I went to Beinn a Ghlo armed for winter. Instead it felt like the first big day of summer. The sun was strong and unbroken, and there were lots of people. Down in the corries and glens newly hatched flies circled in the sunbeams above chattering burns. On the moors there were curlews fresh from the coast, the aural torrent of skylarks, and the peewits whooped and tumbled. On the tops the air was still sharp but the little remaining snow was in fast retreat. Only the highest Cairngorm plateaux looked like they still belonged to winter. I stashed axe and crampons at the foot of Carn Liath, to be picked up on my return.
A bit of a nostalgia trip, this one. Last time I did the Beinn a'Ghlo round was in November 1988 with my dad. The footfall was noticeaby less back then, the informal paths sketchier, less established. There was no infrastructure for walkers. Nowadays formal paths have been built into the south-facing corries, to the toes of the main ridges. The return walk from the foot of Airgiod Bheinn to the road-end at Loch Moraig is much quicker now.
My memory of that November long ago is of a slithery descent over snow-covered scree towards a darkening moor, escaping a brewing blizzard above, bog-hopping in the dark, meeting no-one all day even though it was a Saturday; corduroy breeches, knee-length socks and an itchy woollen balaclava. It was strenuous, tough even. Follow-the-path wasn't such an option: bearings had to be taken. There was friction in the journey, risk and learning. Today felt like a stroll in comparison - pleasant and easy but lacking the gristle and spice of that early encounter.
Still, it was hard to entertain mixed feelings for long on such a glorious day. Beinn a'Ghlo remains a mountain of beauty, smoothed and rounded to perfection like the frozen folds of a cloak, perfectly poised, its steep slopes rarely breaking stride into crags and outcrops. And in the end I was thankful for the company - leaving the car park, the front wheels of the motor sank deep in the mud. Without help from others just off the hill I'd have been in a proper fix.
Here's the story of the day in pictures (click to make bigger):