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The Cairngorms, the Universe and Anxiety.

The Cairngorms, the Universe and Anxiety.


Postby DavidShepherd » Sun Aug 14, 2022 2:38 pm

Route description: Cairn Toul - Braeriach traverse

Munros included on this walk: Braeriach, Cairn Toul, Sgòr an Lochain Uaine, The Devil's Point

Date walked: 12/08/2022

Time taken: 24 hours

Distance: 36 km

Ascent: 1820m

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(Quick caveat before I begin this report; I talk about some mental health issues that have plagued me for a while. Hard to skip through those I am afraid!)

At the start of last week, I did what I always do: check the potential forecast to see if my normal walking friend wants to go somewhere. We sort of agreed it was probably going to be to hot to do anything, but it felt like the first time in quite a while that it was a full weekend of good weather and not just a day or so. This factors in a lot when your standard journey for ticking off Munro's is now 3hrs minimum one way!
So, I decided I would do my first solo hike in 2 years. This maybe isn't a big deal to a lot of people, but let me briefly describe what normally happens in the few days leading up to it:
1) Decide where I am going/what Munro I'm wanting to get done.
2) Start thinking and worrying about it.
3) Get snacks and food etc and get my gear packed the night before.
4) Barely sleep, get up, decide to not go.
5) Spend most of that day feeling terrible about myself.
So yeah, that isn't fun and this has happened to me on at least a dozen occasions. Earlier this year I discovered I had major anxiety issues, which still aren't gone and I now have much better coping methods but factoring in 3+ hours alone in a car with a lack of sleep the night before tips me over the edge. (I don't get this when I go with a friend, because I don't want to let them down.)

After some looking around, and a post about parking, I settled on doing a walk I have wanted to do for years now: The Cairn Toul - Braeriach traverse and decided I was going to split it over a couple of days and because the weather was so good it would easy enough to camp up high using my lightweight gear and to help avoid the midge nightmare that surrounds the Corrour Bothy! Also, I'm pretty fit but frankly I just could not be bothered trudging out 22 miles in one day, a decision I am sort of glad I stuck to! I booked my Friday off from work and got my list written.

This was Tuesday. By Wednesday night I had laid out all my gear. I like to weight my gear and with water and food, it was about 11kg. I was pretty chuffed with this.
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My gear!


By Thursday the anxiety had made its appearance, but I was determined it wasn't going to get the better of me this time. I decided to leave later in the day on Friday, get to the sugar bowl car park about 1ish, eat, get ready and go as I figured I could get round all 4 Munros before sunset at 9pm. This would hopefully let me get a good sleep the night before and maybe help me deal with the drive a bit better. I got all my stuff ready and headed to bed.

On Friday, I was up and the anxiety was there in full force. To quantify this a bit, it is nowhere near as bad as a lot of people suffer. To my knowledge I have never had an anxiety attack, though I quite often go through a lot of the symptoms. Friday morning was a mix of sweating (could've been the heat though!), nausea, wee bit of the shakes and agitation. But, I kept telling myself that I'd done this plenty of times before, I was confident I would be fine and I'd be ok once I got started.
By 9:45am I was in the car and away. The radio was on, the window was down and I was doing my very best to focus on the drive and the podcasts I had chosen for it.

Now, I did something during this drive I promised myself I would never do....
My normal hiking friend is a huge believer in the Universe and that if you deserve something, the universe will give it to you. Normally when we head away somewhere, she will out loud order a parking space from it. I don't laugh so much at this anymore because it flippin' well works every single time! I never do it, because I figure she believes and that's enough for us both, but I did it on the drive anyway. And it worked. The sugar bowl car park had plenty of spaces (I messaged her almost immediately, I will not live this fact down anytime soon :lol:)
I did decided eventually to move down the road a little to a layby, because I didn't have any cash, the ticket machine was only accepting cash and there was no overnight parking.

So, pack on, sun block on, I got started. My anxiety was still pretty strong at this point but the walk up to the Chalamain Gap was tremendous! The coolness in trees and up in to the hills was a dream of a path and I was soon clambering over those boulders, all the while remembering the "leg-breaker" statement in the walk description. I had expected it to be quiet, but the buzz of insects was very loud and present the whole way through. I took my time getting through, chatting to walkers coming back from having down the traverse, getting some more info on it all, including the expected midge warnings :D
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Cool breeze in the trees

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Back down towards the sugar bowl

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Chalamain Gap


I had decided to get all 4 Munros done first, and was walking the route backwards which meant a quick walk down into the start of the Lairig Ghru and then straight up the other side towards Braeriach. Once up on the ridge the views down the pass really started to open up and it was about at this point I had realized my anxiety was gone, probably replaced by the heat and fatigue, but I was definitely glad of it!!
I continued on to Braeriach, stopping for chats along the way and finally hit the top of the first Munro of the day around 6:20pm. It had taken nearly 5hrs just to get to here. I sat for a while looking out over the ridge and wondering if I would actually manage to get to the Devil's Point before sunset at 9pm (SpoilersI Sort of :lol: .)

