Western Cairngorms expedition: On
by Silverhill » Sat Nov 14, 2015 11:24 pm
Munros included on this walk: Beinn Bhrotain, Cairn Toul, Monadh Mor, Mullach Clach a'Bhlair, Sgor an Lochain Uaine, Sgor Gaoith, The Devil's Point
Date walked: 03/06/2015
Time taken: 20 hours
Distance: 54 km
Ascent: 2984m11 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).
Wednesday 3 June 2015
Mullach Clach a’ Bhlair, Monadh Mor, Beinn Bhrotain
29.5km, 1497, 10h30min
Hurrah, at last some decent weather had arrived for today and for tomorrow! Which meant my western Cairngorms expedition got the green light. Like its aborted eastern counterpart this route had been devised to avoid a few too many long walk ins/ outs.
I set off from the car park 1km north of Auchlean. There have been a few changes to the footpath at the farm. Signs point the way, but not in the direction I wanted to go. After a bit of a detour I did make it to Achleum and from there I followed the path along the river Feshie. Plan was to take a shortcut towards Meall nan Sleac, but the pathless route looked very rough and unpleasantly steep. So instead I continued along the river over a new looking bridge across the Allt Garbhlach and into Coille an Torr. What a lovely wood this is!
Coille an Torr
Opposite Carnachuin the long ascent started, but at least the track was very good and the views back to the Glen Feshie Corbetts got better and better.
Glen Feshie Corbetts
Mullach Clach a’ Bhlair is the highest point on the moor, so not the most spectacular summit. However, the views over the desolate emptiness of the Moine Mhor I liked very much. The cloud and remains of snow really added to the atmosphere.
Summit Mullach Clach a’ Bhlair
So onwards with the walk over Moine Mhor towards Tom Dubh. This was easy along the good track with hardly any ups and downs. I loved the place. Ahead the snowy track led the eye towards Sgor Gaoith and Braeriach and behind me to more emptiness beyond.
View towards Sgor Gaoith and Braeriach
Back to Mullach Clach a’ Bhlair
Weather perking up
Following the track
Looking back again
The track ends at the Allt Sgairnich, but a faint squelchy path heads on to Tom Dubh. By now the weather had brightened up considerably. Tom Dubh occupies an awesome setting, with great views towards the steep corries of Sgor Gaoith plunging down to Loch Einich.
I crossed the Allt Luineag in a rather roundabout way, first across a tributary with boots on and then across the main river with boots off. The water was cooooold!
From here it was a pick-your-own route to Monadh Mor. Just before the summit I met two walkers. They had just done Beinn Bhrotain and were now heading back to Corrour bothy. We had a short chat and I asked about the conditions in Coire Cath nam Fionn. They advised against a descent down this corrie and suggested their ascent route, to the east of the corrie, which was steep but had less snow cover and should be doable for my descent. I thanked them for this and then we said our goodbyes. The summit of Monadh Mhor offered great views across the Moine Mhor plateau.
Summit Monadh Mhor
View towards Beinn Bhrotain
Back to Monadh Mhor
Onwards to Beinn Bhrotain. On the descent to the 975 bealach it was clear that an exit down Coire Cath nam Fionn was indeed off the cards, as was the alternative suggested by the two walkers. Too steep and too much snow for my liking and then there was the matter of finding the start of their advised route through the crags.
After a short and steep pull up the stony hillside, the summit of Beinn Bhrotain was reached. There was a wind shelter, which had completely filled up with snow. Luckily there was a more suitable shelter at the trig point, for a short rest and some food.
Summit Beinn Bhrotain
Lochnagar in the distance and Mount Keen very faint on its left
The Devil’s Point, Ben MacDui, Cairn Toul
Rainbow over Glen Dee
Plan B was to descend over the east top down to Glen Dee. There were some snowfields to be negotiated but the snow was soft so it wasn’t a problem.
Looking towards Carn a’ Mhaim
Towards White Bridge, Glen Ey munros in the distance
Crossing the river Dee (boots had to come off again, brrrr) was a bit trickier, but even that went well. Now there were only 4 or so boggy kilometers left to Corrour bothy.
The last few kilometers
It was a busy evening for a weekday: the bothy was full and there were two tents already. I added mine to the collection, had dinner, went to the bothy say Hi to the two walkers I had met on Monadh Mor and spent the rest of the evening chatting with fellow walkers.
Thursday 4 June 2015
The Devil’s Point, Cairn Toul, Sgor an Lochain Uaine, Sgor Gaoith
24.5km, 1473m, 9h 30 min
It was very cold when I woke up in the morning. So I wasn’t in a hurry to get out of the sleeping bag. A quick peek outside didn’t speed things up either. There was no hint that the promised decent weather would come off today. I had breakfast inside the tent and then started packing everything from within until it was only the tent and groundsheet left and it was inevitable, I had to go outside to pack those. With that done I set off.
