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Cairngorms magical mystery tour
by malky_c » Tue Jul 13, 2010 1:05 am
Munros included on this walk: Beinn Mheadhoin, Bynack More
Corbetts included on this walk: Creag Mhor
Date walked: 12/07/2010
Time taken: 8 hours
Distance: 26 km
Ascent: 1900m1 person thinks this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
Time taken: 7.5 hours
Ascent: More than I thought (1900m)
Weather: Sunny, turning to overcast, rain at end
I’ve got a bit of a list of places in the Cairngorms that I’ve wanted to visit or re-visit on a good day. Too many and varied to fit into a single route, but Kinley and HighlandSC’s recent(ish) reports (Core of the Cairngorms/Cairngorm Wanderings) inspired me to concoct a route to take some of these places in. I worked something out, but there were so many options that I decided just to follow my nose on the day. Things that I definitely wanted to include were1) My favourite route onto the plateau from the N (Fiacaill Choirean t-Sneachda), 2) A decent view of Loch Avon, 3) Views of the crags around the headwall of Loch Avon, and 4) The elusive Corbett of Creag Mhor.
Left the ski carpark at 9.20 am, having fought off a cloud of midges at the car (first of the season for me - I feel less smug now!). Followed the main path towards Coire an Lochan, breaking off onto a less clear one which led me up the bouldery front of the Fiacaill. At the subsidiary summit, the boulders got larger and it was an easy scramble down to the col. From here the last section of the ridge rears up fairly abruptly, and looks terrifying. It is in fact very straightforward.
When someone told me years back that there was a narrow scrambly arete in the Northern Corries, I didn’t believe them. My first time up it was a winter ascent, ending in a blizzard in the dark on the summit of Cairngorm. Since then, I’ve always done it as a summer route, and it has become something of an annual outing.
Fiacaill ridge from the initial summit:
Coire an Lochan:
Back to the initial summit:
The rock is extremely firm and grippy, and the best route sticks to the crest as close as possible. The crux is a chimmney just to the right of the crest, and it is full of holds. This time, I stepped back onto the crest before getting into the chimney, and found this to be an easier, if slightly more exposed route. If you get there and decide you aren’t up to it, the whole thing can be avoided on a scree path to the right. This defeats the object in a way, but is probably more interesting than the other routes onto the plateau. If you stick to the crest, you emerge right onto the edge of the plateau, only 5 minutes from Cairn Lochan.
Final ridge rears up:
Looking back from above the crux:
Across Coire an Lochan to Sgoran Dubh Mor from Cairn Lochan:
Braeriach from Cairn Lochan:
The summit of Cairn Lochan is almost Trotternish-like, with a gentle grassy plateau ending abruptly at vertical cliffs. I took a couple of photos, then moved on to newer territories for me. Crossing one of the main Ben Macdui paths, I found myself at the top of Hell’s Lum Crag. This appeared rather abruptly, with Hell’s Lum itself looking positively terrifying. I assume this manky stinking gully is where Tom Patey honed his skills in the ‘50’s.
Ben Macdui from the top of Hell’s Lum:
Re-ascending slightly, I traversed around to the Feithe Bhuide, and crossed fairly easily. However, the next section between Garbh Uisge Beag and Garbh Uisge Mor was more problematic. The sensible way would’ve been to ascend 20 or 30 meters and cross rough boulders, but I decided to go for an area of slabs. These were terraced, and moving between the terraces wasn’t too difficult, as the grip was good. However, I soon came across a patch of late snow. It was probably only 15-20m across, but it required steps to be kicked, as the angle was quite steep. As I had no winter gear with me, I had to use my fingers as axes, resulting in some very painful tingling for the next 2 hours! Still, it was good fun, and fitted well with my ‘make it up as you go along’ philosophy for the day. Crossing the Garbh Uisge Beag and Mor was easy enough (although due to wearing cheapy trainer/fell running type shoes, I got wet feet), and soon I was ascending Shelterstone Crag. Views to Loch Avon were everything I could have hoped for and more. The edge of Shelterstone was abrupt and extremely unstable, with dodgy looking boulders tottering over the abyss. I’d read that this crag was pretty much vertical, but lying on the edge looking over really brought this home.
