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Weasel's Cairngorm Tops Adventure
by weaselmaster » Sun Sep 14, 2014 11:09 am
Munros included on this walk: Beinn a'Bhuird, Beinn a'Chaorainn (Cairngorms), Ben Avon, Ben Macdui, Cairn Gorm, Carn a'Gheoidh, Creag Leacach, Derry Cairngorm, Glas Maol, Sgor Gaoith
Date walked: 13/09/2014
Time taken: 43 hours
Distance: 185 km
Ascent: 9582m12 people think this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
Having the best part of a week off, without the Sick Kid, who's working, I find myself banned from doing Corbetts or anything remotely interesting on the West Coast. Skye looked inviting when we sailed past on Sunday returning from Rum but my quizzical eye brought a glare from herself. OK, well it was going to be Cairngorm tops then - maybe not the most glamorous option aft er all our recent spiky west coast stuff, but I was sure I'd get in the swing of things. Felt pretty tired and rushed, getting home late on monday from Glenfinnan then having to get kit sorted and set out for Aviemore on the Tuesday. At least the weather forecast seemed promising for the week. My plan was to hit the Northern Cairngorms over 3 days then do a bit of mopping up in Glen Feshie and Glenshee afterwards. This is how it turned out.
Day 1 - Aviemore to Beinn a'Chaorain Beag
Up to Cairngorm Base Station for early afternoon on Tuesday, with a good drive up the A9 for a change. Scoffed some rolls at the car park, got loaded up and headed off - a little apprehensive that with rushing to get away I'd have forgotten some key item of kit that would only become apparent when I was miles from anywhere - I have managed to forget my tent before Anyway I had planned a roughly clockwise loop and headed up Windy Ridge to get the first top in - Cnap Coire na Spreidhe. One of the delights about starting from Base Station is being at 650m when you leave the car - makes all the 1200 and 1300m tops a bit less daunting. CCnS is a tor-topped unassuming mound over to the east of the ski paraphenalia and easily reached. It gave good views over to Bynack More, and I had a peek down the SE hillside I'd planned to descend to The Saddle on - looked alright, with some residual snow hidden away in a dip. Was quite a steep descent initially and I was glad the grass was dry. Nearer the saddle, the grass gave way to boulders and scree then a faint path appeared in the lowest section. I looked left up Strathnethy - scene of a winter's nightmare at the turn of this year, one of my worst hill days tramping through knee deep soft snow for hours in bad weather Todat it was much easier going than that! Across to the south, over Loch Avon, Beinn Mheadoin loomed, its tors like the backbone of a dinosaur.
Ski Centre from Windy Ridge
P1030687 by 23weasels, on Flickr
Cnap Coire na Spreidhe
P1030689 by 23weasels, on Flickr
View to Bynack More
P1030691 by 23weasels, on Flickr
Heading down to The Saddle
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I headed over the gentle rise of A'Choinneach, which I'd already climbed and made for Bynack Beag. Seeing it crouched to the left of Bynack More I was so glad I was only going up the little baby hill whose 964m appear insignificant against its bigger brother. Getting there was fine, dry stony ground for the most part and quick time was made. Like BM, BB has tors littering its top in a granite jumble. From the summit I headed across the lower slopes of BM and made for the Fords of Avon, passing some odd looking equipment on the track between BM and Creag Mhor. Met the track and had a wee look inside the Refuge hut - more welcoming than the concrete box of the old hut, I believe, but basically a shed Then down to the Stepping Stones and over the river, contouring round the north flank of Beinn a'Chaorainn into Coire nan Clach and up steeply over boulders to gain the lonely summit cairn of Beinn a'Chaorainn Beag. It was 5.30pm by this time and I reckoned I'd spend another hour walking towards Beinn a'Bhuiridh before finding somewhere to stop for the night. I headed round Coire Ruairidh and found a suitable spot beside two wee lochans. The light was turning silvery as I pitched, no breeze but thankfully no midges either. I had a bite to eat and watched the sun sink over Macdhui. It turned colder as the sun departed and my fingers froze as I tried to read my book in the sleeping bag.
A'Choinneach looking to Bynack More
P1030701 by 23weasels, on Flickr
Rocky tors, Bynack Beag
P1030705 by 23weasels, on Flickr
View to Beinn a'Chaorainn (Beag on L)
P1030707 by 23weasels, on Flickr
What's this for, then?
