenagers. Meet the treeline and follow the river down to the junction, crampons balling up for the first time. Stop for a choccy bar and to kick off the gloop, then wade through the snow covered heather. Then into the enchanted forest and off with the shoe spikes, the start of a rough path, lost and found a few times over, and so more tough going into the last of the sunset and down onto the valley floor near Loch Gamhna.
A long walk through the loch paths and then onto road under bright moonlight, back to Aviemore, to eat our own weight in pizza, and catch the sleeper home.