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Macdui and more - on the peanut trail

Macdui and more - on the peanut trail

Postby old danensian » Wed Jul 10, 2013 9:17 pm

Munros included on this walk: Beinn Mheadhoin, Ben Macdui, Càrn a' Mhàim, Derry Cairngorm

Date walked: 09/07/2013

Time taken: 10 hours

Distance: 27.5 km

Ascent: 1735m

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It’s all too easy to bask in the glow of a “good” day out, enjoying the experience and the achievement, and to swiftly conclude that it has been one of the best. There’s that tendency to allow the immediacy of the moment to elevate “good” to “great”, if not “one of the best.”

But with no melodramas or crises to recount, no brutal conditions to battle against, and a distinct lack what might be called excitement, what made yesterday’s trip stand above so many others?

The simple pleasure of climbing hills, being surprised by discovering previously unvisited corners, and savouring the varied character of what I’d previously thought of as an amorphous mass of rounded hulks. So, for these reasons, and more, I make no apology for indulging in writing about the trip as well.

As Scotland sweltered on Monday, I left the chaos of our back garden. It was littered with trenches, exposed sewer pipes, piles of gravel and soil, all dominated by a mini-JCB.

Let them get on with it, I thought. I want an early start in the morning, and I’ll only worry if I hang around getting in their way. With Carn a Mhaim, Ben Macdui, Beinn Mheadhoin and Derry Cairngorm in my sights I headed north in the early evening.

And so it was, with a skein of mist still clinging to the river and pink hue to the sky, I emerged from the little green hotel at Derry Lodge at 5.00am the next day. Twenty minutes later, a chill in the air promised at least a couple of hours or more to get some distance and height in before the sun made things uncomfortable.

Early morning mists around Derry Lodge

By 6.00am the sweat had begun to flow as the slopes of Carn a Mhaim took its toll and the line of sunlit slope had come down to meet me. The air hung still and there was little in the way of breeze to suggest that the day held anything but the forecast heat and threat of dehydration.

Sunny slopes descend from Carn a Mhaim

Carn a Mhaim’s final ridge tantalised, holding back the panorama across the Lairig Ghru that I knew must burst into view at any moment. At last it came and, as the trough plunged down, The Devil’s Point and Cairn Toul emerged, and a welcome breeze started to cool things down.

The Devil's Point and Cairn Toul burst on the scene

Approaching the summit, the track briefly fell into the shade. Along with the breeze, it was blessed relief: and it wasn’t even 7.00am yet.

Morning was still dark and gloomy down in the Lairig Ghru, with no sign of life at the Corrour Bothy. Come on, stir your stumps – there’s a day out here to be enjoyed. On the top I enjoyed a handful of salted peanuts and another of jelly babies, aiming to keep the salt and sugar levels topped up regularly during the day.

Cairn Toul and Braeriach from Carn a Mhaim

Braeriach from the northern end of Ceann Crionn Carn a Mhaim

The ridge stretched away from the summit towards Ben Macdui, the big prize for the day. To my left, the corries and crags of Braeriach glared across at me, a frustrating festering sore. I’d ignored it and missed it out when doing the adjoining three Munros a couple of years ago, regretting it ever since. At least I’ve still got that as an excuse to get back; maybe a winter trip next time for that one.

Ahead, the slog up from the bealach between Carn a Mhain and Ben Macdui had looked brutal when seen from the other side of the valley. The map did nothing to alleviate what I thought would be the toughest part of the day. Now, having dropped to 800m and with another 500m to go before getting to the top it looked like this next stage was going to be as hard as it threatened.

Fortified by more peanuts and jelly babies and what I hoped wouldn’t be too much water, I settled into a rhythm. The breeze kept the worst of the sun’s building heat at bay and, as the stones and boulders became bigger and more interesting to clamber over, I was surprised how quickly I reached the eastern edge of the plateau. Equally surprising was the appearance of fast flowing running water as the Allt Clach nan Taillear began its downward course.

Fragments of cloud drift across Braeriach

Water was something I’d been worrying about on what was likely to be a long, hot and potentially dry day. I’d loaded up with a 2 litre hydration system (can’t be comfortable calling it a “bladder”), two half-litre energy drinks and another half-litre bottle of water. Expecting to run out at some stage, I welcomed the opportunity to top up and have a healthy extra gulp or three to wash down the salt from yet more peanuts – and there’s nothing worse than trying to chew jelly babies in a parched mouth.

