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A mini-stravaig over the northern Cairngorms

PostPosted: Mon Jun 10, 2013 11:26 pm
by malky_c
Munros: Ben Macdui
Date: 09/06/2013.
Distance: 20 km
Ascent: 1410m
Time taken: 5 hours 30 minutes.
Weather: Hazy sunshine, rolling mist and temperature inversion

Rockness was the big thing this weekend, and both Gill and our oldest nephew Cameron were attending. As the lineup looked pants, I stayed at home and painted the outside of the house instead...until Sunday, when I was desginated as taxi driver. Drop-off at Dores was at 4:30pm, and I needed to be back there for midnight. Plenty of time for a walk in between!

The Cairngorms have been seriously neglected by me this year, as a theme seems to have developed around visiting the west coast and islands. In fact my recent Tilt/Feshie traverse was the first of the year to stray east of the A9. I measured off a few possible routes to get an idea of what could be done in the time, then decided to wing it with the route. I fancied visiting Loch Avon and some of the cliffs round about, and maybe some of the Munro tops that I hadn't been to yet. Stacan Dubha, Sron Riach and Creag Leth-choin were all possibilities. And of course Ben Macdui, although the actual summit wasn't that important if it didn't lie on my eventual route.

Macdui.gpx Open full screen  NB: Walkhighlands is not responsible for the accuracy of gpx files in users posts


So it was a quick whizz down to the ski centre where I started walking at 5:30pm. I was going lightweight in trainers, and opted for the shortest route to Loch Avon. I usually like to take a scrambly line on the Fiacaill ridge to reach the plateau, but I wanted to get into the central Cairngorms as fast as possible to enjoy more of the proper Cairngorms. While the Northern Corries provide a great walk with good scenery, they lacked the remote feeling that I was after this time.

Stob Coire an t-Sneachda:
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Remote is a bit of an illusion really. I was dropping down the final steep descent of Coire Raibeart within an hour or so of leaving the car. 30 minutes later I was sitting down at the head of Loch Avon having my first dinner of the evening. It was a little more chilly down here than on the plateau as the last of the sun had started creeping up the sides of the corrie. It didn't matter though - this spot under the Shelter Stone crag has to be one of the most spectacular in the Cairngorms. It almost matches up to Loch Coruisk in the impressive stakes :)

Beinn Mheadhoin and Stacan Dubha:
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Shelterstone Crag:
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Stacan Dubha across Loch Avon:
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Up to now I had kept my feet dry, but there was a crazy amount of snowmelt coming down the Feith Buidhe, so that required a quick dip. You probably could have stayed dry wearing boots.

Shelterstone Crag and the Garbh Uisge Mor:
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Loch Avon:
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I decided to aim for Stacan Dubha next as that was catching some sunlight, and occupied an impressive spot above the loch. It was an easy ascent on the Loch Etchachan path followed by a wander across grass and boulders. There were some interesting scoured holes in the summit blocks and an airy drop down to Loch Avon.

Looking back to the Stag Rocks from the path up to Loch Etchachan:
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Summit scouring:
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Loch Avon:
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I didn't quite get the clear skies wanted, and there was quite a haze, but the weather was playful rather than nasty. In fact I've never minded haze in the Cairngorms, as they are a very self-contained range, and it just adds to that, sealing out views to more distant parts of the Highlands.

Next was a stroll over to the foot of Creag Etchachan. Originally I had hoped to head up onto Ben Macdui via the southern side of Loch Etchachan, but the summit was just in the mist, so I decided to miss it out and go for views down Loch Avon instead. I had found the descent of this flank slightly awkward a few years back, but it was easier to spot a route going up, scrambling easily over massive boulders. I could spy a couple of figures on the far side of the loch heading back to their tent.

Ben Macdui and Loch Etchachan:
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Loch Etchachan and Creagan a Choire Etchachan:
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Looking across the Garbh Uisge Mor:
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The summit of Creag Etchachan is pleasant without being exciting - for the real drama you need to head north slightly to a second cairn. Here you are perched right on the edge of the precipice dropping down to the Shelter Stone, and it is pretty much vertical. I decended towards the top of Shelter Stone Crag, looking over occasionally. There is a sort of cornice of loose rock along the edge that discourages getting too close - it is poised over the chasm and looks like it would detach itself if you stood on it. Probably the reason that this is a much more popular winter climbing venue than a summer one!

