Upside-down in the Northern Cairngorms

Munros: Bynack More, Cairn Gorm

Date walked: 17/01/2015

Time taken: 6.25 hours

Distance: 21km

Ascent: 1350m

Munros: Bynack More, Cairn Gorm
Date walked: 17/01/2015
Distance: 21 km
Ascent: 1350 m
Time: 6 hours 15 minutes
Weather: Cold and sunny. Very cold wind high up.

Saturday appeared to be perhaps only the second decent day of the year so far, so I was pretty keen to get out on the hills somewhere. Gill was going to Dundee on Saturday so the Cairngorms seemed like the best bet - she could drop me off in Glen More on the way down. Great plan actually - in order to persuade her to leave early enough to get a decent walk in, we had breakfast at the Mountain Café (no need to eat for a good few hours after that!), before she dropped me off opposite the campsite at Loch Morlich. I started walking at about 10:15

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The going through the woods was icy with a fresh dump of snow on top to stop it being too slithery. The sun was on some of the slopes, but not on the floor of the glen where it was pretty chilly (-4 when I had left the car).

Heading through Glen More up to the Green Lochan:


Green Lochan not looking very green this morning:


Beyond the Green Lochan, the going became harder with more drifted snow to walk through. Luckily I was far from the first person to walk this way, and the tracks made by others at least pointed to the easiest ground.

Ryvoan bothy:

My plans had been rather flexible at the beginning. I wasn't quite making it up as I went, but I had a number of possibilities in mind. If the snow had been really deep and hard-going, I would have settled for a short traverse of Meall a' Bhuachaille. Another option was the long north ridge of Cairngorm, over Stac na h-Iolaire and Cnap Coire na Spreidhe. However the depth of the snow on the east facing flanks of this ridge looked unappealing compared to the almost naked slopes leading to Bynack More opposite. So I continued to Bynack More.

Carn Bheadhair and the edge of the Nethy Forest:

Towards Nethybridge:

Bridge over the Nethy:

Lazily following footprints meant I missed a section of path lower down and ended up crashing over snowy heather, but once I reached the lower plateau where the Bynack More path breaks away, the route couldn't be more obvious. I had been debating this with a work colleague - was the thaw on Thursday deep enough to have stripped the higher hills of snow? It appeared that it was (hence the report title). All that remained of earlier winter snowfall were occasional patches of slush which had re-frozen into a rather lethal surface. Most of Friday's fresh snow had been blown off the plateau onto the lee sides of the hills.

Into the sun and Bynack More:

More snow on my drive at home:

Couldn't complain - it made the going easier, although the wind was getting up as I got higher. I finally caught up the large group I had been following at the summit, but because of the wind I carried on immediately to the Barns.

Stac na h-Iolaire and Meall a’ Bhuachaille:


Ben Avon and Beinn a’ Bhuird:

Strathspey from Bynack More:

Beinn Mheadhoin, Ben Macdui and Cairn Gorm from Bynack More:

In fact the tors on the ridgeline make up the Little Barns of Bynack, with the main ones being a short distance down the eastern slopes. I was happy enough with the little ones this time - particularly the shelter they provided for a stop. This was my 4th time up Bynack More but only the second time I'd visited any of the Barns.

Little Barns of Bynack with Beinn a’ Chaorainn and Lairig an Laoigh behind:

Little Barns close up:


Where next? A loop round over Creag Mhor (which I was looking directly down on) was a possibility, but I was drawn to the centre of the Cairngorms and Loch Avon. This would also take me over the previously unvisited top of A' Choinneach which I had been planning to include on various other walks for 5 or 6 years now.

The descent from Bynack More was strikingly free of snow, with a few icy bits to watch out for. I think the snow probably improved the crossing of the plateau to A' Choinneach as there was evidence of some very peaty sections in places.

Over the sea of snow to Cairn Gorm:

Back to Bynack More:

…and the Barns (the little ones). Such a change in snow cover between east and west facing slopes:

The summit of A' Choinneach was pleasant but unremarkable. However it scored over Bynack More in having much better views of Loch Avon and the crags around the western end.

Beinn Mheadhoin, Ben MacDui and Loch Avon:

Zoom to Shelterstone Crag:

Cnap Coire na Spreidhe:

Descent was in terraces, with steeper icy sections interspersed with shallow parts stacked with snow. The next part of the route was now giving me second thoughts. I was hoping to climb up the back of Cairn Gorm to Stac an Fharaidh from the Saddle. I had done this previously in much leaner snow conditions and hadn't felt too comfortable with the avalanche risk. Today was looking suicidal, with the snow stacked up on the face like wobbly trifle, with menacing cornices curling over the top. A possible breach in the snow heading up between two rock outcrops looked less promising from directly below, containing a short pitch of vertical ice. Despite this, the whole face had been skied on, and right now a small group was taking it in turns to ski down the Feith Bhuide :shock: . Even with more of a nerve, I'd imagine you'd have more chance escaping a triggered avalanche on skis than on foot, so I left it well alone.