While crossing the final stretch to the summit, thin layers of cloud drifted across Braeriach and its neighbours. Surely, on a day like this, I wasn’t going to be adding yet another photograph to my “cairns in the clag” file.

And a snow bunting chirrped on Ben Macdui

I was greeted on the summit by a veil of cloud and birdsong. A snow bunting perched on the trig point sending its call into the suddenly eerie greyness. I apologised for depriving it of its lofty perch and for not sharing my peanuts with it so off it flew. Just after 9.00am, and with the majority of the climbing behind me in the coolest part of the day, I sat and waited.

Beinn Mheadhoin from Ben Macdui

Initially, the view remained masked: just my luck, but I knew I’d got the time to wait. Soon the cloud simply drifted past on the breeze, revealing a marvellous panorama beyond the edge of the extensive plateau, spoiled slightly by the scattered shelters and cairns littering the foreground.

To cross to Beinn Mheadhoin, I retraced my steps to the precipice of Coire Sputan Dearg, and then began to descend towards Loch Etchachan. Gullies plunged, with their side-walls framing the view across to Derry Cairngorm.

Loch Etchachan and Beinn Mheadhoin from the top of Coire Sputan Dearg

Dropping to the loch I became more and more aware of the spectacular surroundings about which I’d been completely unaware. Enclosed by crags and with the backdrop of Ben Macdui and Carn Etchachan, the deep blue water escaped from one loch to another before cascading between the slopes of Beinn Mheadhoin and Creagan Coire Etchachan.

Loch Etchachan with Ben Macdui lurking in the background

I’d seen the pimples on Beinn Mheadhoin breaking the skyline for quite some time and thought the drop was going to be much deeper. However, once at the shores of Little Loch Etchachan I realised that its surface was still higher, at nearly 930m, than more than thirty Munros.

Fortunately, this meant that the short pull up could be done fairly quickly after topping up with water yet again as the water spilled out into the Coire Etchachan Burn. More nuts and more jelly babies fortified me for tackling the path that could be seen as severe scarring on the hillside for quite some time as I descended from Ben Macdui.

The surroundings of Loch Etchachan revealed more surprises as I rose above, with crags on the north face of Carn Etchachan showing their vertical pillars, towering columns and blocks.

Less than half an hour after leaving the lochs I was confronted by the stone-strewn stretch across the Barns of Beinn Mheadhoin, the final cluster gathering at its highest point. Within another ten or fifteen minutes I was wondering if the absolute top sat on the top of one of these tors. Or perhaps, was there a final slope that lay behind where a cairn would mark a marginally higher piece of ground?

The summit "Barns" of Beinn Mheadhoin

No, that was it, reminiscent of a gritstone crag in Derbyshire. Was I in for some knuckle-gouging hand-jams to get to the top?

Circumventing the tor revealed the back staircase so I was soon perched on the very top, surveying the final stage of the day’s walk.

The back stairs on Beinn Mheadhoin

I enjoyed the solitude of yet another summit, eating a sandwich that had been liberally sprinkled with salt the day before as it was made, but left as I saw a person heading across the open ground. I should let them enjoy the surroundings in a similar way.

Looking back up the track that I’d followed coming down from Coire Sputan Dearg I pin-pointed the place where to circumvent Creagan a Choire Etchachan and head round for Derry Cairngorm.

Back at the Little Loch Etcahcan I refilled water bottles yet again, finished another packet of peanuts, and chatted with a Duke of Edinburgh assessor who had just checked that his charges were surviving their experience and heading off in the right direction.

Although then going back up hill, the gradient wasn’t too punishing. It wasn’t obvious if there was a defined track so I soon struck up to the skyline just a couple of hundred feet above, from where the ground rose gently towards the stony summit of the final Munro of the day.

In comparison to the other tops of the day, it was unassuming and unspectacular. What was spectacular however, were yet more towering crags and the immense verticality of the cliffs and slabs of Coire Sputan Dearg. They had dominated the view from down at Luibeg Bridge where they are far more imposing than the hulk of Ben Macdui that lurked behind.

