My first 'proper' hill day in 2021 (not including the Pentland playground), I was so pleased to be permitted to escape the council boundary as lockdown restrictions were eased on the 16th of April.
The weather forecast was almost perfect for the Saturday and I started plotting a route to my final Cairngorm Corbett - Creag Mhor. As usual I wanted to avoid the usual approach (from Glenmore) and decided to come in from the south - teased by the Walkhighlands description: "The terrain means that approaches from any direction are possible, but the remoteness deters most - all other routes are epic."
I left Edinburgh at 05:30 and headed north eager to reach the A93 and familiar mountain views again. There were still spaces at the Linn of Dee car park when I arrived, but not many. Quite a few vehicles had been there overnight and there were several disgorging bodies to get ready for the day ahead. Although it was -3C at the car, I donned my sunhat and suncream before setting off on the path to Glen Lui.
The plan was to run as much of the route as possible. The vast majority would be on excellent tracks and I made good progress passing groups of walkers heading to Derry Lodge and beyond. At the fork, I had a quick look at the notice board advising of the Derry Dam bridge closure - stick to the east side of the river. I crunched over the odd bit of ice and hard mud, slowly rising up the glen.
I was surprised to see a solo walker approaching the 'closed' bridge and promptly cross it by swinging around the scaffolding poles barring access. I've no idea why it is closed though - looked fine to me.
The glen opened out as I continued north with Beinn Mheadhoin rising prominently to the left. I passed a couple of walkers heading south with overnight gear on thier backs - I hoped they had good sleeping bags!
The cliff of Creagan a' Choire Etchachan looked stunning above the Hutchy. I remember an aborted attempt to climb The Talisman there in the late 90s.
After a couple of hours I reached the Fords of Avon and was happy to see very low water. The boulders were hoppable and I got across with dry feet.I've heard all sorts of tales about this crossing and having come so far, I was not keen to be turning tail.
I paid a short visit to the Fords of Avon refuge which looked surprisingly comfortable for a shed. It seems obligatory to write your name on the wooden walls if you are a member of a DofE expedition.
Now it was time to leave the path for the first time and head onto the open hillside to the NE. Some deep heather to begin with soon shortened to cropped moss and gravel and I enjoyed a jog towards the summit tor of Creag Mhor. 2hrs 30min to the summit from the car.
There was a keen southerly wind now so after some pics, I found some shelter behind one of the granite blobs to eat some food and text my progress back home. This place felt pretty remote with expansive rolling views all around. Bynack Mhor dominated to the NW and I could see the Shelterstone Crag in the far west. To my NE was Mambaland* - here be dragons
Since the crossing of the Avon had been straightforward, I decided to continue on my planned route and head for Beinn a Bhuird. Descending some wet ground to the SE, although the river was still shallow, it was much wider and lacked the protruding boulders at the Fords. I got wet feet.
Into the lonely Coire Ruairidh weaving a way through the boulder erratics scattered in glacial moraines to slowly ascend towards the snow on the skyline. I had brought poles for the river crossing but also the snow - some of it was still very hard as I plodded up the western shoulder onto BaB to encounter the unassuming summit cairn. There were a couple of skiers fiddling about with skins a few hundred metres to the north and two walkers approaching from the south.
I trotted south edging the massive cornices which hung over the eastern face. I could see some old ski and footprints which had gone a bit closer than I'd risk.
Before the plateau began to rise again, I turned SW to pick up the path down An Diollaid which I followed at a jog passing numerous mountain bikers enjoying the swooping path and drainage ditches. When I reached the Allt an Dubh Ghlinne, I decided not to bother looking for boulders to hop and just waded through the shin deep waters. This would definitely be impassable in spate.
Onto a vehicle track now, I continued for another km or so before turning right onto another wee footpath through the mini pass of the Clais Fhearnaig. Stopping to wash my face in the Lui Water, a mountain bike whizzed past, the rider with a pair of skis and boots on his back. I arrived back at the car in time for the DofE moment of remembrance.
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Warning Please note that hillwalking when there is snow lying requires an ice-axe, crampons and the knowledge, experience and skill to use them correctly. Summer routes may not be viable or appropriate in winter. See winter information on our skills and safety pages for more information.