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A Halfway Brilliant Weekend in the 'Gorms

A Halfway Brilliant Weekend in the 'Gorms

Postby jupe1407 » Fri Jun 10, 2016 8:49 am

Route description: Beinn a'Chaorainn and Beinn Bhreac

Munros included on this walk: Beinn a'Chaorainn (Cairngorms), Beinn Bhreac, Lochnagar

Date walked: 03/06/2016

Distance: 53 km

Ascent: 2200m

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Sometime in early Autumn of 2014, I passed the century munro mark on a fairly grim, damp day on Beinn Tulaichean. I have to say that i fully expected to pass halfway last year, however a dreadful summer and a persistent knee injury (and my reluctance to have it seen to for several months) put paid to that, and it's fair to say I'd stuttered to the 140 mark on Beinn Iutharn Mhor a couple of weeks back. I was therefore fairly intent on reaching halfway in a bit of style. To this end, and taking advantage of the recent dry spell, I planned to climb the munros of Beinn Breac and Beinn a'Chaorainn then (following GMan's route) head steeply up Beinn Mheadhoin and bivvy somewhere near the summit to be in prime position to capture sunset and sunrise on the camera, and maybe even get a cloud inversion.

This all sounded very easy in theory. The recent dry spell would have made the traverse between the peat hags of the first two an easy affair, leaving plenty in the tank for the horrifically steep climb up Mheadhoin. Indeed, with a normal daysack this would probably be the case, however with the bivvy stuff, stove, food etc and not to mention a heave camera and tripod, this would prove to be much, much harder.

I made a slight mistake the night before, in that i decided I couldn't be bothered fitting the cycle rack to the car, so would just walk the 3 miles in/out to Derry Lodge. Not a problem on the way in, but by god I'd regret it the following day :lol:

Anyway, to business...

Friday 3rd June 2016
Beinn Breac & Beinn a'Chaorainn
7.5 hours
964m Ascent

I arrived late morning at a surprisingly quiet Linn of Dee, paid my £2 and set off with my rather heavy pack, which I'd miraculously fitted into a, Osprey 33L sack. Though heavy, I took my time and the walk in to Derry Lodge was completely straightforward, with the only downside being a few spots of rain, and dulling skies.

The walk in to Derry Lodge


I reached the lodge in around an hour, and set off up the Glen Derry path, a very fine walk amongst the caledonian pines. I did what almost everyone else doing this route seems to do, in managing not to notice the marker "exit" cairn until I'd virtually tripped over it. This leads to an at time faint path up through the trees and heather, before spitting you out of the woods and onto the open moor. It was quite warm in amongst the trees and I was glad of the breeze in the more open section. The path, thankfully, was very dry, though I can imagine won't be fun after a few rainy spells.

Exiting the trees


Once out on the moor, the path soon becomes a little stonier and much more define, and gains height at a gentle rate, save for a couple of minor slightly steeper sections.

Slowly ascending Beinn Breac

Beinn Breac was to be my 141st munro, and with a sense of futility I had rather hoped the cloud would clear and give me a decent summit view. This didn't quite happen :lol:

Anticipation of glorious summit views not really building


After standing in a couple of boggy patches (mildly annoying as I'd chosen to wear trail shoes), I finally reached the summit of Beinn Breac. I had imagined sitting back against the cairn, chilling out for a while, enjoying the views and some nostalgic nonsense over the more memorable hills in my first half.

Instead I took a summit selfie, then threw on my raingear as the heavens briefly opened on me, somehow this multitasking included eating a Mexicana cheese sandwich. Quite a feat for me.

Apologies in advance for any disturbing images

After grumbling to myself about the s*** weather and the joy of traversing the Moire Bhealaidh over crap terrain and dreadful visibility, and rain, I departed the summit. To my surprise the section between the two mountains isn't pathless at all. There is initially a very good path, which does disappear briefly on a few occasions, which together with the recent dry weather, helped make a good chunk of the walk easy. I met the only other walkers of the day after around a mile or so, who were doing the hills in the other direction. The path disappeared properly however just south of the unnamed lochan. I say disappeared, I saw it, but it seemed to go on far too wide an arc to be of any use. Concerned that it may be a rough route down to Dubh Gleann, I plotted my way up past the loch, and over the boggy sections to the lower slopes of Beinn a'Chaorainn, failing pathetically to keep my feet dry though :lol:

The weight of my kit was starting to mildly annoy, and I was beginning to not enjoy the walk. Constant clag was becoming rather tedious. I hoped that the sun would break through on this second Beinn, but no such luck. I plodded on up the gentle but seemingly unending gradient, arriving at the impressive cairn, but with sadly no impressive views.