Buttress on Carn Etchachan:
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Loch Avon:
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Looking back at Carn Etchachan:
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I picked a spot for a second dinner and sat enjoying the views. As I did, Macdui emerged from the cloud. I had intended to work my way back across to Cairn Lochan, but this sudden improvement had me changing my plans. Maybe I could head across to Macdui and get some views of Cairn Toul and Braeriach?

Dinner time:
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Looking off Shelterstone Crag:
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Ben Macdui clears:
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Feith Buidhe and Hell's Lum Crag:
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Garbh Uisge and Feith Buidhe:
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I crossed the Garbh Uisge Mor on a bridge of old snow and worked my way towards the N top of Ben Macdui. Lots of large snow patches to cross (which were good walking - soft but not too soft) and typical Cairngorm boulders, which got particularly ankle-trapping as I approached the final section of path to the summit. Talk about exceeding expectations! A sea of low cloud was slowly rolling in from the east, giving a perfect inversion in the Lairig Ghru. Some great cloud effects over Beinn Mheadhoin too, and a nice sky to the NW 8) . The actual summit is a pretty rubbish viewpoint, being right in the middle of the plateau, so I headed west to reach the edge of the corrie.

Crossing the Garbh Uisge Mor:
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Cairn Lochan:
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Stag Rocks, Cairngorm and Bynack More:
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Beinn Mheadhoin:
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Cairngorm:
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Sgor an Lochain Uaine and Braeriach:
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Sron Riach:
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Self portrait:
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Summit of Macdui:
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Braeriach again:
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Looking NW:
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Cairn Toul:
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Braeriach:
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By that time it had gone 9:45pm, so I traversed back round to the path and headed home. I had forgotten my headtorch so I decided to jog some of the way to lessen the walking in the dark. It made for a pretty uneven route - a few hours of aimless wandering followed by 80 minutes of running and fast walking! The numerous snow patches on the path helped again with the pace, but I was soon down into the inversion and away from the views.

Into the cloud:
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Cairn Toul and Sgor an Lochain Uaine:
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Sunset over the western shoulder of Ben Wyvis:
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I was surprised to be at the slight rise on the west flank of Cairn Lochan in no time at all. The Lairig Ghru and Carn Leth-choin looked impressive from here, although I decided that summit would now need to wait for another day (as I had ended up deciding so many times in the past).

Carn Leth-choin:
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There was still great light, and the new path down to the ski centre made the going really quickly. Despite having another stop and making a diversion to look into Coire an Lochain (which the new path doesn't allow), I covered the distance from Macdui to the carpark in about 80 minutes. The Munros can be so easy :wink: . There was still decent light for walking at 11pm - a perfect evening on the hills :D

Coire an Lochain and Cairn Lochan:
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Meall a Bhuachaille:
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NE to Ben Rinnes:
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Cairn Lochan in last light:
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Re: A mini-stravaig over the northern Cairngorms

PostPosted: Mon Jun 10, 2013 11:33 pm
by Collaciotach
Some cracking pics there Malky , I was on Carn Gorm and MacDui same day but early morning summit of macDui for 9am good inversions also :D

Re: A mini-stravaig over the northern Cairngorms

PostPosted: Mon Jun 10, 2013 11:58 pm
by Cairngormwanderer
Loved the photos. Some crackers there! :clap: :clap: :clap:

Re: A mini-stravaig over the northern Cairngorms

PostPosted: Tue Jun 11, 2013 12:12 am
by basscadet
Och aye, I really enjoyed this one Malky :) Nice to see what the gorms look like in good weather :lol:

Re: A mini-stravaig over the northern Cairngorms

PostPosted: Tue Jun 11, 2013 12:28 am
by Border Reiver
Loved the report and photos. My favourite area - I could wander through the Cairngorms for days on end without ever feeling the need to reach a summit - so many corners to explore.

Re: A mini-stravaig over the northern Cairngorms

PostPosted: Tue Jun 11, 2013 1:04 pm
by BlackPanther
Wow! The secrets of Cairngorms finally revealed :D :D :D
Some photos look like they were taken from a helicopter :wink:

Re: A mini-stravaig over the northern Cairngorms

PostPosted: Tue Jun 11, 2013 9:32 pm
by rockhopper
Started off well, malky, but an absolute belter towards the end of the day. Sunset and inversion and the Cairngorms - they don't come much better ! - cheers :)

Re: A mini-stravaig over the northern Cairngorms

PostPosted: Tue Jun 11, 2013 9:47 pm
by foggieclimber
Lovely report Malky. Infinitely better than Rockness!