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The Cairngorm Plateau lies between the summits of Cairn Gorm (blue hill) and Ben Macdui (Macduff's hill), the second highest mountain in Britain, in the northeast Scottish Highlands. The plateau covers over eight square miles, the largest area over 3,000 feet elevation in Britain. The Plateau consists of bare, stony undulating terrain and can seem benign in clear, summer weather. However it's edged with cliffs and steep slopes, and poor visibility is common as clouds sweep across the slopes. Good navigation skills are essential to find a safe descent route in such conditions. The Plateau is also subject to extreme weather. Heavy snow is common in the winter, often brought on strong winds. From October to May, winds over 100 mph occur every month and 173 mph, the highest wind speed ever recorded in Britain, was registered by the weather station on the summit of Cairn Gorm in March, 1986.

This means that hiking on the Plateau in winter is always a challenging adventure, especially as there are only seven or eight hours of daylight. On this occasion, late in 2008, I set out on a freezing but sunny day intent on crossing the Plateau to Ben Macdui.


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