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A, B, C, D... and F for the Fail of Fafernie
by aaquater » Thu Oct 10, 2019 3:14 pm
Munros included on this walk: Broad Cairn, Cairn Bannoch
Date walked: 05/07/2019
Time taken: 8.25 hours
Distance: 44 km
Ascent: 1393m1 person thinks this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
I'll admit it - I got tricked. First by the weather report, where I got excited by the prospect of a nice day (at home), and second by the train prices. Return tickets to Aberdeen for a third of the normal price? I had them before I realised that a nice day on the coast doesn't necessarily translate to a nice day on the hills - and, indeed, the probability of cloud-free Munros was only 40% with a substantial chance of local rain, although it was meant to keep mostly west of the A9. So, as I was already committed, I tried to minimise the chances of a miserable walk in the clag by keeping relatively low (meaning no Ben Avon, which has been high on my list for a while), and settled for the combo of Broad Cairn and Cairn Bannoch, unticked between the Lochnagar and Glas Maol Munro groups that I'd walked last year.
Without a car, there was no avoiding the 2-hour trek through Glen Muick; while I'd originally planned to leave it for the end of the walk, getting advance train tickets for specific trains meant that unless I fancied waiting for an extra hour, Ballater was as far as I could go - but very well. A small sacrifice to make for what I'd saved on fares.
After a short stretch to Bridge of Muick, I turned left onto the road nicely labelled for Glen Muick; less nice was the sign saying it was 7 miles away. The hills felt really far away at this point.
The road picks up altitude very slowly as it makes its way through the woods, with the Muick bubbling below on the right. On a bicycle, I can imagine this being a very pleasant trip, especially on a hot day with the trees providing some much-appreciated shade. On foot, though, it seems to stretch forever - and while the '7 miles' sign is followed by the '6 miles' one, no more signs are to be found, enforcing the feeling of being alone in the middle of nowhere.
Except... I would've loved to be truly alone and not pestered by swarms upon swarms of flies, constantly whizzing past my ears. The weather report promised blustery wind, which would've helped disperse the insects, but there was barely a gust. I wasn't really feeling the blustery.
About three quarters of the way up, the road leaves the woods and enters moorland, with the views opening up. It was there that I was overtaken by a pair of cyclists heading for Loch Muick. I had to wonder if they were fast enough to escape the flies, because the assaults on me became worse than ever.
Fortunately, the promised wind did pick up after a few turns, and so with the wind in my face and the flies far behind, the last stretch of road felt far better than the previous 90 minutes.
There was a moment of uncertainty as I was trying to decipher whether I was meant to follow the road towards the car park or the bus park, but deciding the former was more likely, I skirted between the cottages and emerged on the main track around Loch Muick. At this point, I still couldn't see the summit of Broad Cairn, but the point where the track climbs a ~200-metre slope onto the plateau that feeds Black Burn was well within sight, and didn't look too bad.
Following the path around Loch Muick and passing by several signs warning of important nesting grounds on its E shores, I treated myself to the cheese sandwich and the small bottle of tropical fruits-flavoured juice that I hadn't eaten before due to the flies (and my stomach feeling funny on the bus), finishing both before I reached the bridge over Black Burn. I could see Broad Cairn now too, and thankfully, it was cloud-free.
It had started to drizzle, but the rain wasn't heavy enough to do any damage, and let off after a few minutes. The good path continued uphill, and views of Loch and Glen Muick opened up. Shortly after leveling off, there's a large rock on the right acting as a good viewpoint, its popularity made apparent by the faint path leading toward it. In good visibility, it probably offers great views of Lochnagar and the surrounding hills, however, these were currently all shrouded in clouds, making me worry that the same was about to happen to my two Munros too.
The path kept close to the cliffside, with a marshy, hag-scarred plateau sprawling on the left; the recent Blackhope Scar experience, still fresh in my memory, made me even more grateful for the existence of such a good path. The wind was picking up now as I edged around the plateau, with Broad Cairn firmly in my sight playing Now You See Me, Now You Don't with the clouds. Little altitude was gained until the point where a path branches off to the left by an unmarked shelter. From there, it was two giant steps of 150 metres until I reached the summit of Broad Cairn; while the path does narrow down above Little Craig, it zig-zags its way to the cairn, unlike what the map suggests - although at this point, it would be difficult not to find your way to the top anyway. Bad luck; the summit was in the clag, and I was definitely feeling the blustery now, so I didn't stick around for long; throwing on a jacket, as there wasn't to be much more ascent on the way, I set off down the gentle, boulder-strewn terrain towards the three-way saddle between Broad Cairn, Creag an Dubh-loch and Cairn of Gowal.