The western end of the Saddle was a great place to sit and enjoy the remoteness of the spot. For the first time since crossing the Nethy, the wind was minimal. I had a good 15 minutes here, not wanting to leave as the other options were not too appealing. I could try going up Coire Raibeart, but there would be a bit of a snow wade to the foot of it, and it might also be a bit of a no-go zone. The safe but most unappealing alternative was to drop down Strath Nethy, breaking a trail through 4 miles of deep drifting snow, before rejoining my outward route. I reckoned I would miss the last bus back to Aviemore doing this, and would then have another long walk.

East end of Loch Avon:

Beinn Mheadhoin across Loch Avon from The Saddle:

Stacan Dubha, Ben Macdui and Carn Etchachan/Shelterstone Crag:


Regardless I set off back towards the middle of the Saddle, already plodding through deep snow. As I worked my way round, I spotted a rising traverse up through the steep slopes that seemed to be free of really lethal stuff. I could see boulders and heather poking through, and the gradient was way shallower. This had to be better than Strath Nethy!

Beinn Mheadhoin from the traverse up to Ciste Mhearad:


There was still a lot of deep snow to wade through low down, and higher up, the cruddy top layer suggested that I had made the right decision. As far as I was concerned, I was pretty much home and dry if I could reach the summit of Cairngorm before dark. It was a shame to miss out Stac an Fharaidh, but I was still staying high and making the best of the orange afternoon light.

Bynack More and A’ Choinneach:

Acoss Beinn Mheadhoin to the Mounth:

Skiers ascending the final slopes to Cairn Gorm:

Tors of Beinn Mheadhoin:

East along the Avon to Ben Avon:

I wasn't especially bothered whether I visited the actual summit of Cairn Gorm, as I have already been up there 10 times, and it isn't up there with the best of the Cairngorm summits. However over the top was the easiest way to reach my preferred route down Fiacaill a' Choire Chais, and the last of the light was impressive, so I headed over.

Bynack More from the summit of Cairn Gorm:

Along the Northern Corries with Cairn Toul in the background:

Summit of Cairn Gorm:

Loch Morlich and Strathspey:

It was a little bare and icy again on the eastern side of Cairn Gorm, and also at the top of the Fiacaill, but nothing worth getting crampons out for. I spotted what must be a pretty new phenomenon on the way down - bike tyre tracks! Seems that winter mountain biking on the high plateau is the thing for those few who can be bothered to haul the bikes up there in the first place.

Stob Coire an t-Sneachda and Cairn Lochan:

Down Fiacaill a’ Choire Chais:

The best views are from the western flank, but there was snow on the estern side which made the descent much easier. Lower down, I spotted a bus sitting at the base station, so legged it down to reach the car park just as it pulled off. Turned out it was only a shuttle to the Coire na Ciste car park, and I had another 35 minutes to wait for the last bus back into town. Shouldn't have rushed the last bit (although it was so busy I was glad I was in the queue early). It's quite a change coming over from the quiet side of Cairn Gorm to bustling Coire Cas.

Gotta keep that snow in the right place:

Fiacaill a’ Choire an t-Sneachda:

Coire Cas and Meall a’ Bhuachaille:

Cairn Gorm and Coire Cas:

Coire Cas carpark:

Back in Aviemore the train was late, so I had time to nip into Mambo's for a rather quick half-pint. Not a great selection of beer there but they had Happy Chappy on draught, which I would take over any of the Cairngorm Brewery beers, so I was a happy chappy indeed :lol: .

The ticket office opening times at Aviemore and Kingussie station always amuse me.

What do you mean you close at 14:39?

Late train meant no bus back to my house for another 45 minutes. I hadn't planned ahead by leaving my bike in town, so I walked (which took just over 45 minutes). Possibly the longest journey back from Cairngorm ever!

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User avatar
Location: Inverness
Occupation: Civil Engineer
Interests: Walking, Scrambling, Cycling, Mountain Biking
Munro rounds: 1

Munros: 282
Corbetts: 193
Grahams: 174
Donalds: 41
Wainwrights: 79
Hewitts: 206
Sub 2000: 110

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