Published 8th April 2019, 10:17

    SPRING has arrived, the vernal equinox tilting the balance in favour of longer days and shorter nights, closely followed by the third full moon of the year.

    This is the Worm Moon, when the earthworms appear and the birds begin finding food. It is also the third – and final – supermoon of 2019, the name given to a full moon which reaches the closest point to Earth in its monthly elliptical orbit.

    Winter may officially be over, but there's no guarantee it doesn't have a few surprises left in store, especially on the high tops. One year ago, I was in Skye struggling to reach the summit of Bla Bheinn on a full moon night on fields of iron-hard snow and in zero visibility. That was spring, but it was hard to believe I wasn't still trapped in winter's embrace.

    There was a definite feel the seasons were shifting fast last weekend. Saturday's winter temper tantrum meant a day better spent indoors, but it left behind a land blanketed in white and the prospect of getting out to play again in the snow the following day in what could be winter's last hurrah was exciting.

    We were like a coachload of excited schoolchildren as we drove into the white confines of the Sma' Glen under pewter skies. Next stop was Invergeldie, along a narrow winding road sheathed in a thin covering of ice and slush, a red kite gliding over the tree tops.

    There were some enticing hill options, but with this month being the centenary of the death of Sir Hugh Munro it felt right to opt to climb one from his list.

    Ben Chonzie is not a mountain to stir the blood, but there's no such thing as a bad hill and under snow cover it certainly steps up a few levels. Besides, there were swathes of blue appearing overhead and visibility was good. A few steps from the coach and we were walking on snow, two parties together until the split in the track where one branched left to tackle the Corbett Creag Uchdag.

    Higher on the twisting track we encountered huge snow waves, slanting stripes sometimes piled chest-high, alternating with bare ground. When we turned to cross open slopes, two of the party fitted snow shoes.

    There were mixed results. Catherine seemed to skim easily across the deep snow, her co-ordination as well matched as her colour scheme. David was finding it harder. His shoes were longer, and getting into a steady rhythm proved problematic.

    The hill was busy, the inevitable temptation of decent conditions, but not everyone was properly equipped for winter walking. That's the problem with Ben Chonzie – it's regarded as an easy walk but any mountain of this height at this time of year can cause problems.

    When we reached the fence for the final climb, we felt the true force of the wind for the first time, ripping across the ridge line, blasting spindrift into our faces. The ground leading to the cairn was iced, and the ferociousness of the wind was pushing us sideways, making it difficult to stay upright.

    We had planned to drop off the other side into Glen Turret, but that would have meant more of the same and we would have needed to fit our crampons. We retreated, but I used micro spikes for the short haul while the points on the snow shoes also proved adequate. Some of the casual walkers we had passed earlier had turned round, the combination of wind and ice a step too far.

    We sheltered for lunch under a snow wall, but we couldn't stay long, the spindrift being blown on to us in a mini blizzard. Then the mist came down and we abandoned any thought of more high ridge exploits.

    Our descent was leisurely, a few stops to admire our surroundings, and Gill and I headed to a high point for a more expansive view. The others joined us and we spent time gazing at the sastrugi, the delicate snow wave and ridge patterns formed by the wind.

    We even had time for a warm-down walk by the river, a chance for bird expert David to alert us to some treecreepers, all the time under the watchful eyes of the red kites patrolling the skies. 

    The snowline had risen dramatically in those few hours. Winter was now in full retreat as spring pulled us into the light.