It was a game of metres and minutes and I'd lost it as looking back from the saddle a few moments later, I was treated to the teasing view of a completely clear summit. I wasn't going back though (if I did, the clag would've likely come right back), instead I continued on the unmarked path which passed between the 983 and 991 points and headed for Cairn Bannoch, looking as though someone had dropped a bag of boulders onto a previously round, grassy hill.
The cloud base had lifted a little, but it had started to rain again, so I only granted myself a quick look at the map to see which way I'd need to descend from Fafernie, chomped down on a cereal bar, pocketed the wrapper, and left Cairn Bannoch behind. Folks driving to Loch Muick and doing the White Mounth round would bear right at a fork there, heading for Carn an t-Sagairt Mor (still firmly in the clouds), but I took the left path, 'ascending' Fafernie - although this is such a wide, sprawling hill that there wasn't much ascent to speak of. I couldn't even decide which cairn marked the summit, much less find the highest point had the cairns not been there.
I was meant to follow the left shoulder on the way down - so, naturally, I started walking down the right one. I realised my error pretty quickly, but by the time I did, I still needed to cross the newborn Allt an Droighnean in order to get where I wanted to be.
The plan was to find Jock's Road and follow it down to Loch Callater. Unfortunately, I'm an expert at missing the path in the best of conditions, and Shank of Fafernie is riddled with boggy sections and little streams, requiring a lot of care to get through without sinking. Of course I missed the path. I did remember it followed one of the streams, but it was raining pretty heavily at this point and I didn't want to risk damaging my paper map, so I picked the stream I thought was the right one and started looking for a descent route, all the while a lovely view down Glen Callater was open in front of me.
I quickly came to the realisation that there was no path to speak of where I was, and while I remembered the path keeping quite close to the stream, the one I followed - the one starting from the 874 point, as I can now see looking at the map - ran in a gully I wasn't keen to hop into. But I was sure I was in the correct glen, at the very least, and knew that if I followed the water for long enough, I'd make it to Loch Callater, whatever the route, so I simply went for the descent wherever it looked to be the most convenient. After the initial steep bit, the ground levelled up a little, making the going a little easier. Still no path, though. (And why would there be, given it ran a few hundred metres to my right?)
Speaking of, after crossing Allt an Droighnean again, I did notice the path's appearance - just not where it came from, so I thought it simply ended there. No matter, I instantly rejoined it, and the walking was all the better for it. The rain had stopped, too, and the views to a pretty waterfall opened up soon afterwards. Not the worst part of the walk, if I may say so.
Especially with the path firmly under my feet now, the rest of the way to Loch Callater was a breeze. Yes, I went for a boggy shortcut I probably shouldn't have attempted right by the loch, but it turned out manageable, I was faster than I'd expected, and the last cereal bar went down without a problem, so no harm done. Entering the track leading to Lochcallater Lodge, I was well on time for the bus back home. Also, the rain seemed to be firmly behind me now, and the clouds in front were starting to break up, as mentioned in the forecast, so the hills would enjoy a few hours of the afternoon sun.
...did I speak too soon?
I didn't have far to go, less than a kilometre on the Glen Callater track, when a sudden, sharp pain in my toe made me stop. Honestly, it felt as though my toenail was suddenly ripped off for some reason. I checked for anything that might've made its way into my shoe for me to step on it, but couldn't find anything, and my nail was still definitely there. It just hurt like crazy when stepped on. It ended up being a ruptured blister, but I didn't find that out until the evening. For now, walking just got a whole lot more difficult.
Now, I would've been well on time for the bus had I been able to walk my normal pace. That doesn't tend to include limping and keeping my weight off of one foot. I could still walk, just awfully slowly, so once I got onto the road, I tried to jog wherever it wasn't going uphill, and switching between the two seemed to irritate my toe less than sticking to one way of movement. It wasn't the end I'd imagined, but I did manage to make it to the bus, the time I'd saved walking down upper Glen Callater now helping tremendously. It was just... yeah, when I feel tired after a walk and sit down in a mode of transport, it can be a bit of a pain to stand back up as my legs fall asleep. This was one level further.
Taking the bus trip through Deeside, though, I couldn't help but appreciate how the towns and villages all seem to start at the beginning of the alphabet. You have Aberdeen, Aboyne, Braemar, Balmoral, Ballater, Banchory, Crathie, and Dinnet. I'd just been up on Broad Cairn and Cairn Bannoch - B and C, again. ...and Fafernie. Still within the alphabetical grading system, though. And given what happened - and what would happen for a week afterwards as my toe didn't let me do anything - among all the Bs, my performance did deserve at least a single F...
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