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Fords of Avon hut
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Rest for the night
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Day 2 - The Big Spaces of Ben Avon
Up with the light at 7ish - looked as if it would be another good day. No wind again, so cooking the porridge was easy. A leisurely start up the eastern flanks of Ba'B, heading for North Top, disturbing a large herd of deer - I reckoned around 100 animals, who headed away to the SE. As I reached North Top i was smitten by the sky - rippled cloud formations and bands of orange and yellow light behind Lochnagar and Ben Avon. With views like this to feast on, the miles go past effortlessly. Stopped repeatedly for pictures, yet I knew that the intense colours of the vista before me would never be replicated by the camera. Awestruck, I made for the day's first target, Stob an t-Sluichd. I remembered this top from coming up The Sneck last year, thinking it looked like a dragon's spine. The tors provided some fun scrambling - I'd left my pack at the start of the path to this top. Looking way down into Garbh Coire I could see the bright orange of someone's small tent. The skies were still impressive over Ben Avon as I reached the summit and gazed around. On the way back I noticed a substantial amount of aircrash wreckage that I'd somehow missed on the way over. Even after 60 years the debris field seemed to bear witness to the fireball, with plenty of pools of melted metal to be seen. I knew nothing about the incident, but there had obviously been fatalities (in fact, 5 Czech airmen) and a sombre mood descended upon me for a bit.
P1030727 by 23weasels, on Flickr
Mist over Mheadoin
P1030728 by 23weasels, on Flickr
BaB - North Top
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Stob n t-Sluichd
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Tors on Avon
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I returned to collect my pack, contouring round Cnap a'Chleirich to reach The Sneck, then down the badly eroded path and up onto Ben Avon. I made for the main summit, naively assuming that the Tops would be some of the tors I could see on the skyline. Oh no - the Meur Gorm pair were much further away than I had reckoned with and out of sight for quite a while of walking. I headed north east over easy terrain and eventually caught site of West Meur Gorm Craig, with East way beyond it. Oh man! I decided to leave the sac and head off unladen for what was a lengthy trek. There's a bit of down and up to reach WMGC and the same again for EMGC, with miles of nothing human (save for the odd track) in sight all around. A truly remote feeling location. Headed back much the same way I'd gone out, with a strengthening fear that I'd not find my pack - although I'd marked it's position on the GPS I feared the battery would go on the GPS and I'd be left stranded - funny how the mind works at times. I was sure I could remember where I'd left it - but one group of granite rocks looks mighty similar to another, when you are approaching it from a slightly different direction and even with a working GPS I managed to walk past it! We were reunited eventually, however and I enjoyed my lunch looking out over the remoteness.
P1030755 by 23weasels, on Flickr
P1030757 by 23weasels, on Flickr
West Meur Gorm Craig
P1030761 by 23weasels, on Flickr
East MGC from WMGC
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Happy to see the pack again!
P1030767 by 23weasels, on Flickr
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Next target was Creag an Dail Mhor, far away to the south of Avon. I returned to the main summit before heading over the rocky knobble of Stob Dubh an Eas Bhig and skirting round east of Carn Eas. There's a drop then rise of around 100m between the plateau and CaDM. I had originally planned to head west, dropping down to the valley between Avon and Bhuiridh and ascend by way of Carn Fiaclach to South Top, but this involved far too much loss then gain of height - a 650m steep slog was not on my menu today! So instead I headed over Carn Eas (another top I'd previously claimed) and headed back to the Sneck, returning to North Top then heading round the edge of the mighty coires to reach South Top. I marvelled that I had not seen a soul all day - strange in such good weather.
Stob Dubh an Eas Bhig
P1030771 by 23weasels, on Flickr
Creag an Dail Mhor
P1030774 by 23weasels, on Flickr
P1030775 by 23weasels, on Flickr
Looking to South Top BaB
P1030777 by 23weasels, on Flickr
Back towards the Sneck
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Coires on way to S Top
P1030784 by 23weasels, on Flickr
South Top BaB
P1030786 by 23weasels, on Flickr
My plan now was to head over towards the heart of the mountains. I noticed that I had omitted Stacan Dubha on Beinn Mheadoin from my targets, which meant Loch Etchachan would be a good resting place for the night, allowing me to access this top easily in the morning. It looked a long way, over flat but boggy ground, but I set off knowing I could always stop earlier if I needed, or ran out of light. I set my sights on Stob Coire Etchachan (another fortunately already climbed) and got on with the business of getting there. As I came down off the western flank of Beinn a'Chaorainn into the Lairig an Laoigh I spotted my first human of the day, heading north along the path. It was a long pull up past the Hutchie hut (occupied by one guy, otherwise I might have nipped in to cook my tea) then up the steep, seemingly never ending path to the loch itself - hard on tired legs. Nobody else around the loch, and I picked a suitable site and pitched, looking forward to some food. In particular looking forward to a slab of M&S Millionaire Shortbread - only to discover I'd left it in the car...drat! A Lidl Mars Bar had to suffice and I settled down to sleep in the calm quiet after watching the setting sun paint the mountain tops red and ignite the clouds over Carn Etchachan.
