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Two-ton, three-day mop-up in the far east

Two-ton, three-day mop-up in the far east

Postby old danensian » Fri Jun 19, 2015 3:50 pm

Route description: Mount Keen by Glen Tanar

Munros included on this walk: An Socach (Braemar), Broad Cairn, Cairn Bannoch, Càrn a' Choire Bhòidheach, Càrn an t-Sagairt Mòr, Lochnagar, Mount Keen

Date walked: 10/06/2015

Time taken: 18.3 hours

Distance: 76 km

Ascent: 2797m

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I make no apology for clichéd management-speak but, last week I managed to get all my ducks in a row: three spare days, the other half down in England, and guys fixing our drive had a couple of days off. The weather gods then did their bit and what’s more, I had a plan.

First on my list was Mount Keen, hanging out far to the east and still on my to-do list. Opportunities to link it with a visit to anything nearby were fast running out.

Then, a few miles further west, the uncertainty of the three Munros between Lochnagar and Broad Cairn needed resolving. Back in the 1980s a friend and I had driven north from Derbyshire one winter weekend. Amidst hundreds of slides, one shows the top of Lochnagar while another shows my friend arriving at the summit of Broad Cairn. Of the three in between: nothing. Phone calls, emails and various personal records couldn’t reveal if they had been visited or not. There was only one elegant way to resolve the situation: simply go back and enjoy doing all five in one go.

Finally, there was An Socach. Hunkered down and slumbering on the way to Glen Shee, it had been frequently passed on the way to elsewhere. Most recently I’d resisted the temptation of burn out as I looked over at it when descending from Glas Tulaichean and Carn an Righ. After a foray to Glen Muick, it would be on my way back south.

If all went smoothly, there would be a fair dollop of icing decorating the Munro cake as, if all went to plan, the 200 mark would be passed.

Day One (10.06.15)
Mount Keen
28km (21km bike, 7km walk); 786m; 4h 45m

It’s a bit of a stretch to manufacture a report for Mount Keen that differs from those that already exist. Nothing needs to be added to enhance the simplicity of the route’s description.

Literally "the end of the road" - and the track up the glen

Drive as far as you can up Glen Tanar; cycle to the third bridge; walk up, then down; cycle back; drive to Ballater for an ice cream.

Halfway to where?

At the first bridge - one down: two to go

Apart from the scorching weather (yes, I really did write that) there were two aspects of the day to enjoy: the cycle through the forest of ancient Caledonian pines, and then the rest on top.

Like the speaking clock - "at the third bridge it will be ..." - onwards and upwards to Mount Keen

My own puny efforts climbing the path countless boots have gouged into the hillside were embarrassingly cut down to size. As the scrunch of gravel underfoot accompanied me upwards, I was overtaken by someone with the energy to get their bike to the very top. Delicate pirouetting, hare-like hopping and some downright energetic thrutching helped minimise the number of times he got off to push. When I arrived, some minutes later, he was calm, collected and tucking into his snap.

The distant Cairngorms from the summit of a sunny Mount Keen

“The next bit puts a smile of my face” he said as helmet, gloves and numerous padded accoutrements were donned. With a scrunch, a boing and tyre-bouncing leap, he headed off from the summit and into the distance.

Suitably rested and refreshed, my own guilty downwards entertainment was the frantic panicked chirrup of freshly hatched grouse bolting from the heather while their parents imitated grievous wounding to lure me away from their off-spring.

A couple of hours later, in the sweltering sun of a glorious summer’s afternoon, the Magnum in Ballater rounded the day off perfectly. Apologies for that last lapse into lyrical prose, but I suspect I’m not going to be using those words too often this summer.

Day Two (11.06.15)
Lochnagar – Broad Cairn Horseshoe
31km; 1426m; 9h

I emerged from my sleeping bag at 5.30am the next morning to the warmth of a mug of tea and the promise of another perfect day.

Lochnagar, deer and Meikle Pap in early morning light

If the weather was going to be as warm as yesterday, gaining the majority of the height early in the morning was the best plan. So, at 6.00am I was off, watching the deer lazily grazing the pastures by Allt na Giubhsaich. Ninety minutes later I was enjoying the view into the Coire of Lochnagar with the cliffs and gullies towering above the lochan below and the pyramid of Meikle Pap to my right.

At the view - turn left and upwards
The cliffs and gullies of Lochnagar

Twin cairns on the summit plateau of Lochnagar

Although the sun shone, I was grateful for the breeze that stiffened as I climbed higher and met the cairns leading from Cuidhe Crom to the top of Lochnagar itself. While munching a second breakfast sandwich by 8.30am I scanned the horizon westwards and instinctively knew that the next two Munros hadn’t been visited on that winter day almost thirty years ago. The weather may have been kind to us back then but, after climbing one of the gullies, it would have been neither feasible nor sufficiently enticing to have added them to the day’s exertions.

