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He should have known better – Part 1

He should have known better – Part 1

Postby Clach Liath » Sun Sep 04, 2011 9:14 pm

Route description: Ben Avon via Gleann an-Slugain

Munros included on this walk: Ben Avon

Date walked: 19/08/2011

Time taken: 10 hours

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The sacrifices we south of the Border have to make at times to indulge our passions! As ever last minute hitches at work meant that I was leaving home later then planned on the Thursday evening. The aim was to climb both Ben Avon and Beinn a’Bhuird together with all of their Munro tops. My companion for the trip was Jet, a three year old blue merle border collie who now is the only member of the family who will willingly come with me into the hills.

So the plan was to drive as far north as possible that evening/night, kip in the car and then make as early a start as possible the next day. If I went well I could perhaps stash the tent, stove, sleeping bag and some food somewhere to lighten the load and skip around the circuit and back to the tent.

The forecast was good for the Friday but the weather was due to deteriorate late in the day with winds strengthening and the cloud lowering. The forecast for Saturday was not good with rain, strong winds and an MWIS 30% chance of a cloud free Munro.

As with most people I guess I was to approach this task from the south. So I parked at Keiloch, paid my £2.50 fee and used the facilities. I was off just before 8am having had to pack the gear that I had almost literally thrown into the car the previous day.

For the first couple of miles the route takes the form of a tarmac road past Estate buildings, including the Estate Office, and then around Invercauld House that is partly hidden by trees down to the left. It was a sunny prospect with white puffy clouds, though a bit chilly. After a while the route becomes a well graded land rover track which is why many cycle the approach. I had done this pair many years ago on bikes with my wife and a friend on a mad long weekend that involved Mullach na Dheiragain and the Glenfinnan pair, but that is another story.

The road is well signposted with paths off to Tomintoul via Loch Builg and to Linn of Quoich. It passes though pleasant pine forest and after a wiggle around the holiday cottages it leads you through a further stretch of forest protected at either end by a deer fence and gates.

It was a perfectly pleasant track to walk along. Although I was carrying a load that was heavier than normal I kept a good pace. By now the dog was off the lead and happily investigating the various scents that lurked in the vegetation either side of the path.

The track leads past a further section of less attractive fir trees and the glen broadens out a bit and becomes a bit more desolate. The track undulates slowly gaining height. During this stretch we were passed by a guy on a bike. We said a few words and he was on his way, his aim Beinn a’Bhuird and perhaps Ben Avon.

Half a mile before Slugain lodge the track splits. The lower one turns into a path after a short while and leads past the ruined lodge; the upper one continues as a rougher and steeper land rover track for perhaps 600 yds beyond the lodge. The bottom of the glen narrows and is very attractive at this point, contrasting with the bare openness of the valley before and after this section.

Prior to reaching the lodge I registered a couple of spots that looked good for camping, including a part of the glen where the stream disappeared underground. In the vicinity of the lodge I hid the overnight gear, Jet fascinated with what I was doing and wondering if any of the food I was depositing was for him. It had taken 1hr 50mins to this point.

I continued on up the glen, still making quite good progress I thought with the lighter load. A couple hundred metres beyond the lodge the path makes a rising traverse above a reed filled lochan to meet the land rover track which then becomes a very well made path with drainage ditches. It passes over a broad col at around 1,960ft and loses a little height as it drops into Glen Quoich. I saw the cyclist a quarter of a mile off to the west having just crossed Quoich Water en route for his first objective. That was the last time I was to see anyone that day.

Looking north up Glen Quoich

My first goal was Creag an Dail Mhor, the most southerly top of Ben Avon. The map shows a path running eastwards along its southern side. Indeed there is one, the junction with the path marked with a cairn. It looked a bit wet and was certainly rougher than the main path up the glen. In any event I had decided I would approach this top by leaving the main path further up the glen where it crosses the stream from the col between this top and Carn Eas. I stopped at this point briefly and refilled the water bottle.

There was a short steep pull up a soggy stretch and the terrain eased as I made my way on to the broad west ridge of Creag an Dail Mhor. There were a couple of small cairns en route but they did not seem to be significant in terms of direction finding. It was a little rocky underfoot but the weather was still great with a cool southerly breeze to keep any heat off.

I did not stay long at the first top and made my way quickly north to the col. There is a stream coming off Carn Eas just to the east of the col. I made my way there for a further refill and something to eat. It also avoided the steepest part of the slopes on and up.

Wider views started to open up to the south with the Lochnagar and Glenshee hills particularly prominent.

Looking over Creag an Dail Mhor towards distant Lochnagar

Approaching the top of Carn Eas the weird and wonderful landscape that is the summit plateau of Ben Avon come into view.

