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Gales, wilderness, bothies and a mad woman in the Cairngorms

Gales, wilderness, bothies and a mad woman in the Cairngorms

Postby Mountainlove » Tue Aug 19, 2014 11:25 am

Route description: Beinn a' Chaorainn & Beinn Bhreac

Munros included on this walk: Beinn a' Chaorainn (Cairngorms), Beinn Bhreac, Beinn Mheadhoin, Ben Macdui, Derry Cairngorm

Date walked: 15/08/2014

Time taken: 14.5 hours

Distance: 42.1 km

Ascent: 2333m

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To experience the wild Cairngorms you will have to venture out and trek deep into the heart of the remote wilderness. Steep cliffs, gale swept tops and some of the most bizarre hillsides will be yours to experience. I did not realize what a trek I had drawn out on the map, when I set off on Friday lunchtime...

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The weather wasn't as good as I had hoped for, but at least it was dry and warm on the long walk towards Derry Lodge. The path was stunning…ancient pine forests, heather clad hillsides and in the far distance the Cairngorms. About an hours walk later, Bob Scotts Bothy came into view and the infamous bridge, which was destroyed during the recent storm


Me at the start

Bridge no more


The damaged path further up the hill

Stunning views

Passing Derry Lodge I made my way up Glen Derry. The path climbed gently past more ancient pines and also had taken a battering during the storm. Luckily it was easy to step over the washed away path and wider river crossing. I climbed higher and higher, keeping a look out for a path up Beinn Bhreac. Maybe due to the storm damage, or maybe because I overlooked it, I walked past it :? and when I cleared the forest I checked my GPS. The easiest way would be straight up and so I made my way up the hill through thick heather. Making good progress I reached a flattish area and looked up the hill. There were a few options, :think: but I guessed straight up would be best. :thumbup: Crossing a wee burn the ground was getting boggy and I was glad when I passed the worst and started climbing again. Struggling with the weight of my backpack, I made slow progress and when I reached the top I was a bit annoyed when I realized that I had aimed for the west top. :roll: Not hanging around for long, I walked the additional kilometer to the real top and was able to enjoy the views.

Towards Glen Derry

Looking back on my way up the first Munro

Not that stunning - the top of Beinn Bhreac

Towards Beinn a'Chaorainn

Looking ahead the second Munro Beinn a'Chaorainn the distance seemed not too far away. Following a faint path, I realized for the first time how deceiving the distances can be up there. The ‘short’ distance turned out a real pain in the backside, as most of the 5 km was through bog and the path soon frazzled out into nothingness. Grumpily I walked and walked and walked. The views however were lovely. :)

Views from the left

The top of Beinn a'Chaorainn

When I reached the cairn of Beinn a'Chaorainn, Glen Derry spread out towards my left and Beinn Mheadhoin rose steep from up the valley floor. Taking some pictures, I had a quick bite to eat and while walking towards Beinn Mheadhoin, the path I had chosen came into view.

Me view Glen Derry in the horizon

The path ahead towards Beinn Mheadhoin

Sitting down and checking up the route...straight line up the river you can see

The route up the left and the top towards the right

Moving along it was the first time in ages that I felt rather alone. I had not seen a single soul since I past the lodge and it added to the feeling of remoteness. The path soon turned into a treacherous scree descent, but luckily it wasn’t very far until I reached the valley.

Looking up Beinn Mheadhoin I took a deep breath and made my way up the steep grassy slope. The direct way up the burn was the fastest, jet probably the hardest. It was a tiring task and stopping frequently...to pick blueberries :D …(good excuse for breaks) :wink: , I eventually reached the top of the burn.

On the way to the top, looking back towards Beinn a'Chaorainn

Down to the valley

From there the ground flattened out and climbed gently towards the top. Walking along I fell in love with the strange mountain top of Beinn Mheadhoin. The boulders on top looked strangely out of place and the approaching darkness, low cloud and cold wind just added to the atmospheric feeling. Having reached the highest boulder I dropped my backpack and climbed to the top. The views towards Cairngorm, Cairn Lochan and Loch Avon were spectacular and I took photos until the cold wind forced me to leave.