The night before I had asked those residing in the bothy about the conditions higher up. They said the only obstacle was getting through the remains of a cornice, but others had already cut steps so it shouldn’t be a problem.
Looking back from just below the cornice
Upon arrival at the cornice I had a choice of two routes. The first lower down, less steep but more snow to cross. The second a bit higher up, steeper, but the band of snow was narrower and I could see where it ended. I went for the latter. It was steep. The steps weren’t too icy, although some were a bit shallow and difficult to push off from. Still, better up than down and the walking poles came in handy. I could now see that the other route crossed even more snow than had been visible from below. Once on terra firma I had second breakfast and then made my way up the Devil’s Point.
Looking back, I saw a group of three walkers just below the cornice. One went for the longer route, the other two went for the steep and short route. I watched as they ascended. The person on the longer route slipped and slid down quite a few meters before he stopped himself with his walking pole. OMG!
Zoomed shot, after the slip
Soon after I was on the Devil’s Point. It was cold so I didn’t stay long.
Summit The Devil’s Point
On the way down I had a chat with 2 of the group of 3 (the other was waiting at the bealach). It turned out they were the same guys I had met on Monadh Mor yesterday. The one who’d had the slip said that his route had been very icy and that the steps had been very worn. Their plan after the Devil’s Point was Cairn Toul, Sgor an Lochain Uaine and maybe Carn na Criche if the legs held out and then return to the bothy. A long enough day for all of us, so we said our goodbyes.
Cairn Toul had been cloud free earlier but on the ascent the mist came down and as a consequence there was not much to see from the summit.
Weather closing in, view towards Monadh Mhor
Summit Cairn Toul
Luckily the snow on the ground was only patchy, so I could still make out the edge of the ridge which was a useful handrail to get to Sgor an Lochain Uaine.
Summit Sgor an Lochain Uaine
I had just finished my lunch at the summit of Sgor an Lochain Uaine when the group of three caught up. We had a chat about the conditions and one of them remarked that my navigation skills must be good. To which I replied that I was learning with every trip. Words of the prophet indeed.
My original plan had been to continue to Braeriach. But progress had been slow with the poor visibility and snow. So I decided to make an early exit, before tiredness would increase the chance of mistakes being made, like happened on an epic trip last year. I would walk to Carn na Criche and from there go SW, along my original descent route but skipping Braeriach. The others also decided to cut their day short and made their way back to the bothy.
More patchy snow so route finding wasn’t too difficult. At the bealach was a bigger snow field. I walked round it just to be on the safe side as visibility was poor. Onwards to Carn na Criche.
A bit further on there was a snag: no more patchy snow but an expanse of white everywhere I looked. It was impossible to tell the difference between the snow and the sky, or for that matter where the edge of the ridge was. Well, it could have been worse, at least it was not snowing. But continuing to Carn na Criche was obviously no longer a good idea. What now?
A quick position check on the GPS confirmed that Carn na Criche was close enough for a SW descent from here. With a compass bearing for Loch nan Cnapan I started downhill into the white void, leaving the GPS switched on as a back-up. After a few steps it stopped working and a change of batteries made no difference.
Right, back to basics then: follow the compass bearing and stick to it no matter what my own sense of direction said. Easier said than done. So what if the compass needle swings with every step? It didn’t take long to figure out that I was to the side of a ridge and the angle of the slope made me veer off downhill to the south.
However, sticking to the bearing felt like over-compensating, as if going round in a big clockwise circle. This was extremely disorientating and scary: the steep corries above Loch Einich were somewhere that way! It was hard to ignore my own sense of direction and it was even harder to not panic, but the compass was my only hope.
Not sure what made me look behind me. But I did and I saw my own footprints. Thankfully the few that were visible, seemed to go in a straight line. Well done, have faith…. On it went, follow the bearing, check footprints, whilst keeping the eyes peeled for a change in the terrain, but there was nothing to see. I only felt the angle of the slope change and hoped this meant I was now on the ridge instead of to the side of it.
After what seemed like ages the end of the snow was reached and a while later Loch nan Cnapan. As I walked on, the mist got thinner and I recognised Tom Dubh and the steep sided slopes that hold the Allts Luineag and Sgairnach. And there was the track. Phew!
Glorious Loch nan Cnapan!
