After our close encounters of the Ptarmigan kind, we rather elatedly picked out a granite slab on which to park up and have lunch in the sun-soaked, rarified atmosphere of the Cairn Gorm summit. Talk about feeling on top of the world! At that moment, there really was nowhere on this Earth that we would rather have been. Despite its popularity, the top of Cairn Gorm is a truly fascinating and spectacular place and we sat awe-struck by the majesty of the mountain scenery that was unfolding in front of our eyes.
To the immediate South, the dark shadows of the dramatic, ice-eroded cliffs of Stacan Dubha and Carn Etchachan stood prominent, with Loch Etchachan beyond. At 3,025 feet, this is the highest water body of any real size in the whole of Britain and remains frozen for nearly six months every year! This was a really wild, rugged and truly inspiring landscape which was calling out to us and, no doubt, the subject of a future adventure.
Over our shoulders and a little way to the North-East lay the tourist destination of Aviemore, beyond Loch Morlich and the wonderful, aromatic remnant Scots Pine woodlands of Rothiemurchus, with their understory of juniper and blaeberry. We had explored the native pine forests around Glen More and Loch an Eilean during a previous late Summer visit and have retained such fond memories that tell us that we will do it all again sometime...soon!
We could have chosen the easy option and a ride back down the mountain on the funicular railway, but our adrenalin was still pumping strongly after our chance meeting with the Ptarmigan, so we decided on the walk back to the car park. Cairn Gorm mountain is the most popular visitor attraction in the Cairngorms National Park and the volume of human traffic visiting the area outwith the skiing season, means that a Visitor Management System is in operation. This helps protect the summit area from erosion and its wildlife from unnecessary disturbance. Those who wish to ascend the mountain in Summer on the Cairn Gorm Railway are unable to access the wider summit area and have to return to the car park on the funicular. The 2 kilometre journey lasts only 8 minutes, but sounded like a whole lot of fun, so we decided that next time we would give it a go. Little did we realise that the next time would be the next day!!!
Back at the car park, after yet another day that words just couldn’t possibly describe, we found it difficult to take in that we had been watching Ptarmigan in t-shirt weather on top of the 6th highest mountain in Britain. Incredible when we recall that we were stood in the same car park less than four months previous watching a flock of Snow Buntings fly around the feet of skiers during the most severe Winter in living memory!