Carn a Choire Bhoidheach above the Loch nan Eun from Lochnagar

Looking across to Carn a Choire Bhoidheach, beyond Loch nan Eun, its status as a separate Munro appeared questionable. Surely, it was simply a shoulder of Lochnagar; a Top at best. The thirty five minute stroll across did nothing to dispel this view. A summit cairn breaks the gently rounded horizon but, with no plunging foregrounds or twisting ridges, there is little apart from the distant view to encourage loitering.

The summit cairn of Carn a Choire Bhoidheach on a rounded unassuming hump

The third Munro of the day, Carn an t Sagairt Mor, sat further to the west, similarly unassuming beside its diminutive neighbour, Beag. When crossing the burns that flow in to the Allt an Dubh Loch and looking backwards to Carn a Choire Bhoidheach it finally assumed appropriate proportions and I felt more comfortable claiming it as a Munro.

Cairns on another apparently unassuming hump - the Munro Carn an t Sagairt Mor

From the second of these two intervening Munro humps the summit potential of the next appeared more enticing. Culminating in a definite craggy point and close to more precipitous slopes, Cairn Bannoch gave the impression of being in a genuine mountain environment rather than the high-point of wild, open moorland.

To backdrop of Creag an Dubh Loch and towards the chasm that has swallowed Loch Muick, I made may way across the gentle slope towards a milestone in my Munro journey: Cairn Bannoch was to be Number 200.

My reward was to savour the solitude in the lee of the summit cairn and rest in the sun. The first hundred had spanned four decades, from a teenager experiencing the Cuillin on Skye for the first time, to Craig Pitridh in the summer of 2012, shortly after moving to Scotland. This second hundred had taken just short of three years and obviously prompted the question of how long the last eighty two was going to take.

A double-ton selfie on Cairn Bannoch - just another 82 to go

I’m not setting any targets or making plans for what the culminating topping-out is going to be. Broad Cairn sat just a few minutes away, but was not going to add to my total. In between sat Creag an Dubh Loch, its own cairn just visible across the Coire Uilleim Mhoir. The prospect of views down its plunging cliffs and the glen’s jaws opening to reveal Loch Muick proved too strong to resist. While its summit may be less impressive than its neighbours, its position is unparalleled by either. The dizzying drops are best appreciated by venturing away from the cairn and closer to the edge. The waterfall of the Allt a Choire Bhoidheach cascades down the slabs of Eagles Rock like a feature of a Norwegian fjord. The Dubh Loch, way, way below, has that mesmerising power that makes you want to lean just that little bit further, and further ... and ... And then you realise that the final Munro of the day beckons, as does the likelihood of a long trudge back to the car.

Cairn Bannoch and Carn an t Sagairt Mor from Creag an Dubh Loch

After seeing nobody for the whole day, arriving on Broad Cairn was like arriving at the beach on a bright and sunny Bank Holiday Monday. They just kept on arriving. So I quietly left.

The Ronseal top - a very Broad Cairn

Loch Muick from Broad Cairn

An abiding memory from my earlier visit had been the walk back to the car. I suspect it had been completed in the gathering gloom of a winter’s afternoon. Today was different. I wanted to stay high and benefit from the views extending beyond the enclosing walls of Glen Muick. The added climb from the hut at Sandys Seat was a small price to pay and was soon negotiated.

The scaley flanks and slopes of Cuidhe Crom and Creag a Ghlas uilt from Broad Cairn's Little Crag

In the end, the walk back to the Spittal of Glenmuick took just two hours. The mountains and the forbidding corrie of the Dubh Loch were gradually left behind. The house at Glas allt Shiel across the loch was dwarfed by its surroundings yet retained an allure that spurred the Victorians north. Wearying knees and stubbed toes were attracted to the icy cooling delights of the Black Burn, and the ancient Capel Road into Glen Clova was passed. Then, the herd of deer were still lazily grazing, now clustered close to the river, seeking relief from the afternoon sun.

And finally back at the car, after a long nine hours out, I brewed and savoured another mug of tea. Sometimes Magnums just can’t be had for love nor money.

Day Three (12.06.15)
An Socach
17.5km; 585m; 4h 45m

After a healthily-sized fish supper in Braemar the night before, it was another early start. Little had disturbed my sleep as traffic had flashed down the A93, and I didn’t seem to have suffered from the exertions of the day before. So, at 6.30am, I was raring to go and the Baddoch Burn stretched ahead.

