Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Scotland: Cairn Gorm Mountain

On Monday of our Scotland trip we drove into Cairngorms National Park so we could take the funicular railway partway up Cairn Gorm Mountain and then take a guided hike the rest of the way to the top. That's us on the summit! (Click for short videos set to inspirational music; the funicular one is pretty cool for any transportation buffs.) In the winter and spring there's skiing, and during the rest of the year hiking. They try to keep the foot traffic low by requiring hikers either to walk the entire distance from the parking lot or else pay for the funicular and guide. For our first time we chose the tour.

Cairn Gorm comes from the Gaelic An Càrn Gorm, for Blue or Green Hill. It is the sixth highest mountain in the United Kingdom. It has given its name to a mountain range that used to be called Am Monadh Ruadh (the Red Hills), for the red feldspar and/or glow of the setting sun.

Here we go, heading for the clouds. I don't think you can see the clear mountain stream in this shot, but water bubbles up from the rock and runs down, where it is caught, purified, and used in the visitor centers.

The Cairngorm Mountain Railway replaced the older chair lifts in 2001. It's easily accessible from the parking lot and takes you 5 minutes up the slope from the lower visitor center to the higher one, with an exhibit, gift shop, restaurant, and the UK's highest post box. The exhibit covers geology, biology, history, and mountain-climbing technology. You can just see the higher visitor center, above the clouds, with some chair lifts visible. During the ski season, the mountain is often covered by several feet of snow.

Before we started the hike, Dear Husband and I felt inadequate in our preparations. Everyone else was wearing hiking boots and waterproof pants, with backpacks, and hiking poles. I just had my little day bag. DH did run back to the car to grab his extra jacket before we started up the mountain, but it proved to be unnecessary. The sun shone so much, in fact, that I got sunburned and wished we had a backpack to hold all the extra layers of clothes that we weren't wearing!

Our guide told us about snow rescues, the rocks, and the flora and fauna. There are apparently more species of lichen on the mountain than all the other kinds of plants put together!

Here is the origin of one of the streams. Our guide drank from it, but all I could think of was my medical school microbiology professor telling us about the parasite Giardia lamblia that lives in "clear mountain streams." I abstained.

Shortly thereafter we had the neat experience of seeing a small family of dotterels, a bird on the endangered species list. With my camera zoom I was able to capture a few photographs. After that little break, we continued up the path. Unfortunately, the reportedly gorgeous vista into the valley on other side of the mountain was shrouded in mist, which proceeded to crest the summit, which is why the photo above looks so cloudy. We then joined our little group in descending the stone path back to the visitor center. It was quite the experience. I'll leave you with a poem by Rafael Campo and a view toward a lake as we came back down below the cloud cover. This might have been my favorite experience of the trip.

Dotterel on land.
Dotterel on water.
"The View from Here," by Rafael Campo

The view from here is breathtaking; the air
Is stratospheric, absolutely clear.
It's nearly operatic, what I hear
When sunlight strikes the headlands, hillsides bared
By drought across the bay. I wonder what
It's like, to be so timelessly extant,
To have been formed by processes one can't
Imagine--shakings of the earth, the weight
Of polar icecaps, lava boiling in the sea--
The faintest outlines of creation, here.
The wind begins to rearrange my hair,
Reminds me of my presence. Willfully,
I write this down, trying to record
The truth. "The view from here is breathtaking."
I pause, and hold my breath until I sing
This opus, made entirely of words.

1 comment:

Your comments let me know that I am not just releasing these thoughts into the Ether...