The gloomy un-named lochan

Beinn a'Chaorainn

Although claggy, the top was very mild, with little breeze so it was no difficult task to sit down for a while and relax. It also gave me time to ponder my decision to bivvy out on Beinn Mheadhoin. I started to work out timings and options. After my half hour of faffing around here, it was 5pm, I'd be approx 45 mins to descend, 20 mins or so to cross to the base of the ascent over fairly rough ground, then a brutally steep ascent with a heavy rucksack, I suspected it'd be around 7:45-8pm by the time i summitted. Certainly still possible. I had also considered just bivvying where i was, but this was unappealing, as I'd have to find a water source for a coffee and to brew up my freeze-dried food. I opted to descend to the Lairig an Laoigh and get a proper look at the ascent and weigh up my options. I have ready a few uncomplimentary things about final 100m or to the Lairig, but found it no problem, and just zig-zagged easily down the heathery slopes to the path through the Lairig.

It was at this point that I look across at my intended ascent route, and laughed. Looking at it face-on, it looked ridiculous and I abandoned the idea immediately. This brought my next set of choices, walk out 8 miles back to the car, and sleep in a nice comfy bed tonight, or walk the 2 miles to the Hutchison, have my tea there and ascend up to Loch Etchachan, either bivvying there or getting onto Beinn Mheadhoin by the usual route.

Glen Derry, after descending Ba'C

I'd make my decision at the junction of paths. By the time I got there, it was a no-brainer, and I duly headed round to the Hutchie. With the good weather and it being the weekend, I expected it to be pretty busy.

The Hutchie

To my complete surprise, it was empty. From the moment I sat down, I was going to be staying there the night. I brewed an absolutely horrific coffee and a made a slightly less horrific Mountain House Chicken Tikka, and wolfed them down, and sat on a stone outside for ages just listening to nothing other than the flowing burns. It was wonderful. The tops of course had cleared by now but I didn't care. What a place. It's hard to get across in photographs just how spectacular Coire Etchachan is, with steep cliffs all around, and this tiny wee hut at the base of it all. As an added bonus there was some coal left and a some dried out wood, so i got a fire going. The place was like a sauna before long :lol:

For hours I just wandered the area around the hut taking photos of the changing sky as the sun set. A fairly boring hillwalk on a tedious plateau was becoming a hugely enjoyable experience.

View east towards Beinn a'Chaorainn and the Moire Bhealaidh

Inside the Hutchie


As time wore on, I got some late company. A Couple of climbers turned up at 11pm, having walked in from Linn of Dee in under 2 hours, carrying about 20kg of gear :shock: I got chatting to them, and by a ridiculous coincidence, they both lived in my old hometown of Kirriemuir. A bizarre state of affairs many miles from Angus in a bothy in the middle of nowhere. I think they were going to tackle a gully up to Creagan a'Choire Etchachan in the morning. The one downside of sleeping out here was the predictable awful sleep. I eventually got up at 6:30am, through sheer boredom as much as anything else and had some porridge and coffee. I did briefly kick myself for not carrying out my original plan, as were below a cloud inversion :lol:

Still, I'd made the right decision. Chilling out at such a terrific location, instead of racing the clock to slog my guts out up a mountain I can easily come back to another time, was infinitely the better decision. Before long, I got my gear together, bade farewell to the climbers and headed out of the Coire. The cloud was clearing and it was a glorious blue-skied morning.

Coire Etchachan

The wee bridge

The walk back down Glen Derry is a long one with a heavy pack, but (for a while anyway) it was an absolute delight. I bumped into a handful of people on their way up the Glen. The clag was hanging around in patches and was rather atmospheric.

Low cloud still hanging about in Glen Derry

After a while though, my feet began to hurt a bit and a few photo (rest stops) were taken. Most of the cloud was now gone and the sun was absolutely scorching. The view back up Glen Derry was fantastic though.

Back up Glen Derry

Further down, where the path splits, I decided to follow the west side of the Derry Burn, and stopped for a lie down in the sun just after the bridge. I also soaked my feet in the freezing cold water, which felt amazing, and drank in the view.


The peace was shattered by a party of DoE kids, and I decided to get moving back to Derry Lodge then get through the 3 miles after that in blazing hot sunshine back to Linn of Dee. The path back down the West side of the burn is terrific, and preferable to the one on the other side. I soon ended up back at the lodge, boiling hot and with burning feet. I had a brief rest here and ate the rest of the food in an attempt to muster some energy.

Remember how I couldn't be bothered with the cycle rack? Well I think i'd have sold my soul to the devil to have had my MTB waiting on me at Derry Lodge. Being passed by several bikes on the way out merely added insult to injury :lol: The walk out in scorching and merciless sunshine was purgatory and the car was reached with some relief. The Linn of Dee was unbelievably busy with a couple of cars even cruising about the Car Park waiting for someone to leave. I'd passed dozens of adults and kids heading in with camping gear, which looked like absolute torture in the blazing sunshine.

