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3 days and 5 Munros in the heart of the Cairngorms

3 days and 5 Munros in the heart of the Cairngorms


Postby wildmountaintimes » Sat Oct 10, 2020 8:55 pm

Munros included on this walk: Beinn a'Bhuird, Beinn a'Chaorainn (Cairngorms), Beinn Bhreac, Beinn Mheadhoin, Ben Avon

Date walked: 11/07/2020

Time taken: 26 hours

Distance: 64 km

Ascent: 2520m

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We started Saturday by climbing An Socach at Glenshee (see previous walk report) then making the short journey round to Braemar where we stopped at the Co-op for some supplies. Driving round to the Linn of Dee car park, we were struck by how many cars were parked in lay-bys and on the verges. There seemed to be people camping everywhere, and it had been the same on the drive from Glenshee. The car park was full when we arrived, with cars spilling out into any available space. We decided to drive further along the road to the Punchbowl car park at Linn of Quoich instead. This would cut down our walk in but give us a longer walk out, which isn’t ideal at the end of a weekend as big as the one we had planned. Again, the car park was full but we managed to get a space just outside. After switching our gear from daypacks into overnight bags and packing the meals for the next 2.5 days, we set off at around 3.30pm on the long walk which would eventually join the usual route to Ben Avon from Keiloch.

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This section was very long and slightly tedious with a fair amount of forestry work scarring the landscape. The sighting of a snake (don’t ask me what kind) slightly livened up proceedings. We followed the course of the Dee until we were level with Braemar on the other side, where the path turned up into the pine forest before joining Gleann an t-Slugain.

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Maybe it was the golden early evening light but we really enjoyed the walk through here and commented on the fact that it’s not a glen that we’ve ever heard mentioned or recommended. A check of the walkhighlands page for Ben Avon upon returning home describes it as ‘bleak’; well, we enjoyed it anyway! :lol:

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The plan had been to spend the night at the Secret Howff, which I’d wanted to stay at ever since I read about it in ‘Mountain Days and Bothy Nights’ and had saved specifically for this trip. We didn’t know exactly where it was, but I had done plenty of internet sleuthing and had a fairly good (although not exact) idea of its location. After a bit of pottering about, a few false leads and plenty of heather bashing, we spotted it... only to discover it was already occupied. A night in the tent was on the cards instead. It took us a bit of time to find a spot - everything was either too rocky, too heathery, too exposed to the wind, etc etc.

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When the path turned northwards, coming close to the fledgling Quoich Water, we spied a couple of potential spots on the other side (in the sense that they looked flat and green, which was the main criteria at this late stage in the day). We dropped down from the path and descended a steep slope to the river’s edge in an attempt to find somewhere suitable to cross. The point we had arrived at didn’t look the best so we set off upstream trying to find something better. This resulted in very slow progress through deep heather and over rocks, on a steep hillside, whilst trying to avoid slipping into the water (the heather came in useful here, serving as a handhold).

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Eventually we came to flatter ground and I (in a bit of a temper tantrum…) threw my bag down and said “That’s it - we’re camping here. I don’t care any more”. :lol: The ground was quite boggy in places and not as flat as first anticipated but a bit of trampling the heather down on a relatively dry patch of land resulted in a passable pitching area.

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After erecting the tent and laying out our mats and sleeping bags, we sat out on a couple of rocks by the river and ‘cooked’ dinner (instant garlic mash with Fridge Raiders chicken added) and had a few ciders (we had carried a crate inside a plastic bag by hand the whole way, which had made the riverside clambering all the more difficult). As we hadn’t arrived at our spot until around 9pm, the sun wasn’t long in going down and it started to get cold fairly fast, so we retreated to the tent. Once inside my bag, I rolled over and fell asleep instantly with Aimie not far behind.

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The next morning, we were awoken by our alarms at 7am. We were greeted with sun, barely a cloud in the sky, and a pleasant warmth for that time of day. We set off at 8.20am after eating breakfast and packing up the tent.

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Once onto the well-constructed path, we followed it to the head of Glen Quoich, with the eastern corries of Beinn a’ Bhuird (the second of today’s objectives) revealing themselves gradually the further we walked. We crossed the Glas Allt Mor where we stopped to have a big drink of our water before filling up and carrying on.

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The path rises gradually alongside the Glas Allt Mor and brings you to the Sneck at 986m. We rested here for a bit and to take on some more water and a bite to eat, but mainly just to get the heavy packs off our backs which we were definitely feeling the weight of already in the heat. A few photos and videos of the interesting rock formations and it was on with the bags to continue the ascent of the red and dusty path with leads to the Ben Avon plateau.