The top comes into view

The top a bit closer

Views from the top of Beinn Mheadhoin

Cairn Lochan


Loch Avon

Loch Etchachan and Loch Avon

It was getting late and it was time to find a spot to camp. I had planned to find a spot around Loch Etchachan and climbing down the steep path until I reached the loch, I had a look around. The wind was blowing fiercely and it was cold. Mmmm. :think: Remembering the weather forecast of gale force winds for the next day, I decided that the exposed area around the loch wasn't a very good idea...specially as my wee tent wasn't build for that type of weather. Looking down the path towards Glen Derry, I was able to spot Hutchison Memorial Hut and decided to try my first night in a bothy! Great idea! :thumbup:

The way towards Loch Etchachan

Getting closer to Hutchison Memorial Hut

Walking down the path towards the bothy felt special…like going home and was wondering if there would be space inside. Regardless of what the situation might be, I was looking forward to get the shelter in the bothy and maybe have some company.

By the time I got closer, I spotted a person outside the bothy. Saying hello entered the darkness of the bothy. Once through the entrance area, I opened the second door and a wall of extreme heat hit me. :wtf: :wtf: Trying to breath I entered the furnace, coughing a hello to two further people, I sat down. A further…"OMG it is hot", escaped my lips, which was answered with laughter. The 3 students inside had tried their hardest to turn the inside of the bothy into a Sauna. :shock: :shock: Sitting down, I tried to breathe the air of fire and made a mental note that a night in my tent was certainly better than being cooked alive in my sleeping bag inside the bothy. :lol: :lol: :lol:

In no time I stripped down to my T-shirt, while sweltering in my long trousers. Having a chat, while my body tried to get used to the 30C temperature difference, one thing was for sure…I was roasting in no time.

The 3 seemed rather baffled when I told them that I prefer to sleep outside in my tent and watched me suspiciously when I set up the tent. “This will not survive the forecasted gale force winds” I was told. Cheek! I thought watch me. 8) We came to an arrangement that if the weather would turn too bad, I would come in (and could scrape my tent off the mountain the next day) 8) :lol:
Crawling into my sleeping bag an hour later, I was fast asleep within seconds.

I was woken up by something banging on my head. :shock: Confused I tried to figure out what was happening, when I realized that gusts of wind started to batter my wee tent and the walls of the tent, flapping around my head, had woken me. Too tired to do anything, I changed position and lay awake for ages listening to the bursts of wind hitting my tent and keeping me from falling asleep again. :( :( Not sure how long it took me, but eventually I managed to fall sleep again. The next time I woke it was daylight and the tent seemed to have found its own life. Strong winds battered my wee tent from the outside. The walls bend in at alarming rates (scary when the inside of the tent isn’t much bigger than a coffin) and the wind pulled at the guy ropes. Taking out my ear plugs, I listed to the wind and was pretty much surprised that the wee tent withheld such force of wind. :shock: :clap:

Not wanting to challenge fate any longer, I decided it was now time to pack my tent up. As quickly as I could I packed up and moved into the bothy. The bothy was still warm, but luckily the extreme heat was gone. Soon after the 3 said their good byes and left while I packed my bag to get ready for the next 2 Munros. :D

The bothy during the next morning

The bothy from the outside

Outside the wind had picked up even more since I got up and the clouds were racing high above me. I made my way up the path and reached Loch Etchachan, which was now covered in waves. Further up thick clouds covered the hills...time to make my way up Ben Macdui. Walking along the easy to follow path, I was soon surrounded by wet clouds. Realizing it was actually raining, I put my waterproofs on and made my way towards the summit. The wind was strong, but did not hinder me in any way and after a quick visit to the top, I returned to the wee ruin to seek some shelter.

Loch Etchachan the next morning

The path up Ben Mcdui

Looking back down the path, with the faint path down Beinn Mheadhoin in the distance

The top of Ben Mcdui

Seeking shelter

Sad that I had no views, I decided to get moving as the wind and rain started to get stronger and I still had one Munro left to cover. Retracing my steps towards the loch, I turned right and made my way up towards Derry Cairngorm.

Retracing my steps back the path (that was my view)

The rain, but at least some views

Looking back up to Ben Mcdui

What had looked like an easy walk up the cone like summit, turned out to be one of the most difficult walks I had encountered so far.

