Last snow patch to disappear in a '˜few days'

Snow patches on Scotland's highest peaks have been less frequent this year. Picture: ContributedSnow patches on Scotland's highest peaks have been less frequent this year. Picture: Contributed
Snow patches on Scotland's highest peaks have been less frequent this year. Picture: Contributed
It has been a near continual presence on one of Scotland's highest slopes for centuries, but Scotland's longest lying patch of snow looks set to disappear before the week is out.

The build up of snow, known as the Sphinx, has been present on the Cairngorms for more than a decade, and according to scientists has disappeared only five times in the past three centuries.

However, the patch at Garbh Choire Mòr on Braeriach in the Cairngorms has rapidly shrunk this year, and measures little more than four metres wide.

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Iain Cameron, a snow researcher who has been monitoring Scotland’s slopes for the past two decades, said he expected the patch to disappear altogether over the next “few days.”

Although the most recent winter was Scotland’s third warmest since 1910, Mr Cameron said there were other factors behind the lack of snow.

He explained: “The main reason is not the warmth, but the amount of precipitation that fell over winter. It was an extraordinarily dry winter and not much snow fell at all - the Scottish ski centres all reported very poor skier day numbers and it’s no coincidence that the patches of snow are correspondingly smaller.”

If, as Mr Cameron predicts, the Sphinx vanishes over the next few days, it will be one of only a handful of times it has disappeared from sight.

The snow patch, named after the challenging rock climb directly above it, has been a reliable fixture observed by generations of mountaineers and naturalists. When it vanished in 1933, the Scottish Mountaineering Club felt compelled to write a letter to The Times newspaper, pointing out that such a thing “had never been known before.”

According to records, the snow disappeared only two more times over the following six decades, with total melts in 1953 and 1959. However, the trend has intensified in recent years, with the patch melting away in 1996, 2003, and 2006.

On any given year, Mr Cameron, from Stirling, said there would be between 50 to 100 patches left by the middle of September, but the Sphinx is one of only two patches remaining in Scotland in 2017, with the other - located on Aonach Beag - also expected to melt away over the next few days.

Mr Cameron, an environmental manager for an aerospace company, has been collating data on snow patches for years, and his research has been published by the Royal Meteorological Society since 2005,

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He said he was not qualified to make assessments of his work charting the snow on Scotland’s slopes, which he describes as an amateur labour of love.

“The climate has certainly changed, I don’t think there is any doubt about that and I think any reasonable person can see that,” he explained. “What has caused that is perhaps up for debate.”

However, he likened the loss of the most stubborn snow patches to the absence of an old friend, adding: “I hope my work is valued in 50 to 100 years’ time. It’s certainly disappointing to see the patches melt. When you go year after year, you get to know what kind of shape they’re going to be in, and how big they are going to be. You have a curious attachment to them and when they’re not there, it’s like going to visit a friend but they’re not at home.”

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