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Ben Macdui (North) Beinn Mheadhoin, Cairn Gorm

Ben Macdui (North) Beinn Mheadhoin, Cairn Gorm

Postby Myth » Mon Jun 02, 2008 1:09 pm

Munros included on this walk: Beinn Mheadhoin, Ben Macdui, Cairn Gorm

Date walked: 02/06/2008

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Summer 2007. 2 aching adults, 2 shattered children, one very tired dog.

This is really a story of the ultimate walk "extension" - we only set out for Ben Macdui (from the north) with a repeat of Cairn Gorm (last done in snow) possible as a double, but it was such a lovely day, and we felt so good, that we extended, almost too far! None of our usual walking pals were about (they'd planned a trip on the west) but we really wanted to get out. I've been up on the Cairngorms plateau many times in and since my youth, know it well, and never tire of the area - I also wanted to show the kids the Braeriach route for the next year... Hmmm.

We drove down to the ski centre arriving about 10am, and parked down the slope on the west side, and headed out. Feeling adventurous, I'd loaded up on food and was carrying the shelter and extra layers for all. We took the low path on the west side (outside five fingers) and up past Cairn Lochan, gazing down into and along the Lairig Ghru. It's a lovely, clear path, and largely deserted while we were on it, although we did see a few hardy souls on the other side, climbing Braeriachs' ridges.

Once up on the plateau, its a nice walk up to Ben Macdui, and rather than leave the 'sacks on the path for the return via Cairn Gorm, I kept them on as we tripped on up the surprisingly long and convoluted path to the summit (big cairn, nice "sighting" rose - we could see most of the hills identified, although there was cloud/haze to the west. Fantastic clear views over Lochnagar... and to Beinn Mheadhoin to the east where a mountain rescue helicopter was obviously on exercise. As we ate lunch we talked about how everyone was feeling, and then I pulled out the ace - how about adding another hill - Beinn Mheadhoin? After much debate by the kids (I was confident but wanted commitment) the vote was 5 in favour - Dog counts!

The walk from Ben Macdui to Beinn Mheadhoin follows a lovely track first east, then downhill north east crossing the slope south of loch Etchachan. As we descended, we saw several hardy souls setting up tents on both sides, and when we arrived at the ford under Beinn Mheadhoin (refilled water) we debated leaving the packs, but opted to retain them and come "off" to the northeast, round the north of Loch Avon. The climb up here is quite a drag, fairly steep and loose, with some tight switches, opening out gradually to a surprisingly soft top, with some huge crags sticking up incongruously... the top is quite a way over, but obvious, and on this afternoon had a yellow parafin budgie hovering over it hauling up the MR team... Cue pictures.

At the top, I decided that people were looking peaked, and I wanted the option of the shelter stone, so we went off to the northwest instead (almost the up route, but veered over the heathery slopes) and admired another pair of tents going up at loch Etchachan, before we started the drop down to Loch Avon. This path is hard work, and much more eroded that my last visit, and unfortunately the pace was falling off too as we tired. I herded them up as best possible, and pointed out the incredible sights all around to keep spirits up. 'Tis a wonderful area...

As we approached the shelter stone I recalculated our speed and the distance left (cue a gulp) and called a quick conflab. The weather was still open and clear, and after deciding that an uncomfortable night was NOT desired I felt that the remaining 4 hours of light was enough to reach the car, so we waved to the many people around the shelter stone, forded the stream rounded the head of the loch ("look at the beach!") and headed east up the loch side. This is, and always was, an atrocious bouldery path as it climbs along and away from the Loch, and short legs (wifie and daughter) were having huge difficulty. Finally we reached the waterfall a quarter of the way along, and after a chocolate stop, I called for a final decision - once started, the car park is the next safe stop - vote passed, we pushed up. Literally. Hands on and shove in several places (including lifting/pushing dog who does NOT like it). This route is NOT for the faint of heart ascending, or for those without heads for heights (or on wet days) descending.

Half way up the waterfall, the weather broke as we passed official "sunset", and a wet cloud rolled down onto us. Out came waterproofs, map and compass, and as we came out of the gully, we pushed up the gentle heather and peat towards Fiacaill Ridge. The path is clear enough on the map, but brindles on the ground and we followed an eastern thread not mapped... once we hit the main Cairn Gorm path we turned right as I'd planned, and were on the Carn Gorm slope when my instincts kicked in and we decided that a repeat of Cairn Gorm (even only 200m away)was too much for the available light, and turned back towards Fiacaill ridge. This is a fairly obvious trail in good weather, but with light failing and in cloud, I was using the map and compass carefully to get to the trailhead... The path down the ridge is excellent to start, and just gets better and clearer. Thankfully we also dropped back out of the cloud, and could see the path to the carpark below in the gloom. Some lovely stonework steps, and a clear path bed should be bliss, but by now the female half of the party was past it and - I donated my softshell to one and fleece to the other (both just over the top of their kit), and put their empty sacks in mine for the walk down. Everyones knees were aching by the time we hit the middle station, and lost most the light. An easy walk down the track beside the railway, we didn't need to get the torches out, and arrived back at the car *dying* for fish and chips, duely procured in Aviemore just as the shop was closing.

Utterly fantastic is the only possible description, although there were some mutterings about forced pace from the females! I should have been on the hill at least half an hour earlier... probably more. This is an enormous walk, I think over 22km and 1600m ascent, covering some dire but beautiful ground, which took us 12 hours in mostly fine weather... very good practice for Braeriach!

Remember those tents I mentioned? Turned out to be the friends we thought were on the west who decided to high camp before climbing Beinn Mheadhoin, walking in over the goat trail - eight of them in four tents to start the night, but they lost two tents to high winds around 1am... very uncomfortable night, and walked out wet and tired without climbing the hill the next day. VERY glad we decided not to camp out!
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Re: Ben Macdui (North) Beinn Mheadhoin, Cairn Gorm

Postby canisp » Thu Jun 26, 2008 9:06 pm

That seemed like a good long hard day on the hill. I enjoyed reading your description of it, and followed your route on my map. You passed two of my favourite spots in the Cairngorms, the first at grid ref 998986, i’ve sat there a few times, legs dangling over a huge backward sloping granite block, looking down to Lochan Uaine. The second is Stacan Dubha, a Top of Beinn Mheadhoin, an airy perch with a superb view of Loch Avon. Thanks for posting, it brings back many happy memories :D .
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