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Lairig Ghru

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The ridge was awesome!


I pushed on to Sgor an Lochain Uaine, past other people camping near the waters that fed the falls of dee. Cairn Toul at this point was giving me a bit of worry. My legs were already pretty tired and I was feeling pretty done in from the heat, but I wasn't wanting to camp near so many other people and I'd heard from other walkers that the area between Sgor and Lochain Uaine and Cairntoul was pretty rocky and would be tough to find a patch for a tent. The anxiety was coming back a little at the prospect of trying to find somewhere to camp in the dark but I decided to push on. Hiking up to the next peaks was going to be hard but as I got round closer to them it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be (after all this time, this is a fact I know well about the Scottish hills - they often look far worse when you're seeing them from further away!)

I reached Cairn Toul by roughly 8:30 and I am so glad I decided to keep going. The views in the dying light were spectacular. This was also my 160th Munro so I was feeling pretty decent about the trip!

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Towards the Corrour Bothy and beyond

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The sun!


The Devils Point didn't look so far away now, and I was determine I was getting there and getting it done before it got too dark. I was feeling pretty tired and my legs were feeling the impact of a long day and as I made my way carefully down Cairn Toul towards Stob Coire an t - Saighdeir I lamented that I used to like boulder fields, but I was firmly over them by this point!

Finally, by about 9:15 I had reached the bealach just before The Devils Point. I could see another tent coming in to view and was glad I had decided to wait till here to get set up. It was getting pretty dark after my tent was pitched and I could see from the path heading up to the Devil's point that it was quite rocky as well so I decided to get some rest and get it done first thing. I was up at 5am, got a quick snack and some water and was up and down the Devil's Point in fairly short shift, even with a good pause to marvel at the country in the early light.

Tent.jpg
Tent! night vision thing on my phone so isn't that great.

Cairn Toul.jpg
Cairn Toul in the AM.

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Carn a' Mhaim ridge to Ben Macdui


Amazing right? I was so glad I decided to do this in the morning instead. I had slept alright, was feeling pretty decent (shoulders and tired legs aside!) and was ready to get going. Glad I did because the breeze that had been there all night pretty much vanished after I started packing my gear up and the midges made their appearance!
Thankfully, further down the path towards the bothy there was enough of a breeze that they weren't around unless you stopped for any length of time.

I don't have a whole lot to say about the walk back to the car! It was a long one! I think I underestimated this a bit and was definitely struggling by the time I hit the end of the Lairig Ghru and stopped for some lunch before making the ascent to the Chalamain Gap and back to the car. Very glad I had downloaded some podcasts to help my focus and give me a few chuckles while walking. Thankfully there was a bit of a breeze as well, which helped off set the fact it was already very hot.

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Me. Happy and smiling. Promise!

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Pools of Dee. Already a scorching day.


I was back at the car just before 2pm. Definitely a tougher walk back than I expected. My legs were pretty knackered and my shoulders were really not happy with my bag straps, not to mention my knee deciding to let me know it was there from plodding down the well made path. But, I got my stuff packed in the car, and then gave some poor tourists the shock of their life when I nipped down to the Caochan Dubh burn and stripped down to my shorts for a quick dook to get rid of the grime and sweat. Sorry to you if you are reading this! I am very pale skinned :lol:

Its Sunday now. I'm writing this still feeling quite done in. The sun always takes it out of me (feels a bit like jet lag). My knee is pretty sore and I am actually a little bruised where the pack straps were pulling against my shoulders. But I am really glad I went. In hindsight, I'll be sticking to my rule of if it looks like its going to be too hot, then its going to be too hot!
I don't know how I will fare with the anxiety of the travel and going solo, but I think its definitely worthwhile making a couple of days of it instead of cramming it all in as that has really seemed to help.

Cheers! Off to soak my feet again :)
DavidShepherd
Mountain Walker
 
Posts: 224
Munros:167   Corbetts:8
Fionas:1   Donalds:5
Joined: Apr 17, 2014

Re: The Cairngorms, the Universe and Anxiety.

Postby JWCW2014 » Sun Aug 14, 2022 5:09 pm

Well done for sticking with it through the anxiety - did this route yesterday and walk out this morning, the heat was quite intense and agree - the walk out was much harder than I expected!
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JWCW2014
Walker
 
Posts: 429
Munros:90   Corbetts:4
Fionas:1   Donalds:1+0
Sub 2000:12   
Islands:11
Joined: May 31, 2022

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