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It’s here that the strange summit tor comes into view - deceptively far away! It took another 15 minutes or so before we were at the foot of it. We left our bags to the side of the path and climbed up and around the back, where a short, simple scramble saw us on the summit at 11.10am. We dropped back down and sat beside our bags having some more food before setting off 20 minutes after arriving.

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The return journey gave us amazing views over the plateau into Garbh Choire which had been at our backs on the way up.

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Back at the Sneck, we explored the stone structures a bit, including an improbably-balanced monolith, before beginning the ascent of Beinn a’Bhuird.

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We aimed first for the Munro top Cnap a’ Chleirich with a tor of its own, before striking southwest over pathless ground and following the rim of Coire nan Clach to reach the summit of Beinn a’Bhuird at 1.15pm which was later than we’d have liked. Another summit which looked a lot closer on the map - the vast scale of the Cairngorms was quickly becoming apparent! The wind was fairly whipping across the plateau now, so it was on with additional layers for a 25 minute stop for lunch and a much-needed sugar boost from a can of Irn Bru. From here, we could clearly make out the rest of the day’s route - Beinn a’Chaorainn 5km directly west and and Beinn Bhreac 6km southwest. Between us and them lay the featureless Moine Bhealaidh (the Yellow Moss). I’d read about this in walk reports and was dreading it. A bog so huge it’s named on the map? No thanks. :shock:

We dropped down the eastern flank of Beinn a’Bhuird and it wasn’t long before we were navigating a very sizeable boulder field. This slowed us down to the extent that it took us about half an hour to travel roughly 1km. Eventually we got to the end, grateful to be on soft ground once again. I felt like we’d regret saying that when we were knee deep in the Moine Bhealaidh but, for now, it was bliss. We headed southwest, aiming for the Allt an Aghaidh Mhilis; crossing it on the flat just before it started its descent down a deep ravine. We used the tip of a peak just visible above the plateau and across Glen Derry to navigate by, aiming to avoid the corrie to our left. The Moine’s bark turned out to be worse than its bite. The weather had been fairly dry and warm recently so the bog was nowhere near as bad as first feared. Other than navigating a few pools and some peat hags, we got through unscathed and with dry feet. As we were following our distant navigational aid, we stumbled upon a well-worn path that wasn’t on the map. It turned out we’d happened upon the route between Beinn Breach and Beinn a’Chaorainn. This was a welcome discovery, as we hadn’t been on a path since not long after we’d left the Sneck almost 4 hours ago. Progress was fast on this new path, and it wasn’t long before we had reached the low point between the west top and the taller, eastern top. We left our bags here for the short final ascent to the summit, where we took a quick video and turned straight back around due to the speed of the wind at the top. We stopped at the bags for 10 minutes and had a (relatively) wind-free bite to eat before making use of the glorious, glorious path and setting off for our 4th and final Munro of the day, Beinn a’Chaorainn. Not long after we passed the point where we’d first joined the path, it started to disappear into the bog that we’d managed to mostly avoid so far. From here on in, there were lots of ups and downs over hummocks; lefts and rights round pools. If there was still a path at this point, we didn’t find it. At a small lochan (or large bog puddle), we aimed directly up the rocky southeast slope, arriving on the summit at 5.50pm. The wind was relentless at this stage and the blue skies and warming sun of a couple of hours ago were but a distant memory.

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We hunkered down behind the large cairn as much as possible and had a 15 minute break for food before we headed off to find a camp spot for the night. We descended (steeply at times) into the Lairig an Laoigh where we hoped we’d be sheltered slightly from the wind, which had been constant now for at least 2 hours without stopping for a single second. We were only to be left disappointed as the wind funnelled up the glen. :roll:

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We dropped down into Glen Derry before taking the path off to the right which leads up past the Hutchison Memorial Hut and on to Loch Etchachan. The loch had originally been our intended camping spot, as, in the planning stages of this weekend, we had grand plans of a high camp beside the loch and a wild swim at sunset. The wind put paid to that idea. Plus, the thought of all that extra ascent at this late stage of the day was too much to bear. So we settled on camping outside the Hutchie Hut, which, at 700m compared to Loch Etchachan’s 900m, was a much more achievable target for sore feet. We crossed the Coire Etchachan bridge (Aimie absolutely loves this bridge :lol:) and continued slowly for the kilometre or so that it takes to reach the bothy, arriving at 8pm. Straight away, I dumped my bag, took out a bag of sweets and a can of Irn Bru, and sat next to the burn, where I tried to get sugar and energy into me rapidly while I cooled my battered feet in the freezing water. Feeling energised and with feet so numb from the cold that they no longer hurt, we set up the tent at the front of the bothy. There was already a lone tent further up the corrie when we arrived, and we were joined not long after by a girl who camped round the side. Dinner was cheesy pasta and then to bed just as a light rain started.