Early morning sun illuminates Glen Clunie

Glen Baddoch

This approach to An Socach is ideal. The glen gradually curves its way south, and the farm track undulates alongside the burn, over fords, past the ruined shielings of a former age and the whole is a playground to the orange-flashing beaks of oyster catchers. An hour and seven kilmometres later, over two hundred metres have been climbed and you stand below the sporting arena of shooting butts and the short, sharp shock of a climb to the whale-back ridge of the Munro.

By now, legs and lungs are stretched and ready for the fray as the paths strikes up to the right.

At the end of the track, turn right, and upwards

The final grouse butt - and the slopes of An Socach beckon

6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, and the last of the numbered butts are passed. Beyond, the path occasionally peters out, and in boggier times would be a heavy-legged trudge upwards. With eyes fixed on the slight dip in the skyline created by the Allt Boruiche, and a steady rhythm established, the three hundred metres above soon sit below.

Once on the so-called ridge you just take your choice. The top is a kilometre or so away to the west, occasionally hiding behind bumps you weave over and around. As it’s more like a plateau stretching from one end to the other, there’s very little chance that you’ll ever take exactly the same route.

Looking west along the stone-shattered whale-back of An Socach to its summit

The Cairngorms from An Socach

I’d decided against doing An Socach before: once when visiting Glas Tulaichean and Carn an Righ, and once when cycling up Glen Ey to Beinn Iutharn Mhor. In both cases, the western cairn would have been visited and the eastern end most likely shunned. But simply looking at it on the map cries out for the whole thing to be traversed. So half an hour later I sat by the cairn at the eastern end and settled in for ... well as it was only 9.30am I couldn’t decide whether it was a second breakfast or a very early lunch.

One benefit of the views from An Socach, is to be completely oblivious to the scarred mayhem across the ridges to the east. OK, a transmitter pierces the skyline above The Cairnwell, and at times the ski-lifts of Glas Maol above Glenshee appear as tiny bristles. But, of the tracks, the car parks, the lifts, the fences and everything else a ski-centre blots a summer landscape with, there is blissfully, nothing.

From the eastern end of An Socach - looking towards Glas Tulaichean, Carn an Righ and Beinn Iutharn Mhor in the background

Prominent cairn - not a distant person - on the descent into Glen Baddoch

From the eastern top of An Socach it’s easy to follow a clearer track that heads north and to the bealach at the head waters of the Allt Coire Fhearneasg. Although this would by no means be a disaster, the north eastern ridge descends more directly back to the Baddoch Burn. A cairn far below looks like another walker ascending and you automatically head towards it, aiming for some chat and a blether on the day’s exertions. In time, you realise it isn’t a person, but by now the track is clear and the descent obvious: all the way back to Baddoch, beyond and the car on the A93.

Three days, seven Munros, five new ones, a milestone, and definitely energised for the summer ahead – if it finally decides to stay.

Oh, and by the way, I didn’t experience one midge. Has nobody told them?
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Re: Two-ton, three-day mop-up in the far east

Postby Sunny Speyside » Sun Jun 21, 2015 8:57 pm

Well done Nigel on reaching your 200 milestone... I guess it's all downhill now :lol:
You seem to have had three lovely days for your trip, I hope that's not summer over!
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Re: Two-ton, three-day mop-up in the far east

Postby tina bonar » Sun Jun 21, 2015 9:15 pm

Well done on reaching the 200 Nigel,still seems a long way off for us at the moment....
You certainly scored with the weather and the lack of midges!
Best wishes, Barrie and Colleen
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Re: Two-ton, three-day mop-up in the far east

Postby Fife Flyer » Sun Jun 21, 2015 9:24 pm

Another of your informative amusing reports Nigel :clap: :clap:

Congrats on reaching the double ton :clap: Am really pleased to know someone who has taken longer than me :lol: :lol: My first Munro was 1994 and when I joined WH in 2013 I was sitting on 98 8)

Plans for your compleation? Notice you still have to travel across the water to Mull, that is going to be my final one, if all goes well, hopefully next summer :wink:
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Re: Two-ton, three-day mop-up in the far east

Postby ancancha » Sun Jun 21, 2015 10:20 pm

Nice report and some very good photos :clap:
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Re: Two-ton, three-day mop-up in the far east

Postby basscadet » Mon Jun 22, 2015 11:53 am

Oh well done Nigel - looked like you were lucky with the weather for a few days too :D
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Re: Two-ton, three-day mop-up in the far east

Postby 2manyYorkies » Mon Jun 22, 2015 8:37 pm

Fife Flyer wrote:Congrats on reaching the double ton :clap: Am really pleased to know someone who has taken longer than me :lol: :lol: My first Munro was 1994 and when I joined WH in 2013 I was sitting on 98 8)

1994 for your first Munro, that's virtually yesterday.... Currently on 34, January 1979 (the Ben) being my first, so will be about 300 yrs old by the time I compleat.... :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol:
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