Although i didn't achieve what I'd initially planned, my Plan B/C ended up being far better than the original and even gave me a perfect excuse to go back to the Hutchie. What a brilliant overnighter it had been.

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Sunday 5th June 2016
8 hours
1050m ascent

After a much needed day's rest, Anne and I headed up to the Spittal of Glen Muick to climb Lochnagar, with my sister. This would be her first munro and a meaningful one for her, as she only lives along the road in Aboyne. The forecast was for a clear and warm day, and although there was low cloud on the drive up, this was soon burned off and we had blanket blue skies.

The first minor issue came at the Car Park, where we discovered we only had £3.50 in change between us :lol: It's a ridiculous £4.00 now. Not being entirely keen on driving 10 miles back to get some change we just decided to chance a ticket, which luckily never came.

We set off in glorious conditions. I made the amusing error of forgetting to put sun block on my legs, which I would pay a high price for over the coming days :lol:

The initial approach track

We followed the usual track to the woods, out the other side and followed the gently ascending good track which turns off towards Meikle Pap, stopping for a much needed drink here.


Anne and Lisa enjoying themselves

Towards Meikle Pap

Heading up towards Meikle Pap, the path is excellent. Nicely stepped and easy to make good progress on, despite the searingly warm conditions. Every so often we'd catch a delightful breeze. The hill, unsurprisingly, was incredibly busy. I saw a couple of guys sweating buckets walking in jeans, and felt considerable sympathy as they'd almost certainly be walking like John Wayne later on. In what seemed like very little time we reached the edge of the corrie, and what a view! I'd been here 3 years before on a fairly dull and muggy day, but this was far, far better.

We lounged about in the sun for a bit, before deciding to head up the Pap for a better view.

Lochnagar's famous corrie

Descending Meikle Pap

The pap is a terrific viewpoint and I'd highly recommend it fir a wee diversion, even if it does add on a little ascent. The summit is also great fun with giant granite boulder to clamber about on. Brilliant.

Reluctantly we descended the Pap, collected our bags and climbed up the "ladder", an enjoyable staircase of massive boulders, finding a few good viewpoints along the way.

Previously I'd missed the clifftop path, but I wanted to see it this time so we followed it round the rim of the corrie. the views from it are tremendous. It's quite eroded in places and the drops are steep, but it is definitely spectacular.

Looking down on the loch

We also spotted several groups of deer in the remaining snow patches. They must have been absolutely roasting and were lying in the snow to cool down.

Deer trying to cool down

One of many grand viewpoints on the clifftops

The eases its way round and the summit is soon reached. It was quite a busy spot to say the least :lol:

My sister's first munro!

After the obligatory photos, we found a nice spot on the north side of the summit for a bite to eat. What a superb lunch spot. I could have quite easily stayed there all day. In the event, we spent about 45 mins there before moving off. We decided to return by the Glas Allt, partly because it's supposed to be very nice, partly because I hadn't been there before, and partly because "out and back the same way" routes are boring. The path down is again excellent and fairly quick progress was made.

Heading down towards Glas Allt falls

We met a few folk coming up the other way, quite glad that we were descending this route rather than the other way round. There's a footbridge shortly before the drop down to the falls and we replenished our water supplies here. The water was lovely :D

Soon the path reaches the drop down the Glas Allt and Loch Muick comes into view. It's rather dramatic.


The route then zig-zags down to the base of the spectacular falls.

The Falls of the Glas Allt

This is really quite a breathtaking spot and well worth a visit in it's own right. After a stop here we pressed on to get down to the loch shore. This descent began to take it's toll on my knees and they were a bit nippy by the time we reached level ground.

The Lochside track - at last!

I wasn't looking forward to the walk out, given I'd had another long one a couple of days before. However with plenty of chattering and laughs on the way back, the time passed fairly quickly. I also began to realise that I'd gained some pretty hilarious sunburn on the backs of my legs, and behind the knees, which would make walking a somewhat ungainly looking affair for a day or two :lol:

The Walk Out

With some relief we got back to the car, unticketed thankfully. And headed back to my sister's place for a BBQ which we pretty much annihilated. It was a brilliant day, and good to repeat a hill for me in much better conditions.

My sister also now has the bug :lol:

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Re: A Halfway Brilliant Weekend in the 'Gorms

Postby Gordie12 » Fri Jun 10, 2016 12:35 pm

Typical - clag bound tops and great weather for the walk back out afterwards :lol: :lol: :lol:

I've done your circular route for Lochnagar a few times and never get bored of it.
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