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Beinn a Bhuird and farewell to the eastern Munros

Beinn a Bhuird and farewell to the eastern Munros


Postby old danensian » Mon Jun 13, 2016 12:20 pm

Munros included on this walk: Beinn a'Bhuird, Ben Avon

Date walked: 06/06/2016

Time taken: 8 hours

Distance: 37 km

Ascent: 1260m

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A chapter closed last Monday: a landmark was passed and a new phase in the journey began.

Familiar roads won’t be driven so often, and a new litany of lay-bys and parking spaces will have to be learned. Dog-eared maps have earned their rest, while crisper, cleaner sheets must now steel themselves for imminent exposure to the elements.

Reaching the north top of Beinn a Bhuird, I closed the book on the Cairngorm Munros.

Nestling into the shelter of the cairn I also finished all those to the south and east of the Great Glen. Thirty nine remaining targets now lie scattered across the North West Highlands: between Seana Bhraigh in the north to a clutch of Knoydart peaks in the south; between Ben Wyvis in the east to a pair of recalcitrant peaks on Skye’s Cuillin Ridge in the west; and then, of course, there’s Ben More on Mull, but we’ll leave that for the time being. The Thirty Nine Steps: that’s still plenty of drama and excitement, but hopefully without the danger and chases of John Buchan’s novel.

Monday’s escapade to Beinn a Bhuird and Ben Avon epitomised many of my excursions to the Cairngorms, the Mounth, and the Monadh Liath: an early start, a long approach, massive glens, expansive panoramic views, and the opportunity to stride out across a gently undulating plateau.

In June the early start wasn’t essential, but a 5.00am alarm avoided Glasgow’s commuter crush. Sitting in a stationary queue of traffic on the M77, as it drops into the city, and gazing across at the Campsies, the Trossachs and Ben Lomond, knowing you’re still only twenty minutes from home can be frustrating.

But an early start from Ayrshire doesn’t always mean an early start on to the hills. There’s always someone there already; another car in the car park with a ticket that boasts an arrival time of 7.00am. So it proved to be at Keiloch but hey, I’d got all day.

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A gentle start to the day - Beinn a Bhuird from Keiloch and the Deeside fields


With the bike dragged from the back of the car, I began that long approach when conflicting emotions can do battle: gratitude for an estate’s maintenance of tracks wrestling with disappointment at the way in which Land Rover and ATV tracks scar the hillside. To be fair, the tracks into Gleann an t Slugain are far from the worst culprits.

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The track snakes up Gleann an t Slugain


The first three or four kilometres were a casual cyclist’s gentle outing. The next three or four test your mettle and the sturdiness of your bike as the track deteriorates. Tougher sorts, with springs, suspension and well-padded seats, manage to reach the ruins of Slugain Lodge and beyond. Wusses like me give in at one of the fords a few hundred metres short of the lodge and resort to what we’ve come up here to do: walk.

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Beinn a Bhuird peeps down on the ruins of Slugain Lodge


Once free to absorb the surroundings rather than be alert for rocks, ruts or drainage channels, enjoyment went up a gear. It was only when I reached the ruins of Slugain Lodge that I realised that I didn’t have my walking pole. Could I be bothered to return to the bike for it? No. I sometimes think it’s become too essential a part of the paraphernalia, but I needed a reminder that I walked and climbed for decades before they became de rigeur. So, I headed on without it.

The expanse of the glen soon opened out, the Quoich Water meandered below the crags of A Chioch, and the broad flat summit Beinn a Bhuird stretched across the distant horizon.

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Panorama of the upper reaches of Glen Quoich with Beinn a Bhuird's tops stretching across the horizon


I’d been here two months earlier, as the snows of winter were beginning to retreat and when, by late morning, there was still a chill in air. Small grey and brown patches of heather were left exposed and the peat was black, glistening and wet. Then, I let the landscape lure me deep into the glen, visiting just Ben Avon. Today, tiny patches of snow speckled the high corries and the new season’s growth of heather threw different shades of green against the browns and greys streaking from the crags above. April’s visit had been largely experienced from below; June’s would be enjoyed from above.

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Carn Fiachlach sits in front of Beinn a Bhuird's south top


The initial climb up Carn Fiaclach looked daunting, but the well-worn track, hidden deep in the heather, skirts the nose and follows a gently rising traverse on the western flank into Ear Coire Sneachdach above.