View over towards Etchachan
P1030788 by 23weasels, on Flickr
P1030789 by 23weasels, on Flickr
Path to the Hutchie hut, with Etchachan beyond up the hill...
P1030791 by 23weasels, on Flickr
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Mountaintops turning red
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Day 3 - Around Etchachan and the Gorm
A restful night with only the grumbles of Ptarmigan echoing in the rocky cauldron of Etchechan. Again up at 7 and a relaxed breakfast before nipping off up Stacan Dubha - from my campspot less than 100m of ascent and definitely the simplest top of the trip. Good views along Loch Avon from here. Returned to the tent, packed up, having considered then dismissed an idea to nip up Carn Etchechan in the same manner - it looked pretty steep and stony. So off I headed for the two tops on Derry Cairngorm - Creagan a Coire Etchechan and Sgurr an Lochan Uaine. The moon was still in evidence over Macdhui as I set off and quickly reached the first target. Then on to the main path to Derry Cairngorm, which was looking resplendent this morning, before heading off due east along flat ground to SaLU. Easy going and good views of the cliffs of Stob Coire Etchechan from the top. Returning to the DC path I looked over at what I (mistakenly) assumed to be the next target - Sron Riach.
P1030803 by 23weasels, on Flickr
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View from Creagan Choire Etchachan
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Stob Coire Etchechan
P1030823 by 23weasels, on Flickr
Cliffs of Coire Sputan Dearg
P1030825 by 23weasels, on Flickr
Heading on a good path (good because it's a main route up Macdhui, as I later discovered) I passed by the cliffs lining Coire Sputan Dearg and was on my way to Macdhui before I realised my error. Turning around, and again dropping the sac, I made off for what I thought was Sron Riach - the highest point of the Coire Sputan cliffs - oh no - Sron Riach lay way below to the south. It was a rocky scramble over boulders to get down there, eventually finding a path of sorts. From the summit cairn I got good views to Carn Toul and the Penis of the Demon, with Beinn Bhrotain looming in the bluish haze beyond. Heading back up towards Macdhui, I managed to relocate my sac and trundle the short distance to the main summit of Macdhui. Met a guy from Thurso there and chatted for a while, then ate an early lunch enjoying the sunshine and surprising solitude of the summit.
Sron Riach - away down there!
P1030828 by 23weasels, on Flickr
Carn Toul etc
P1030829 by 23weasels, on Flickr
Path back up from Sron Riach
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View down to Carn Etchechan
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Next up was a trip NE over boulderfields to Carn Etchechan, which would take me only a few hundred metres from my starting point of the day. Steep and slippy in places, I was mindful of being on my own and how a broken ankle would be quite problematic Made the summit which afforded good views to Mheadoin. Traversed NW rather than heading back to Macdhui, aiming to meet the path to Cairn Gorm. My next target was Lurcher's Crag, although once again I hadn't reckoned with quite how far away this would be. Ascending to the top of the ridge at 1200m I looked down in horror at the drop and distance I needed to cover. There were plenty of folk going about here, some heading for the Chalamain Gap, others heading back down the north side of Cairn Gorm. I headed down into some boggy flat ground before dropping down towards Lurcher's. Overhead, a couple of Eurofighters were flashing up and down the valleys between the hills, roaring engines reverberating. The small rocky top gave good views to Braeriach and the Lairig Ghru. Began the long trek back up to the main ridge of Cairn Gorm, past the pinnacles around Coire an Lochan and over another two tops that I'd done before. Descended by Fiacail a Choire Chais which took me nicely down to the Ski Centre and the end of a long day. Decided a pint and fish & chips was in order and made for Glenmore Lodge, where I bumped into our guide on Skye, Bill Strachan. Replenished by hot food I set off for Rothiemurchas campsite as I felt as hot shower was in order after 3 hot days on the hills. Felt quite content with the efforts over the last few days and appreciated the fine weather.
Mheadoin from CE
P1030837 by 23weasels, on Flickr
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It's a long way away!