The first 2/3rd of the way was easy, but the higher I got, the stronger the wind became. When I reached the boulder field and balanced my way to the top, I was suddenly hit by a gust of gale force wind, which threw me over. Landing painfully on my knees, the wind continuously hit me with such force, that I was not able to stand up. Crouching down to the ground, I had to use my hands to hold on to the rocks, so I would not be blown over further...this was crazy! :wtf: :thumbdown: Waiting for the wind to ease again, I managed to get up. Clinging to my walking poles, taking baby steps I managed 3 steps, until the next gust of wind forced me down to my knees again. As before I waited and got up again, walking sideways to try different angels to control the force of the wind. The further I got to the top…which now took ages, the worst the wind got. Inching forward another forceful gust of the storm hit me. Not being able to stand, I quickly crouched down in a little burrow surrounded by rocks . The wind hit my heavy backpack, which such force that it got nearly lifted off of shoulders. At that time the top was only 30 m or so away, so close yet so far. Considering my options I thought of crawling the way to the top, but the thought that I might have to return was also present. :thumbdown: :think: :-|
With grim determination I looked towards the summit again and decided...regardless how long it would take me...I am going to reach the bloody cairn. :evil: :evil: :evil:
With that my longest climb began. Each step took ages, as the gust of gale force winds forced me to crouch down so many times. But after 3 bruises on my legs and a bruised ego by gotten thrown down god knows how many times, I reached the top. Seeking shelter I smiled...Munro No 180 had fought hard to get climbed, but I did it. :evil: :angel: :angel:

The top

Views from the top

More views

The walk down was luckily a lot easier, as it curved slightly towards the left and leaving the area less exposed to the wind. I still had to take great care, but at least the gusts of wind didn’t hit me anymore and I was able to cope with the otherwise strong winds.
The further I climbed down the easier it got and soon even the rain stopped leaving lovely views ahead.
Reaching the lower slopes of the mountain, lovely views towards Glen Derry could be enjoyed and I could not believe it when the sun started to come out. By the time I reached the burn with the broken bridge, I was back in a T-shirt and the madness of the last hill was nearly forgotten.

The calm after the storm..how can this be the same day!

Waving good bye to the rain showers, on their way east

Derry Lodge area comes into view

The last 20 min

The lovely path back to the car park (looking back towards the mountains)

Looking ahead

and back again

Even though the bridge was gone, the crossing of the river was easy. I took my shoes and socks off and walked though…rather nice as it was the first bath I had in 2 days. 8) The way back to my car ,I enjoyed in sunshine and after paying £2.50 to use the shower facilities at the Braemar campsite (bliss) :D :D :D I was back for one last night of wild camping in Glenshee. :D
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Re: Gales, wilderness, bothies and a mad woman in the Cairng

Postby Scoobica » Tue Aug 19, 2014 1:08 pm

Felt like i was with you, in those winds.

When you think of the Munros and the Cairngorms, lose hard fort final few verticle metres of Derry Cairngorm will come flooding back.
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Re: Gales, wilderness, bothies and a mad woman in the Cairng

Postby scottishkennyg » Tue Aug 19, 2014 1:15 pm

Good walk there ML and some nice images. Maybe should have stayed in the bothy for the craic..
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Re: Gales, wilderness, bothies and a mad woman in the Cairng

Postby AnnieMacD » Tue Aug 19, 2014 1:15 pm

Oh fantastic, I really enjoyed that! Good for you not giving in and getting to the top of Macdui. Funny about the heat in the hut - I always imagine them as freezing cold.

Fantastic pictures of the heather and views of the lochs. I guess that's Cairngorm looking its best.
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Re: Gales, wilderness, bothies and a mad woman in the Cairng

Postby Shug » Tue Aug 19, 2014 1:43 pm

That's a nice wee looking bothy. Not convinced of it as a sauna tho.
They weren't slapping each other with birch twigs as well were they? :lol:
(incidently, what tent do you have? I'm after a new one as my near 3kg 2 man tent near killed me on foinaven :lol: )
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Re: Gales, wilderness, bothies and a mad woman in the Cairng

Postby londonwalker » Tue Aug 19, 2014 3:06 pm

Knew rthis was going to be good - and it was Maja. Congratulaions on OneHundredandEighty (you'vr got to say that like a darts caller) and a great report. I love this part of the Cairngorms, it's real wild country, great for solitude and overnight camping - taking camping gear really increases the load making for hard days - but worth it. Well done for battling the elements :clap: :clap:
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Re: Gales, wilderness, bothies and a mad woman in the Cairng

Postby Beaner001 » Tue Aug 19, 2014 4:02 pm

Superb effort, well done on staying out in the tent in that wind, i'd have been into the bothy like a rat up a drain pipe!! Enjoyed reading that as i've done all these so can relate to your excellent descriptions. :clap:
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Re: Gales, wilderness, bothies and a mad woman in the Cairng

Postby Essan » Tue Aug 19, 2014 4:16 pm

I am sure that the maintenance organisers will be most distressed by your experiences at the Hutchie Hut .....

