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Cairngorm 4000s Plus a Little Extra...

Cairngorm 4000s Plus a Little Extra...


Postby 03oroc » Thu Apr 20, 2023 5:32 pm

Munros included on this walk: Ben Macdui, Braeriach, Cairn Gorm, Cairn Toul, Càrn a' Mhàim, Sgòr an Lochain Uaine, The Devil's Point

Date walked: 17/08/2022

Time taken: 11.14 hours

Distance: 41 km

Ascent: 2800m

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This was our fifth day consecutive of trudging up steep grassy and unremarkable hills. Controversial perhaps but my own view is that the Cairngorms lacks it imperial winter solemnity in the summer months. We ventured towards the Grey Corries on the previous day to break the insipidness of the plateau, yet, we were only welcomed by a blanket of fog and the ceaseless flushing of its moistened pallet.

So, the four of us left Cairn Gorm Car Park at 9am and quickly made haste up the well-constructed path which meanders to the summit of Cairn Gorm. Anticipating the toiling ahead we knew we had to take advantage of any stimulus that appeared. Suspecting the Ptarmigan building, which sits wonderfully at 1097m above sea level, to be open, we thought where better to grab a quick coffee before hurtling up the final 200m to the rocky summit.
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Despite the commotion surrounding the building from afar, to our disappointment, it became apparent that these were workers who were undertaking essential maintenance in advance of the winter season. Feeling slightly forlorn we nonetheless made it to the summit with ease and drank up the view, a far superior surrogate. Despite my initial misgivings about the monotony of the plateau, today it shimmered under a radiant sun, only occasionally broken by a streak of cloud. However, its unending composition starkly reminded us of the scale of the challenge to come.
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We dropped from the summit of Cairn Gorm in a south westerly direction. Traversing a path the Romans would have been delighted with, the miles whistled by, something we’ve coined as ‘motorway miles’. Spirits were dizzyingly high and soon the gradual, albeit lengthy, climb to the summit of Ben Macdui was upon us. Carwyn led the way at this point, chugging along unfailingly, like a steam train, the embodiment perhaps of the Flying Scotsman. A runner occasionally whizzed by and we encountered perhaps a dozen of other hikers.
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I had mixed feelings summiting Ben Macdui. As someone who has developed an obsessive interest in mountains from a young age, I had always envisioned the Macdui to be of monstrous proportions, this underpinned by its status as the second highest mountain on the land, yet, it was gained with relative ease and I felt a strange guilt. Should it have required greater exertion? You are probably thinking ‘have a go in winter then lad’ (for some reason I’m imagining this being said in a Yorkshire accent)! If so, I am in full agreement...
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The next summit would see us descend 500m to a bealach before gradually climbing the relative minnow of the day, Carn Mhaim. Having studied the map to the point of ‘knowing it like the back of my hand’, it seemed like an obvious Munro to tag on to the traditional Caingorm 4000s challenge. The added distance would be minimal, and a loop like route would be maintained.
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As it transpired, it wasn’t an easy feat to gain the summit of Carn Mhaim. Initially, we descended east south east on a clear path, before swinging right to follow the line of the Coire Clach nan Taillear. Suddenly the trail became indistinct, and we conjectured that we’d wavered off course. A decision was made to contour left to gain the broad ridge which runs down to the bealach. In bizarre circumstances we somehow veered too far left and ended up on an intermittent path which, to our ire, spliced through a number of steep boulder strewn pitches. Arriving (finally) at the bealach, we glanced back. To our dismay a path, not too dissimilar to the ‘A9’ in our minds at that time, ran easily down the broad ridge. How did we miss it??

The next section was leisurely enough. A 2km ridge rendered the 250m elevation gain insignificant. Pleasantly, it become a defined arete in the middle section which provided a sensational panorama of Cairn Toul and the imposing eastern walls of The Devil’s Point.

