DEEP snow, blue skies, brilliant sun and superb views, everything you could wish for from a day in the mountains.
No matter how good the conditions, though, there is one constant about winter walking in Scotland: You have to be prepared to expect the unexpected.
Our plan was simple enough, a full traverse of An Socach, starting at Baddoch and then dropping down Gleann Taitneach to finish at The Spittal of Glenshee.
Total distance is around 20km, but we had an eight-hour window and the amount of height gain is hardly daunting, even with the deep snow cover.
The first change of plan was made before we even started out. This being a club outing, we were travelling by coach, ideal for accommodating through walks, but an earlier recce had shown heavy snow in the laybys which presented potential problems for the bus.
It was agreed that we would now start the walk from the ski centre. The coach could drop us, turn and then park up at The Spittal where all the different groups would return. We wanted to get a head start on the skiers so our party set off at 8.15, but even then the car park was filling up fast, a riot of colour exploding from every vehicle.
We made it out of the main corrie to the col in the nick of time, any later and we would have been running a gauntlet of downhill mayhem. It would be unfortunate to be taken out by a rainbow warrior before we had really got going. Our route would now take us along the side of Loch Vrotachan and down to the Baddoch Burn before climbing to the long ridge of An Socach.
Except Loch Vrotachan didn't appear to be there any more; it lay somewhere under a carpet of frozen white, indistinguishable from its surroundings. I had expected to see blue amidst the white, but its absence created a moment of disorientation. We stood and re-checked our bearings as dozens of hares dashed back and forth over the landscape in their full mad March disposition adding a touch of the surreal.
Back on course, we crossed the Baddoch Burn and made the thigh-burning rise to the main ridge, the horizon behind exploding into a spectacular light show. Blue skies greeted us as we made the final approach, light wisps of cloud hanging in suspended animation, emboldened by the lack of wind.
We picked out a corridor running between deep stream beds to ease the passage over to Loch nan Eun, a trek now taking place under a blazing sun with what seemed like the heaviest pack ever, including a snow shovel and crampons, both redundant on the day. This was more t-shirt and shorts weather.
The loch of the birds was also under a white duvet, wrapped in silence, the screeching and keening of its usual residents absent for the meantime.
The head of the glen required another change of plan. The path leading down beside the stream was buried, the sides of the steep descent packed to the brim and looking ready to collapse, impossible to use. We stayed safely high on the slopes and worked our way down until the glen flattened out to pick up the track.
Even this was tough going at times, deep snow, ice in places, slush in others, no way to build a steady pace or footfall. We were glad we had factored in the extra time.
There was one more twist – the bridge to Dalmunzie has been swept away, so we had to follow the track all the way to the end. This was not unexpected; I had noticed this last autumn but to anyone hoping to cross the river here, it may come as an annoying surprise so late in the day.
This traverse had taken us eight hours, some three hours more than in summer conditions, and the weather had been more than kind. It once again highlighted the need to factor in extra time during the snow months and to be prepared to make a few diversions.