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Top, Lurcher's Crag
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Cairn Gorm from Stob Coire an t-Sneachde
P1030857 by 23weasels, on Flickr
Route back to Ski Centre
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Day 4 - Flat Feshie Frolics
My plan for today had been to set out from Whitewell, head down to Loch Eanaich and ascend to the west, going over Moine Mhor to Bhrotain to do it's southernly top, before returning across the 3 remaining tops of Sgor Gaoithe I needed and following the ridge down over Creag Dhubh to my starting point. However, I was not in the mood to entertain such a long trauchle today and decided instead to head up from Achlean, do the Sgor Gaoithe tops and leave Bhrotain for another day (maybe combine it with the Corbett Sgor Mhor from Linn of Dee). So with a spring in my step and a lightweight rucksac I set off up the trail from Achlean. This is definitely the easiest of the 3 routes up from Glen Feshie and provides an almost effortless height gain. I could make out a large machine near the top of the hill - a JCB digger doing something to the track. Chatted to the driver, who was friendly enough then set off across flat grassland for Meall Dubhag, a nondescript rounded top. Then onto Carn Ban Mor, a former Munro, which was just as exciting as Meall Dubhag It did provide good views to the peaky top of Sgor Gaoithe, which was easily reached. I love the steep sided views to the loch below from here. Last objective was Sgoran Dubh Mor, only a few metres lower than Gaoithe and gained without much loss of height. Another early lunch at the top in the warm sunshine. Returning to Gaoithe I was passed by a trio of cyclists - don't think I've ever seen folk cycle to the top of hills before. Met an old timer out getting tops who was not impressed with the two-wheeled folk, showing lack of respect for the hill in his eyes. Back down to the car in good time and a think what to do next.
road from Achlean
P1030864 by 23weasels, on Flickr
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Carn Ban Mor from Dubhag
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Gaoithe from CBM
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Sgoran Dubh Mor
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Gaoithe from SDM
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I had wondered about doing the top on the east Drumochter hills or the outlier on Beinn Liath at Creag Meagaidh, but didn't have maps for either. Airigod Bheinn at Beinn a'Ghlo was a possibility but a long walk for 1 top. Glenshee was more appealing as there were 6 more tops to get there. decided, I drove down the road, stopping at Pitlochry for blister plasters and some food (falalfel & babaganoush with a wee bottle of wine - very civilised). Enjoyed the windy road to Kirkmichael with the top down, Neil Young of the stereo and sunshine in the air. Arrived at Glenshee Ski Centre as a group of other walkers were packing up - turned out to be 3 guys from Inverclyde - small world. Transferred kit to my bigger pack and set off into the late afternoon sunshine for the Lesser Hills of Hell. First made my way up the steep wet grassy slopes by the ski run to the track by Cairnwell then easy walking up to Carn a'Geoidh. It was lovely having the mountains to myself, all the day walkers having gone home and the hares and deer for company. Lost in reflection I took my mind from the route and found myself headed for a large hill, when I knew there shouldn't be a large hill in my way. "I don't want to have to go up that" was my first thought, before working out what it was - Carn Binnien, another top already collected, fortunately. I had to skirt round steep slopes abouve the Allt Elrig to rejoin the route. However, mist had started rolling in by now, there was no obvious path, and I remembered having got rather lost in this area (from the opposite direction) last time we were here. I had hoped to get to Loch nan Eun to camp for the night, but going was slow, darkness was coming apon me and visibility was worsening, so I pitched up on a flattish spot about 1km short of the loch. I thoroughly enjoyed my meal and wine and read more from my book. Another windless night, but broken by the mournful sound of stags calling, sounding like tormented souls. Sleep was fitful, interrupted by fears of being trampled by rutting stags - my wee tent providing minimal protection from antler or hoof.
P1030884 by 23weasels, on Flickr
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Mist coming in
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Day 5 - Weasel ventures to the Lesser Hills of Hell
Somehow I managed to survive the demons of the night and woke early to see a red glow in the sky over the Hills of Hell (Beinn Iutharn Mhor & Beag, plus Mam nan Carn). I lay and watched as clouds shaped like schooners sailed by, their mainsails ablaze, then the baleful red eye of the sun himself piercing the mists. I breakfasted in the tent and set off the short distance to Loch nan Eun before setting off directly up Beinn Iutharn Beag - steep and rocky going. Reaching the top, rather puffed out, I looked across at its parent hill, remembering the awful battle against wind and hail we'd had on our ill-fated circuit of these Munros. On that occasion we'd camped on the flanks of Man nan Carn, but not - as far as I recalled, made the summit, so it was an opportunity to put that right. Dropping my sac at the bealach between BIB and MnC I set off up the slopes, following a faint path to the summit - there;s a knoll that in mist could be mistaken for the summit on the way up, but the true top is some way past this. Returning to my pack I boiled up a coffee and enjoyed the peace and quiet before returning by my outward route. Many hares on the way, sitting erect like sentries then bounding off into the heather. Heading up over Carn a'Geoidh I heard the sound of guns - grouse shooting by the sound of it - a dismal pursuit by lame brained rich folk - grrrr. Made it back to the Ski Centre before midday and treated myself to an all-day veggie breakfast in the cafe.
