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Beinn a'Chaorainn and Beinn Bhreac from Cairngorm Ski Centre

Beinn a'Chaorainn and Beinn Bhreac from Cairngorm Ski Centre

Postby gld73 » Sat Sep 11, 2021 4:15 pm

Route description: Beinn a'Chaorainn and Beinn Bhreac

Munros included on this walk: Beinn a' Chaorainn (Cairngorms), Beinn Bhreac, Cairn Gorm

Date walked: 08/09/2021

Time taken: 10.6 hours

Distance: 31.6 km

Ascent: 1880m

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I'm quite lazy when it comes to driving to hill walks, I much prefer the shortest drive possible to the start, even if it means a longer walk. Having done a couple of big Cairngorm day walks this summer from the Aviemore side (Beinn Mheadhoin and Derry Cairngorm from the Cairngorm Ski Centre, and Sgor an Lochain Uaine, Cairn Toul and The Devil's Point from Glen Feshie), I wondered what else I could do as a day walk to save myself the drive to Linn of Dee.

The weather forecast the night before showed good conditions predicted everywhere, but MWIS had the Cairngorms with the holy grail of "Almost Certain" cloud free summits. So Cairngorms it was! Dogplodder's report on Beinn a'Chaorainn from Glenmore Lodge prompted me to choose that hill, especially as it involved the potentially tricky river crossing at Fords of Avon and the recent dry weather made that a less daunting prospect. But I knew it was usually done with Beinn Bhreac, albeit from Linn of Dee. Even with the slightly longer walk (and more up-down) walk in, maybe I could do both ...? I couldn't see any walk reports covering those 2 hills as a day walk from the Glenmore Lodge / Cairrngorm Ski Centre area, so I wasn't sure if I was missing some obvious barrier (other than distance). I went to bed still undecided on route...

Got up the next morning at an abnormally early time for me on a day off, and set off to Aviemore, still not sure whether to do Beinn a'Chaorainn from Glenmore Lodge or not. The weather was fantastic even from this time in the morning though, so I decided that with perfect visibility on the route, I'd try for something different. So parked up at Cairngorm Ski Centre car park and set off at 8.15am, deciding to go up the Fiacaill a Choire Chais path on the way up, and take in a visit to Cairn Gorm summit, one of my first munros done on moving to Inverness 6 years ago.
Beautiful morning, 0815 at the Ski Centre, not sure why the snow machine was churning out a pile of snow!

Looking back down on the Fiacaill a Choire Chais route I'd taken up, with Loch Morlich beyond and Aviemore smothered under morning mist

No morning mist on the hills though, this the view south towards Cairn Toul and pals

Cairn Gorm summit cairn, reached it exactly an hour after setting off from the car, it's certainly one of the quicker munro summits to get to from the start of a walk

I was expecting to find some sort of path from the summit area down to The Saddle, but I didn't on the fairly direct route I took, and so ended up using hands and feet to get down steeper ground to The Saddle (I took a path on the return!). When my hands weren't holding on to rocks or clumps of heather, they were picking blaeberries on this slope :D . Some cliffs/slabs to avoid but I just went to the side of them.
Heading down the easy slopes initially on a pathless route, it was nice to already see Beinn a'Chaorainn (the one sandwiched behind Beinn Mheadhoin and in front of the mass of Beinn a Bhuird)

View south to Loch Etchachan and Shelter Stone crags

Looking down on to The Saddle and Loch Avon, just had to find a safe way down the steep section I'd come to

A nice clear day, so I could see the cross roads of paths at The Saddle and aimed for that, then followed the path heading to the north end of Loch Avon. I could see Beinn a'Chaorainn on the other side of Beinn Mheadhoin and it didn't look too worryingly far away. I stuck pretty much to the path for the 2km walk to the refuge at Fords of Avon, passing a couple of good fast flowing burns on the way to refill my water bottles - I'd taken 2.5 litres and didn't want to scrimp on drinking water in this weather so intended to refill at any fast flowing burn.
Once on the path at The Saddle, I could see I hadn't taken the best route down. There were easier grassy bits to come down on the far left or right, but I'd come down pretty much in the centre of this shot, the bit of green between the crags on the left and the slabs on the right

Loch Avon was looking as good as ever (Shelter Stone crags at the far end, Beinn Mheadhoin on the left here)

It was easier to take a photo looking back at the path taken rather than the way I was heading, the sun was too strong in the other direction. Nice problem to have!