On the remains of the adrenaline quick work was made of the track and the path which passes just below Carn Ban Mor. By then I had calmed down and decided to nip up Sgor Gaoith, it would only be 4km there and back. There is a cairn which helpfully indicates the start of the ´path´ (it disappears soon after) towards Sgor Gaoith. Being higher up, the cloud was back so I relied on the compass again to get me there. Sadly from the summit there was not much to see of the impressive cliffs and Loch Einich below, so I would have to return on a better day.
Summit Sgor Gaoith
Cloud disappearing on the descent
Back at the cairn below Carn Ban Mor I had a quick refuel and then started downhill. The path really is superb and lower down very pleasant as it descends through the woodland back to Auchlean. It was good to arrive back at the car!
Wood above Auchlean
Driving back to Aviemore I remembered a conversation I’d had a few days earlier with another walker. We were talking about walking solo. I’d made the observation that walking on your own gives instant feedback about your skills and that you learn quickly. Q.e.d., as demonstrated above. The hills taught me a few things today.
by laconic surf » Sun Nov 15, 2015 12:06 pm
Your navigational battle brought back memories of something similar that happened to me on Beinn a'Chreachain a few years ago - I'd reached the summit in thick clag and then had to navigate my way off barely able to see my hand in front of me. My Gps was telling me to go a certain way when every fibre of my body was telling me I was about to walk off the nearby cliffs
I was that concerned I went back to the summit and took a compass bearing which confirmed that the GPS was showing the correct way but still my sense of direction told me I was heading to certain death! I picked up a handful of stones and and as I walked I threw them a few metres in front of me into the white abyss - as long as I heard them land I knew I was safe to continue!! It's very scary going against your sense of direction in no visibility but staying calm and trusting in your experience is key - you feel all the more confident for getting through it!
A great adventure, cheers
by Silverhill » Mon Nov 16, 2015 10:47 pm
Your adventure on Beinn a’ Chreachain sounds scary too. Throwing the stones was very resourceful. I’ll remember that if I ever get caught in clag like that. Cheers.
The disorientation, feeling like walking round in circles and everything in me resisting to follow the compass bearing was a completely new experience for me, but useful. If it happens again I will know what to expect.
by dogplodder » Tue Nov 17, 2015 12:45 pm
by The Rodmiester » Tue Nov 17, 2015 2:02 pm
by Silverhill » Wed Nov 18, 2015 10:05 pm
dogplodder wrote:That brought back good memories of some great walks from the past - thanks!
Thanks dogplodder! The Cairngorms are amazing. Up till this year I’d only done low level walks in this part of the Cairngorms. The glens/ lairigs are pretty awesome and there is even more awesomeness high up. A great area to which I will return!
The Rodmiester wrote:Nice first day and then scary moment, I think if we are honest we have all been there, guess the answer is trust the compass, but sometimes the mind say different A fine walk over confusing terrain in those conditions
Cheers Rodmiester! Yes, it is best to trust the compass, provided you haven’t made mistake when taking the bearing. I did that last year and went down the wrong side of a hill with lots of loose rock. Should have listened to my instinct on that occasion. That’s where it gets confusing.
Needless to say, this time I quadruple checked the bearing before venturing into the white abyss.
by Beaner001 » Thu Nov 19, 2015 12:15 am
A great trip again, I'm knackered just reading that
by Petr Dakota » Thu Nov 19, 2015 9:15 am
...and good adventure with a new experiences too !
by Silverhill » Thu Nov 19, 2015 11:18 pm
Beaner001 wrote:Looks like that guy had a lucky escape on that snow field
A great trip again, I'm knackered just reading that
Thanks Beaner001! I was swearing when I saw him slip. It was scary to watch. Actually, this route is an ‘easy’ option, I saved myself a lot of mileage on walk ins/ walk outs. And once you are high it doesn’t take that much extra effort to link munros up. But definitely a trip I enjoyed very much (apart from 1 hour on the second day ).
Petr Dakota wrote:That's what I can call really Great Walk
...and good adventure with a new experiences too !
Thanks Petr! Definitely an adventure and a useful experience.
by Sunset tripper » Tue Nov 24, 2015 12:20 am
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by Silverhill » Tue Nov 24, 2015 10:58 pm
by AnnieMacD » Tue Nov 24, 2015 11:59 pm
by Silverhill » Wed Nov 25, 2015 10:22 pm
by basscadet » Thu Nov 26, 2015 11:04 am
I'm rubbish at navigation, and it is the only thing that Dougie and I ever fight about Somehow managed to muddle through a round though. I find the GPS very reassuring coupled with the traditional methods
by ancancha » Fri Nov 27, 2015 12:25 am
Really enjoed reading it and tracing your route on google earth
Great shot of the walker getting up the snow field after the slip, bet that made his heart beat faster