The ski touring season started every bit as well as the on-piste season (check out the news reports for the Ski Centres over the w/e of the 12/13 January and the 19/20th January). On Radio Scotland's Out of Doors, Mark Stephen announced the shortest ski report ever, period. "All centres open, all runs complete". Can't be bad. But I'd wager the queues were pretty horrific. So, instead, I headed for Glen Esk and the classic route up Mount Keen taking Braid Cairn (its easterly neighbour) en route. What a day. It took about half an hour's walking to get to the snow. Then it was skins onto skis. Skiing alone, I had forgotten that it can be difficult to separate the skins from the sticky undersides - a bit of a tussle. A continous drift accumulating in the access track up the Burn of Glasscorrie heading up the Round Hill (spot height 664m) from where the photo above was taken. Due north from there was exquisite skinning-up, plenty of glide on perfect snow heading for Braid Cairn, 887m. This was about 7km down by now and having only set off at 11.30 time was advancing. A steep zig-zag up the last steepness of Braid Cairn before the wonderful vistas of Aberdeenshire opened up - looking across Loch Kinord to Morven and Pressendye (now threatened by a proposal for 7 wind turbines).
I sloped off down into the bealach between Braid Cairn and Mount Keen and tackled the latter's steep East Face direct. I abandoned my skis for the last 100 mtrs - marking my trail with my ski poles to retrace in teh gathering mist gloom. By now it was 15.45pm and quite dark. The Ski run out to the Ladder Burn was fantastic - including some hair raising hairpins on the access track. I was down at Glenmark Cottage by 16.30pm thankful for a seat for sandwiches and coffee, before the hour's plod back tothe car park. This is a much better route, being a circuit, than the one written up in the SMC Ski Mountaineering guide.
A week later (19th) still an expectation of snow, I headed for Mar Lodge hoping to ski up Beinn a' Chaorainn but the conditions were not quite so favourable. I'd borrowed Ewan's patent cycle pannier rack for skis (see separate blog). Cycling was however impossible. All the Mar Lodge Tracks were several centimetres deep in sheet ice. It was impossible to even make progress walking without crampons. Any gust of wind would tip you over. Slowly I headed up to the beautiful Glas Fhearnaig, before picking up an interrupted, but followable ribbon of snow northwards. I followed this with increasing difficulty, in windier and windier conditions as far as the summit of Meall an Lundain before (character having long ago been established) heading back down. The skiing down was strainght-forward, almost catching up with several hinds at one point leaping like springbok over the heather and snow patches. Still, an ennervating 5 hours was had by all.