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The next morning was dry but overcast - some very dark clouds with the sun threatening to break through at points. We left the tent up as we’d be coming back this way and headed off up the path towards Loch Etchachan at 7.45am. The guy who’d camped further up the corrie was emerging onto the path at the same time and we said our hellos. We reached the loch and crossed the outflow and stopped to layer up before beginning the ascent of Beinn Mheadhoin. Part of the way up, there were signs to say the path was closed for repair work so we clambered over the boulders to our left and took another faint path up onto the wide plateau.

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The first of Beinn Mheadhoin’s tors (or ‘Barns’) soon came into view, emerging from the otherwise bare, desert-like landscape. We reached the tor and headed off northeast towards the true summit.

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By this time, the cloud had come down and was drifting across the plateau, partially obscuring the huge summit tor. We passed through the middle of another pair of large tors, which, in this moody setting, resembled a couple of gatekeepers in some fantasy film.

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Upon reaching the summit, we bumped into the man we said hello to earlier - this time downclimbing the granite structure. He gave us some advice on the best route to take up to the top, as Aimie was struggling to reach up a large step. He stuck around to make sure she got up, even though this took her an inordinately long amount of time. Once up on top, the wind had reached quite a speed, requiring us to lean into it. We didn’t hang around, and scrambled back down to where we had left our bags.

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10 minutes later, Loch Etchachan was once again visible far below - standing out metallic blue against the dark grey of both the sky and surrounding crags. On the descent, we bumped into the girl who’d been camping next to us at the bothy, who said she was going up to Beinn Mheadhoin and then walking out to Aviemore - great effort! :clap:

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We got back down to the bothy and started packing up our sleeping stuff and taking down the tent. Now that we were off of the misty mountain, the sun was out and it had gotten warm. We’d forgotten sunscreen so I soaked a t-shirt in the burn and threw it around my neck to protect it from getting any more burnt than it already was, while Aimie did the same with her microfibre towel and fashioned it into a headscarf.

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We left the bothy at 11.30am with over 8.5 miles to get back to the roadside, with a further 2 miles of road walking to get back to the car, only stopping to dip our head and neck accessories into more cool water, and once to dip our heads into a pool at the bottom of a waterfall, like a poor imitation of a Herbal Essences advert. :lol:

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After a long, warm walk back to Derry Lodge, we sat on a bit of shingle shore next to the Derry Burn and cooled our feet in the burn for the second time in two days. After drying off and putting our sweaty socks and boots back on (horrible), we started off down Glen Lui. Further down the glen, we were startled by a couple pulling up behind us on bikes and randomly enquiring “What’s your name?” It turned out that they had found a credit card earlier and were trying to reunite it with its owner. We stood talking for a while about what we’d both been up to this weekend, lockdown and how busy the Cairngorms had been the last few days, when we were joined by the guy who’d helped Aimie out with the scramble on Beinn Mheadhoin. After leaving us, he’d went up and over Derry Cairngorm before walking out to here. He was also parked at Linn of Quoich so we walked back together, talking about Munros we’d done and were still to do, trail running, trips abroad etc. This helped pass the time quickly and it wasn’t long before we were back at the road. Despite our aching feet and bodies, we picked up the pace here as we were extremely keen to get back to the car. Even though it was a road walk, it wasn’t one of the worst we’ve done as it was quiet and we were surrounded by the Scots pines that the Cairngorms are so renowned for; we even managed to spot a red squirrel - our third time in 2 weeks, after never having seen one before. The car was reached with some relief and all that remained left to do was stop in Braemar for that post-walk essential - cold Irn Bru. :-D
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wildmountaintimes
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Re: 3 days and 5 Munros in the heart of the Cairngorms

Postby MtnGoat » Sun Oct 11, 2020 12:11 pm

Looks awesome :clap:
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Re: 3 days and 5 Munros in the heart of the Cairngorms

Postby wildmountaintimes » Wed Nov 04, 2020 9:28 pm

A wee video we made of the weekend:

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