Morning Glow in the Hills of Hell
P1030892 by 23weasels, on Flickr
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Carn nan Mam (L), Beinn Iutharn Beag(R)
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Loch nan Eun
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For the afternoon's delight I had intended to head up and do the 4 tops of the east Glenshee hills. Legs were tired, but I forced them into action again, heading randomly up through the ski runs to reach Meall Odhar where a few other men were sitting having a hot drink. Onwards up an easy winding path to Glas Maol, again quite a few walkers going by. Next up was Druim Mor, which needed an irritatingly lengthy detour around the coire walls to get there. Mist was closing in again, swirling around the top of Glas Maol. Back the way I'd come, taking the track to Little Glas Maol which nestles to the SE behind its buddy. Contoured around the western slopes of Glas Maol to reach the track leading to Creag Leacach. When I'd done this hill before, I'd cut short before the SW top and glissaded down the gully back towards the road, otherwise I'd have this in the bag already. It was no great hardship to head along the rocky track to CL however, though clag prevented good views. Everyone else seemed to have departed the hills by this time. I made another navigational error in the mist, heading for Carn Ait rather than Meall Gorm - I blame tiredness Anyway, decended eventually by the "usual" route although found this badly eroded as it follows the Allt Coire a'Bhathaich back to the road. I wasn't fancying the trek up to the ski centre from here, but it passed effortlessly and wsa back at the car by 5.30. Chatted to a walker from Yorkshire for a time. I had planned to stay out another night and polish off Ben Gulabin on the way home in the morning, but the sun had gone, it was gloomy and misty and I decided to just head home. A good wee trip, 24 tops gained and some fitness hopefully restored
Summit Meall Odhar
P1030916 by 23weasels, on Flickr
P1030919 by 23weasels, on Flickr
Druim Mor, at R
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Exciting cairn on Druim Mor
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Misty Little Glas Maol
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SW top, Creag Leacach
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Road back to Glenshee
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Stats (forgot to switch on initially)
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by Collaciotach » Sun Sep 14, 2014 12:44 pm
I thought Beinn Ath Fhionn was very like Arizona , New Mexico , Texas kinda country and your pictures do nothing to dissuade me of that opinion !
by rockhopper » Sun Sep 14, 2014 1:47 pm
Don't know how you manage it - your average speeds are generally faster than my moving speeds - cheers
by dogplodder » Sun Sep 14, 2014 6:57 pm
Explanation for odd looking equipment here.
by weaselmaster » Sun Sep 14, 2014 8:08 pm
dogplodder wrote:Impressive round!
Explanation for odd looking equipment here.
Aha - thanks for that - a good rather than a sinister thing
by malky_c » Mon Sep 15, 2014 2:02 pm
I like your approach of Ben Avon and Bheinn a' Bhuird from Glenmore - I've been looking at a couple of routes from this direction myself, but haven't got round to them yet. Some of the tops out that way look well worth a visit.
I've been gradually chipping away at the tops in the Cairngorms for a while now, but keep getting diverted, as there's so much scope for route variety up there.
by jepsonscotland » Mon Sep 15, 2014 2:29 pm
Well done WM.
Absolutely fantastic photos too. Such incredible variation.
If that doesn't give one incentive, nothing will.
by BlackPanther » Mon Sep 15, 2014 2:51 pm
The Cairngorms look very atmospheric this time of year - the first touch of autumn, grass turning brown, ptarmigan getting their first white feathers... There is something magical about the high hills just before the first snow arrives.
We were in Torridon on Saturday and the day was horribly hazy. We concentrated on some good rocky scrambling rather than the views
by weaselmaster » Mon Sep 15, 2014 4:21 pm
malky_c wrote:Great report . Looks like a great route too, although I haven't had time to plot it out and work out exactly where you went .
I'll put a route up later today if i remember
by AnnieMacD » Mon Sep 15, 2014 10:12 pm
by Silverhill » Tue Sep 16, 2014 9:44 pm
by scottishkennyg » Wed Sep 17, 2014 1:20 pm
by litljortindan » Wed Sep 17, 2014 8:22 pm