Bloody hell, it is vertical! Loch Avon from the top of Shelterstone:
Looking back to Feith Buidhe. I traversed the slabs with the snow patches on in the centre of the photo:
End of Loch Avon:
This delivered me nicely to Carn Etchachan. Handy, as this was one of many tops I had missed while Munro bagging. Loch Etchachan was close by, and the map didn’t appear to show any great difficulty in reaching it. Couple of outcrops to avoid, maybe. Another problem, as the whole hillside appeared to consist of steep grass, broken crags and slippy slabs. I managed to negotiate a way down, sometimes on my arse, and it occurred to me that this was probably some kind of mountain karma repayment for giving Davetherave some slightly suspect advice on descent routes from Bidean nam Bian! Still, it wasn’t too bad, and for once I hadn’t missed an obvious easier route just around the corner.
Top of Shelterstone, Hell’s Lum and Cairn Lochan from Carn Etchachan:
Loch Etchachan was another part of the Cairngorms that I’d liked, but had never got around to going back to, so I was quite happy to be here. My next move was unclear. I could descend to the foot of Shelterstone Crag and walk along Loch Avon. However, I suddenly had a desire to go up Beinn Mheadhoin, as I had only done this once before, and had rather liked it. So up I went, with some vague notion of coming back to the top of Stacan Dubha then descending to Loch Avon. The summit tor was a pleasant little scramble, and it was here that I met the only other walker of the day. Had lunch and a brief chat (he said there had been no midges at Linn of Dee, from where he had set off. Didn’t seem fair! ) before leaving him to continue to Derry Cairngorm.
Derry Cairngorm, Reagan a Choire Etchachan and Sron Riach from Beinn Mheadhoin:
Summit plateau and tors of Beinn Mheadhoin:
Beinn Mheadhoin summit looking S:
I decided to drop my daft notion of going back to Stacan Dubha (another excuse to come back again), and decided to make for the outflow of Loch Avon instead. That way I would save time and still get some good views of Shelterstone and Hell’s Lum crags. The route down was straightforward for once, and I was surprised to find a faint path developing lower down. Then I remembered that this route to Beinn Mheadhoin was described in many Munro guides, which explained it.
Loch Avon was really beautiful, and I vowed to come back and walk right round it sometime (did this a couple of years back, but could barely see my hand in front of my face!). The path down to the Fords of Avon was a bit on the boggy side, but passed quickly enough. The scenery changed here, with bog and moorland taking over from crag and loch, and soon I was at everybody’s favourite stone tent, the Fords of Avon shelter. A bit whiffy inside, but otherwise it was fairly clean and tidy. Not sure I would stay here by choice (I was glad I’d knocked a plan to do so on the head a few years back due to laziness), but in an emergency it would be very welcome.
Fords of Avon shelter:
From here, the ascent to Creag Mhor was easy, initially through thick heather, but soon turning to much shorter turf underfoot. The summit was the SW-most in a line of tors on a broad ridge. Views were certainly pleasant, especially looking back to the now distant bowl of Loch Avon, but after the high plateau, this summit was a slight anti-climax. Fortunately I remembered HighlandSC’s recent Barns of Bynack report, so to put the va-va-voom back into the walk, I decided to head out via Bynack More, rather than skirting around it on the Lairig an Laoigh path. Slightly unexpected turn of events, as it was only 6 months ago I was last up Bynack More. However back then, I had been in a white-out, and barely been able to see my feet, never mind the barns, so it seemed like a good move.
Loch Avon basin from Creag Mhor:
A barn of Bynack from Creag Mhor:
Quick jog down to the path, before crossing over to ascend Bynack More. Other than getting the fright of my life by flushing a couple of grouse, this was an uneventful ascent up steep heather. The first (and biggest) barn was soon in front of me. It was pretty impressive - somewhat larger than the tor on the summit of Beinn Mheadhoin. Good fun could probably be had trying to ascend it, but I was way behind schedule (I had told my wife I’d be home in about 45 minutes from now), so I pressed on to the summit via the smaller barn.
From Bynack More looking E towards Geal Charn:
Last look at the plateau:
Descending to Bynack Beg (another top missed out previously), I was able to get a good view of the N ridge of Bynack More. This was interesting, as in February, I had been convinced I was teeterting above a long steep slope, about to set off an avalanche. It all looked a bit silly now, as the imagined steep slope was pretty minor!