I had no need of an emergency refuge today, but I'm sure this has been a welcome sight to people in winter. (This was just over 8km of walking and about 2.7hrs to get to this point)

The crossing point at Fords of Avon - suspect this is about as easy as it gets, plenty stones exposed to get across with dry feet

The spare socks in my rucksack taken with the expectation of getting wet feet at the Fords of Avon were surplus to requirements as the river was easy to cross on stepping stones. Same for the tributary joining it along the base of Beinn a'Chaorainn. The steep walk straight up the side of the mountain wasn't as exhausting as it looked from the bottom and the heather then rocks were straightforward to go up. Getting on to the northern ridge resulted in finding a bit of a worn path along the ridge and a nice (relatively) gentle gradient to the summit and its big cairn. Reached it at noon exactly.
Straight up the steep slope, it was mainly heather and grass. View back to Fords of Avon and Bynack More.

It turns into a boulder field higher up before getting on to the top of the ridge

It was nice to get on to the ridge and its more gradual ascent route to the summit. The corbett Creag Mhor in the centre of the picture looks quite a benign lump from here; Bynack More on the left

Reaching the summit of Beinn a'Chaorainn, Beinn Bhreac is the hill ahead

West to Beinn Mheadhoin

Derry Cairngorm and Ben Macdui

Nobody in sight, so I was able to hog the summit cairn as shelter from the breeze for a few minutes while I tried all 3 phones I'd taken to see which one (O2, ee, Vodafone), if any, had signal. Vodafone managed a couple of bars, so I managed to phone my mum to wish her a happy birthday.

I'd left the decision about whether to definitely go for Beinn Bhreac until I was at the Beinn a Chaorainn summit, and to be honest, I still wasn't 100% sure when I was standing there. On the one hand, it looked a long way away still; on the other hand, the ground conditions were as good as I could hope for, visibility was great, and I was relatively close with at least 8hrs of day light left. I decided to at least try for it, but that if the 4 or 5km walk (of which 3km was bog and peat hags) was too slow going I'd abandon it. (A big benefit of living in the Highlands is that it's easy to say I'll just come back and do it another day if conditions get too bad or time runs out).
Beinn Bhreac looked a fair distance away still

...and as I descended the southern slopes of Beinn a'Chaorainn the terrain to it didn't look massively appealing

I hadn't read walk reports for the pair of hills as I hadn't really planned on doing both, but as most people seem to do them together from Linn of Dee, I expected to see a worn path running between them. Nope. Couldn't see anything looking even vaguely like a path. I headed south down the slope to the flat expanse of hags and marsh of the Moine Bhealaidh and tried to skirt to the east a bit to avoid the worst of it. Thank god I was doing it after a dry spell, I'd hate to think what it would be like in wet weather. As it was, I could avoid the wet and overly muddy parts with some meandering, though it seemed to take a long time before I felt I was getting any nearer Beinn Bhreac.
Seemed to takes ages to get to a midway point where I could look back and feel Beinn a'Chaorainn was getting left behind ..

...and I was getting a bit nearer Beinn Bhreac

As I finally left the flat ground behind and started the easy, gradual rise towards Beinn Bhreac, I came across ...a path! What?! Where did that come from?? I looked back north towards where I'd come from, and could see it clearly heading up the far east side of Moine Bhealaidh, avoiding the worst of the wet ground. No idea if it then veered west up the slopes of Beinna'Chaorainn, but it's something I'll bear in mind if I'm up here again!! (I've just read the WH route now for the 2 hills from Linn of Dee and it says to take this path. Maybe I should have read it before I set off rather after I'd come home :lol: )