The cliffs and slabs of Coire Sputan Dearg

Teetering from stone to boulder to yet another stone, the pair of summit cairns of Derry Cairngorm were reached by 1.30pm, where half a lazy hour was spent snatching a second salty sandwich and drinking deeply of the water that I now knew would last out the trip.

The twin cairns of Derry Cairngorm

So far, since reaching Carn a Mhaim a cooling breeze had kept the worst of the sun’s heat at bay; factor 25 and sweat mingled to run into my eyes every now and again, but there hadn’t been too much suffering to detract from the enjoyment.

Coire Sputan Dearg and Ben Macdui from Derry Cairngorm

When I started to drop from the final Munro of the day, the breeze dropped too, then disappeared altogether. It was like stepping into a furnace. The temperature was ratcheted up significantly so I was grateful for the additional water that I’d kept on gathering – and for the salt in the peanuts and sandwiches. On previous sweltering days I’ve suffered from twinges of cramp, but today my avoiding tactics and peanut regime seemed to have worked. In the past I’ve been more of a nibbler when walking during the summer, consuming little and just restocking when back at the car. Recently I’ve been more judicious in taking on fuel on a regular basis and felt the benefit of it too: shame it’s taken all these decades to get eating right!

As I approached the shoulder of Carn Crom, a fine cairn began to lure me over. I seemed to have been descending for ages, but looking at the map realised that I was still over 800m.

However, mind and body were now in descent mode, that feeling when the slightest rise in the path suddenly takes it out of you. But, despite every physical fibre of my being taking me downhill , my mind was tempted. It might only have been sixty metres upward, but it was real mind-over-matter stuff for ten minutes.

And it was worth every extra ounce of effort expended for what turned out to be the most fitting end of the day.

Ben Macdui and Derry Cairngorm from Carn Crom - accompanied by a fine cairn

A fine cairn, the best of the day, sits only 24 metres short of being a Munro. An equally fine and appropriate position, level with Carn a Mhaim, the first Munro of the day, gave an unrivalled view up the glen. It stretched wide enough to see all the peaks I’d been on during the day, with the Barns on Beinn Mheadhoin just peeping out from behind the eastern slopes of Derry Cairngorm.

The pines of Derry Lodge below

The pines around Derry Lodge could just be seen to the side of the final shoulder of the ridge, but it was worth lingering to savour the last upland moments of the day; anyway, I also needed the rest. After enjoying not just the views but also the last of the food – cereal bars, a banana and, of course, the last of the peanuts – I set off down into the crucible below.

Exactly ten hours since leaving the tent in the cool of the early morning I was back by the Derry Burn and sorely tempted to leap in. However, if I’d taken my boots off and indulged, I knew it would be even harder to get psyched up for the final leg cycling back to the car at Linn of Dee.

Opening the tent it felt like the temperature couldn’t have been far off that needed for spontaneous combustion. The midges were absent but the clegs were lurking so time wasn’t wasted before departing.

It was a great day that did transcend the merely good. But why?

My original plan worked like a dream. I discovered parts and characteristics of the Cairngorm plateau about which I was unaware. Those rounded masses revealed hidden corners with towering cliffs. The lochs of Etchachan are set in a glorious spot worth visiting for its own right, never mind the hills looming above them, each of which were different in their own way: the spine of Carn a Mhaim; the hulk of Ben Macdui; the Exmoor-like tors of Beinn Mheadhoin; the jumble of boulders and stones comprising Derry Cairngorm; and finally the statuesque cairn and position of Carn Crom.

The challenge is: follow that.

Well, I’m on Arran next week and keeping my fingers crossed for this weather to continue.
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old danensian
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Re: Macdui and more - on the peanut trail

Postby Collaciotach » Wed Jul 10, 2013 10:27 pm

Grand report and hope the weather is as fine for you on the island :D
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Re: Macdui and more - on the peanut trail

Postby rockhopper » Wed Jul 10, 2013 10:57 pm

Excellent - enjoyed that ! Great when you get such conditions to be able to see so much up there - cheers :)
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Re: Macdui and more - on the peanut trail

Postby GariochTom » Wed Jul 10, 2013 11:21 pm

Really enjoyed reading that report - thanks! Definitely looks a great day with excellent weather. Hope it's equally as good on Arran!
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