..... only 30c?!!!!! It should have been at least 35c! :lol:

(Seriously, think I would have camped too - though secure in the knowledge that there was solid shelter close by if needed)
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Re: Gales, wilderness, bothies and a mad woman in the Cairng

Postby Caberfeidh » Tue Aug 19, 2014 4:34 pm

Excellent pictures and prose ~ you really took me back to my old stamping ground. How were the midgies? Hutcheson Hut never had a wooden floor when I was last there, it was just a cold stone box, no stove, no porch, only one door under which the gales made free entry! Changed days now I see. If anyone is going that way, please do not try to cross the outlet of the burn from Little Loch Etchacan, it involves tottering above a severe drop. There is an easy ankle-deep ford at the narrow point of Little Loch Etchacan.

Loch Etchacan.jpg
Ford at narrows of Little Loch Etchacan not as marked on OS maps
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Re: Gales, wilderness, bothies and a mad woman in the Cairng

Postby cmarcol » Tue Aug 19, 2014 7:59 pm

"Moving along it was the first time in ages that I felt rather alone. I had not seen a single soul since I past the lodge"

Me and my friend are either really forgettable or I just have a ridiculous memory - I recognise your photo and 100% sure we passed you before the worst of the damaged path with the burn running across it in Glen Derry! :lol: Would guess you missed the massive Duke of Edinburgh group we came across that day too who seemed totally clueless when it came to the flood damage and how to tackle it. The path up to the Lodge was really busy but I guess a lot of people won't go further without the bridge and with the path damage. The path to those hills on the east of the glen is definitely still there. It's marked by a very easy to miss cairn. I love this area and love reading any report on them - especially the overnighters :clap:
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Re: Gales, wilderness, bothies and a mad woman in the Cairng

Postby rockhopper » Tue Aug 19, 2014 8:31 pm

Mad :? :think: :silent: - nope - a bit challenging perhaps but that sounded great. It's a brilliant area to get lost in your thoughts and just enjoy the surroundings - cheers :)
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Re: Gales, wilderness, bothies and a mad woman in the Cairng

Postby shibuyaku » Tue Aug 19, 2014 10:06 pm

Greetings from the three students, we're all back home now and waited for a written complaint about the Hutchinson sauna :D (Sorry about the heat though, we underestimated the power of our stone coal a bit)

What a great day it was, we enjoyed some nice views from the summit of Ben Macdui around 1pm and felt great about ignoring the so-so forecast.

Posted a picture of your tent in another thread, because I did not know who we met there (forgot to ask/tell, mind melted in the heat). It looked interesting from outside :clap:

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Re: Gales, wilderness, bothies and a mad woman in the Cairng

Postby MunroMadMen » Tue Aug 19, 2014 10:09 pm

Awesome report and as per the norm some outstanding pictures, certainly don't mind taking on some major tasks eh, well done you on what looks like a great journey

G :)
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Re: Gales, wilderness, bothies and a mad woman in the Cairng

Postby spiderwebb » Tue Aug 19, 2014 10:48 pm

Glad it's not just me who realises after planning just what they have undertaken :lol: :lol:
Great round there Maja. Enjoyable read. :D
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Re: Gales, wilderness, bothies and a mad woman in the Cairng

Postby CarltheViking » Wed Aug 20, 2014 8:50 am

Dear Mountainlove

I was planning to do a very similar route to yours this week but whilst descending Stob Coire Easiain on Friday, 15th August I heard from a fellow walker that the bridge at Derry Lodge had been washed away. I therefore decided to switch to the hills of Drumochter. Seems I was a little too cautious.

My first day was the same as yours - Beinn Bhreac, Beinn á Chaorainn & Beinn Mheadhoin with a wild camp by the Hut. The second day was a run up and down Derry Cairngorm before ascending Ben McDui followed by a descent via Carn a' Mhaim. One extra summit. Did you consider this?

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