Nothing difficult at all about finding the summit of Beinn Bhreac on this beautiful day, the summit being the east of the 2 tops. Still nobody in sight. Most people were at work on this midweek day in September I guess.
Reached the Beinn Bhreac summit cairn 5h 20mins and 15.2km after leaving the car

North to Beinn a'Chaorainn

East to Beinn a Bhuird

My focus was now on getting back to the car - I remembered there was a path down to the Lairig an Laoigh somewhere just to the south west of Beinn a Chaorainn so set off towards that. A direct line meant going through the worst of the hags though, so when I found myself at the top of where the Glas Allt Mor starts its steep descent down the western flank, I couldn't really see why I couldn't just go down near there. On my OS Landranger map it didn't look any steeper than the where the path was further north (both places being very steep!) and no crags or scree were marked, so I decided just to go down there. I think some of it was psychological, just wanting to get back down to the lower level and an easy path to follow and feel I was on the final stretch.
At the point where the Glas Allt Mor drops down to the west, I decided to take this route down, on the left of the picture. Okay in these good conditions, though continuing on along the plateau to find the path down might be better in wetter or snowier conditions.

I descended around and down the slopes on the south side of the Glas Allt Mor, mainly on grass, some minor burns or marshy bits to cross, then through some heather lower down (more blaeberries to eat on the way too), crossed the Glas Allt Mor near the bottom (another great water restocking point!) and got safely on to the clear path of the Lairig an Laoigh. It was still only 3pm as I hit the path, not sure why I'd felt like I was under some slight time pressure.
The gradient eased as I got further down and could see south down Glen Derry

..and across to Coire Etchachan

Glas Allt Mor was easy to cross

The drawback of heading down from the plateau at this point then became evident when I saw the Lairig an Laoigh path stretching before me and heading up to its high point in the pass ...think I'd subconsciously been thinking it would be a nice flat path even though the map clearly showed it crossing a lot of contours :lol: On the good side, it meant I got to walk a nice stretch of the Lairig an Laoigh route, all the way back to Fords of Avon. For variety I could have gone up and over via Loch Etchachan, but I'd been there fairly recently anyway, and my knees didn't fancy the steep descent down to the south end of Loch Avon from there so I went via Fords of Avon and over the stepping stones again.
View south down Glen Derry on reaching the path

...and the route north I was taking to continue up the Lairig an Laoigh

Over the high point and dropping down gradually towards Dubh Lochan, Fords of Avon just a few hundred metres beyond the lochans

Retraced my steps from Fords of Avon to The Saddle, but rather than head steeply up and over Cairn Gorm and re-tread the start of the walk, I took a path heading north up the slopes more gradually. First person to speak to all day was passed here! Stopped for a chat - he'd been doing Bynack More - then I headed on, though I lost the path again at one point and he caught me up while I was looking at my map (his Harvey map showed the path, my old OS Landranger one didn't). Saw on his it ran alongside the burn further up, so found it and it was clear from then on again.
Back at The Saddle, this time I took a path which heads diagonally up the slope rather than clambering up the steep slope directly

I lost the path for a short distance, but once back on it as it ascended alongside the burn it was very clear and easy to follow. A last look back at this point to Beinn a'Chaorainn, the summit in the centre .

Ptarmigan Restaurant ahead - all downhill from here

Ptarmigan Restaurant and Cairn Gorm, just continued on this well made path back to the car park

Reaching Ptarmigan Restaurant felt like the end of the walk, as from there it's a constructed path back to the car park so no route finding problems. Think that 2km descent was the toughest part of the walk though! My knees were aching from it, and I was glad to sit down in the car when I got back, even if I was joined by midges and so had to keep the doors shut.

Another absolutely brilliant day out though! I'd had a bit of a break from the Cairngorms the last 2 or 3 years, but this year I've done some great multi munro day walks there and reminded myself that on a clear day with good visibility, it's a great place to do different routes and combinations of hills :D . .... Think I might finally have to draw the line at trying to do Beinn a' Bhuird and Ben Avon from this side on a day walk though .. :lol:

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