Here, I decided to make use of the often described Munroist’s route across Strath Nethy and back up to the col S of Stac na h-Iolaire. Up to this point, I had had the odd spit and spat of rain, but most of it had been falling elsewhere. Now, leaving Bynack Beg, it started properly, and didn’t let up for the entire trip back to the car. I made a rapid descent down to Strath Nethy and back up the other side, but the path seemed to vanish in the bottom of the strath, leaving the lowest 50m each side of the river a crash through thick heather. At the col, I almost made the mistake of descending N towards An Lochan Uaine, but managed to correct myself. By now I was soaked, and just in T-shirt and shorts. I hadn’t bothered to put my coat on, and now it seemed pointless. After squelching across to the Coire na Ciste carpark, I jogged up the road to the car to keep myself warm. The journey back home involved lots of heating!
I was happy with the route. Despite the rain at the end, it had been an enjoyable tour of some of the best bits of the Central Cairngorms. To cover some more highlights, I think I will need to do a route through the Lairig Ghru, up Angel’s Arete, and onto Braeriach via the Pools of Dee. Some other time maybe!
by gaffr » Tue Jul 13, 2010 7:48 am
It's amazing how different the rainfall was just a few kilometers from your walk area.....we had some big stair-rod type heavy showers here in the afternoon.
by NevJB » Tue Jul 13, 2010 9:19 am
by Paul Webster » Tue Jul 13, 2010 10:55 am
by Graeme D » Tue Jul 13, 2010 11:23 am
by HighlandSC » Tue Jul 13, 2010 11:48 am
Great pics and write up of the Fiacaill ridge – I’ve been eyeing that up every time I’ve been near it. Our guide (during a nav course) pointed it out a year ago when I start walking. Now I’m eager to take on scrambles like that whenever possible - my next route on to the plateau’s sorted I’d like to go up Beinn Mheadhoin too, and it’s always good to eye up Shelterstone and Loch Avon. Ideas, ideas……. It’ll not be long before I’m up there again
by Jock McJock » Tue Jul 13, 2010 1:48 pm
by walk aboot » Tue Jul 13, 2010 8:14 pm
by skuk007 » Tue Jul 13, 2010 9:14 pm
Must get up to the Cairngorms before too long.
by Scotjamie » Tue Jul 13, 2010 11:01 pm
by malky_c » Wed Jul 14, 2010 3:32 pm
gaffr wrote: At least it looks as if folks have taken away their rubbish from the area?...or could it be that the RSPB folks do the job for them?
Was just reading another Cairngorm report somewhere else, from a couple of weeks back. Apparently there were large bags of rubbish in the shelter, so sadly it must be the RSPB or similar
gaffr wrote:It's amazing how different the rainfall was just a few kilometers from your walk area.....we had some big stair-rod type heavy showers here in the afternoon.
My last hour and a half were pretty wet (from about 3:30 onwards). Mind you, I could see all sorts of showers moving about earlier in the afternoon. I was just lucky enough to miss them.
by davetherave » Wed Jul 14, 2010 9:48 pm
What a fab report, really enjoyable. You always seem to get plenty info into your reports.
Good to see that you managed to catch a few of those missed tops ( missed due to your long gone bagging days).
Your pics of Loch Avon from the Shelterstone are fine indeed............. Have you been doing some editing on those ?
We are yet to get into the Cairngorms for real, only been as far North as Lochnagar. Will keep the Gorms for the near future though as we may be moving house in the not to distant future.
Bidean Nam Bian descent was our problem/mistake, its about time you stopped taking the blame
by malky_c » Thu Jul 15, 2010 2:48 pm
Not done any manipulation on these photos. At the moment, writing reports takes long enough without spending time adjusting the brightness etc Mind you, a couple of the later Loch Avon ones could have done with a bit of added brightness, maybe. I did tinker with some of the photos in my previous report (Caithness), as everything was really hazy and washed out. Trouble is, there is an art to it, and I probably ended up making some of them look worse!
I'll stop mentioning Bidean now. Just goes to show the pitfalls of giving/getting route advice online. Can't seem to stop myself though!
Thanks for the pics of the Fiacall Ridge scramble - will have to go and investigate I think... the chimney does look a bit fearful though. How far from the top is it? About how high would you say the scramble up the actual chimney is (pref. in feet).
What a very long day though - you must be very fit! A helluva lot of ascent there!
- mountain coward
by malky_c » Mon Jul 19, 2010 10:08 am
I'd say the chimney (more of a corner than a tight chimney, really) is just under halfway up the scrambly section, and is about 15 ft high. You don't climb to the top of the blocks shown in that photo, rather you step out of the corner onto easier ground about halfway up. It faces onto the non-exposed side of the ridge, so doesn't feel too airy, and has lots of massive hand and foot holds. The bypass is right at the foot of the chimney if you back off.