Tor ridden Ben Avon

And off to the west the eastern corries of Beinn a’Bhuird displayed themselves in their splendour.

Beinn a' Bhuird

The main summit of Ben Avon is almost 4k across the plateau from the top of Carn Eas. The going is great with largely gravel and rough grasses. I found it straightforward enough just to make a bee line towards the summit. This took me across a stream just south of its source and then to the low point between the summit and the west top.

Jet roaming on Ben Avon

Time seemed to be moving a lot faster than I was by now – or perhaps I just underestimated the time it takes to cross these wide open spaces. My estimated arrival time at the summit had gone by. High clouds from the advancing front were moving in from the west and the wind was strengthening, as was indeed forecast.

Well we made the base of the summit tor at just after 1pm. Time for some more food, oh and how to get Jet to the “real” summit. Well with some cajoling he did it. He wasn’t happy, but he made it kept on a tight lead. The panorama was, well, stunning.

Looking west to Beinn a'Bhuird from the summit of Ben Avon

Looking east from the summit of Ben Avon

Well I guess I am pleased with the SMC for having culled quite a few of Ben Avon’s tops from Munro’s Tables. But they did leave the two furthest outliers on the list. So now I had the small matter of visiting West Meur Gorm Craig and East Meur Gorm Craig. You only have to look at the map and the proposition appears daunting. It is a 4½ mile round trip with almost 600ft of re-ascent on the return to the main summit.

The dog was happy. And I guess I would have been but for the fact that the wind was strengthening, the clouds gathering and time continued to slip by. You cannot actually see the summits of these tops from the main summit. But the route is interesting. The ground becomes mossier and you pass by a series of tors. And whereas there is a bit of a motorway of a track leading to the main summit from The Sneck, all trace of human paths vanish as you trend eastwards, at least until you pick up a stalker’s path that runs over East Meur Gorm Craig to Big Brae.

I did West first and East second. I can tell you, you are a long way from anywhere once you get to either of these tops. And I was tired. Thank goodness Meall Gaineimh is not 10 feet higher.

East Meur Gorm Craig looking towards Big Brae

East Meur Gorm Craig

I had toyed with approaching these tops from the north, but that would have left the southerly tops to deal with. So here I was on the outer reaches of the Ben Avon plateau suffering from just 5 hours sleep and a long walk to the middle of nowhere. To be frank the return back west became a bit of a plod where you summon up a gritty determination to proceed. I followed the stalker’s path back towards Big Brae. There is then an interesting feature where the stream has created a cutting where the going was good and I was sheltered from the wind that I was now walking into.

I had a further food stop on the final rise on to the main Ben Avon plateau. The dog curled up in a ball – not a great sign because that meant he was tired. And he never gets tired.

The climb up to and around the summit tor was not as bad as I expected, and into the wind. I munched dried fruits and nuts to keep the energy levels high. But I was not going fast. Just about two and a quarter hours after we had left the summit we were now by-passing it, a little to the north and on to the drop before The Sneck.

The Sneck

The path is quite eroded off the west top and down to The Sneck, a function no doubt of the fact that most Munro guidebooks take you up that way to Ben Avon. Even if you are not after all the tops, I would suggest that the approach via Carn Eas is of more interest, even in foul weather. It will then test your navigation skills!

The southerly wind was howling over the ridge. A decision had to be taken and I hunkered down behind some rocks. It was 4.30pm. My next objective was Stob an t-Sluichd which I could see temptingly a mile or so across the upper reaches of Garbh Coire. But there were also now a few spots of rain in the air and the clouds had gathered somewhat. On the other hand there was still plenty of daylight, but I reminded myself that the last forecast I had seen was not good for later in the day. But it was also not good for the following day. I had also not planned for two full days out in terms of food. My tent was three and a half miles to the south and I was knackered.

What to do? Well you will find out in my post about Beinn a’Bhuird….

Last edited by Clach Liath on Tue Sep 13, 2011 5:39 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Clach Liath
Posts: 485
Munros:44   Corbetts:71
Grahams:18   Donalds:22
Sub 2000:58   Hewitts:154
Joined: Sep 2, 2011
Location: Yorkshire
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Re: He should have known better – Part 1

Postby Johnny Corbett » Sun Sep 04, 2011 10:03 pm

Great report, with nice photos. You're probably better off with just the dog, at least that won't do any whinging :D
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Johnny Corbett
Mountain Walker
Posts: 2940
Munros:18   Corbetts:206
Grahams:160   Donalds:74
Sub 2000:269   Hewitts:1
Joined: May 14, 2010
Location: Livingston

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