A sharp down climb to the Lairig Ghru was next. Descending through waist deep heather for nearly 600m in less than a kilometre meant it was time to focus. We knew that this was likely the most challenging section of the round. As an incentive, a decision was made to have a long-overdue lunch at Corrour Bothy. Height was visibly lost yet the preponderance of hidden boulders meant there was little opportunity to make haste. The main track slicing the Lairig Ghru was reached, and we bounded the final half kilometre to the bothy. Greeted by a handful of tents, we gleefully plopped down and hungrily refuelled.
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Glycogen stores replenished, and a brain heavily infused with caffeine, the rapid ascent up The Devil’s Point felt more like a climbing stage in the Tour de France. Summiting a short time later, and sweating profusely, there was certainly a feeling of self-satisfaction. In retrospect, we perhaps became over-zealous and even complacent. After all, this was still half distance. Had we risked burning out?
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It is just short of 400m elevation gain from the bealach below The Devil’s Point to Cairn Toul. The climb instantly became a test of endurance, an unrelenting slog to what seemed like the heavens. It dawned on us that this was real beginning of today’s travail. Fatigued slowly weighed our legs down and gaps invariably developed as we sunk into our private crusade. Rubbing salt in the wounds one must toil over the Top of Stob Coire an t-Saighdeir, then drop to a further bealach, before finally ascending the final 130m to the shapely summit of Cairn Toul.
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After summiting and refuelling morale steadily improved. This was helped by a quick glance at Sgor an Lochaine Uaine which looked appreciably near. So it proved. We swiftly gained its brow despite the 118m descent and re-ascent. A debate ensued as to whether it deserved the honour of being a Munro due to its limited prominence from Cairn Toul, as well as Carn na Criche, which is curiously a higher Top. Would it have Munro status had they been ‘mere’ 900m peaks?

The next few miles were uneventful. The pancake crest of Carn na Criche was swiftly gained. Braeriach was now identifiable in the distance, our final Munro of the day. Meanwhile Owain, who had made the round seem like a cakewalk thus far, quipped and cackled and ensured morale remained high. We also came to appreciate the seriousness of navigating the featureless plateau in winter conditions. One can eerily visualise a boundless desert like blanket of snow, compounded by a ferocious and unrelenting snowstorm. In short, the world of real mountaineers and adventurers.

Arriving at the summit of Braeriach provided an opportunity to appreciate the rugged pinnacles and gullies of Coire Bhrochain, a true winter’s paradise for mountaineers. Matthew, the young stripling of the group, was breaking new ground today. He was elated, as we all were of course, at having summited the final Munro of the day. Elation soon turned once more to apprehension, as the long road to the start loomed.
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Commendably, it was Matthew who set the tempo and dashed off the summit with the energy of a young spaniel. Gears were shifted to simply avoid falling adrift. Another minor Top and a solid track led us steeply down to the Lairig Ghru. Once the Allt Druidh was forded a sharp climb steered us towards the aesthetically satisfying Chalamain Gap. The area is choked with shapely boulders, and at its narrowest points, requires some fun hands on action.

Having regained the trail, we careered towards the starting point. There was, surprisingly, a final sting in the tail. We had planned to ford Allt Creag an Leth-choin and then take a direct line over pathless terrain to the Cairn Gorm Car Park. However, this proved an unrealistic proposition. Despite only being a kilometre away, there was no ford and if the heather could talk (we weren’t quite hallucinating, yet) it would likely proclaim ‘you shall not pass’! Our weary legs agreed. It simply looked impenetrable. The obvious decision was made to continue further along the trail and cross the Allt a’ Choire Chais on a well-constructed foot bridge.

The bridge crossing proved to be a catalyst. In spite of the final trudge up the road that remained, we warmly sensed the finishing line was within our grasp. And so the final road plod felt more like a lap of honour, a victory parade even. There were no waving spectators of course but the end did bring a battery of handshakes, fist pumps and a cacophony of self-satisfied whooping.

There was one crucial decision to be made. How to celebrate? A cold beer or six was usually obligatory. Yet, having walked a full marathon distance, augmented by 9000ft of climbing, we peculiarly felt the only way to do justice to our accomplishment was to crown it off with a Ruby Murray. Perhaps there was a hint of regret by the time we woke up to the mustiness of the bunkhouse the following morning…
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03oroc
Stravaiging
 
Posts: 4
Munros:129   Corbetts:17
Fionas:12   
Hewitts:170
Wainwrights:81   
Joined: Aug 17, 2018

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