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Up the western flank of Carn Fiaclach and into Ear Choire Sneachdach


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West to the heart of the cairngorms from the Beinn a Bhuird plateau


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East to further targets for the day - Ben Avon


As the angle relents you look across at landmarks that had previously towered above: the buttresses of Hourglass and Slugain, the pinnacle of A Chioch. The horizon gradually fills as the Cairngorm giants to the west come into view and the vast expanse of the plateau stretches ahead: a brindled surface of gravel, moss and stones. The summit, squatting over a mile away with the suggestion of a cairn piercing the horizon, marked the conclusion of this latest stage in my Munro journey. Three and a half hours after leaving the car I scanned the surrounding panorama and took what I thought was a well-deserved breather.

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North top of Beinn a Bhuird and the actual Munro acrossCoire an Dubh Lochain


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Summit cairn of Beinn a Bhuird - inspiring?


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Cnap a Chleirich from Beinn a Bhuird with Ben Avon behind


After a lingering lunch there was another opportunity to stretch the legs as I left the summit. Yet again, while heading over to Cnap a Chleirich on the way to Ben Avon, I could relish the easy walk, now over dry, springy ground, with the grass bleached by the recent good weather. As a bonus, I sipped from the spring of clear water bubbling from the gravel, its location marked by an incongruous patch of surprisingly lush grass.

The view from the granite knuckles standing proud of Cnap a Chleirich’s top confirmed my decision to carry on towards Ben Avon, despite having been there just a few weeks before. The Sneck, Slochd Mor and another set of knuckles on the skyline of the adjacent Munro were there to be enjoyed rather than shunned by simply heading all the way back down.

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The Sneck and Ben Avon from Cnap a Chleirich


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Slochd Mor from The Sneck


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Garbh Choire at the head of Slochd Mor


Following a brief slither down loose gravel to The Sneck, I began the short burst of effort required to get back to the plateau. From Sneck to summit in a little over thirty minutes and I was scrambling in and out of the granite climbing frame that can leave you guessing about which is fractionally higher. As on my previous visit, I played safe and crawled over all of them I allowed pure enjoyment to ensure that I sat on the highest.

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The rim of Beinn a Bhuird peeps over the horizon from Ben Avon


By now, I could see patches of worsening weather approaching from the west. From Beinn a Bhuird it had looked as though a spattering of intense showers had been falling on Braeriach and Cairn Toul, now they were nearer as Ben Macdui disappeared and fell prey to a shower. The occasional rumble of thunder echoed: it was time to go.

Rather than return to The Sneck and descend by the Glas Allt Mor, I chose to stay high and head south towards Carn Eas. Again, splendid, uncluttered high-level walking began to feel like being back in The Lakes. This was fellwalking, and has characterised many of my trips to the hills in and around the Cairngorm National Park. OK, not all of them benefit from such spectacular surroundings, and some, like the Drumochters east of the A9 simply pose the question: why? But, as they say in God’s Own County, “this were grand.”

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Looking back to the knuckles of Ben Avon from Carn Eas


From Carn Eas I had intended to zig-zag to Creag an Dial Mhor then down to Carn Eag Dubh: a potentially more aesthetic route back to the glen. However, I found myself in descent-mode and launched straight down the steep grass and heather towards the track I could see below. Had it been wet, this wouldn’t have been a sensible option but, after such a lengthy dry spell, boots bit into the turf and undergrowth rather than skidded off it.

Once back in the glen, the continued descent was more sedate and controlled. I sauntered and dawdled and this time took the higher path to avoid dropping to Slugain Lodge before reaching my bike, where I expected to be reunited with my walking pole. No, I hadn’t forgetfully left it tossed onto the bank of heather, and it hadn’t got hidden under the bike itself. But I knew I’d attached it to my bag at the start of the day.

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Descent back to the glen - the track snakes homewards


Pole-spotting then jostled with obstacle avoidance for the next twenty minutes or so when, right in the middle of the track lay my pole. Normally I bend or break them, losing one would have been a first.

With a full complement of kit I finally skidded back into the car park at Keiloch eight hours after leaving it. They say a horse always runs faster in the home straight. Not that I’m claiming any equine qualities, but I do find cycling any uphill stretches on the return journey easier to tackle: maybe the legs and muscles are honed or the effort needed to push a pedal is less than walking – whatever, I’m grateful.

What happened next however, didn’t earn my gratitude.

Sadly, the day and its achievements couldn’t be celebrated by a yearned-for Magnum in Braemar: the Co-op had completely sold out. I had to make do with a Solero.

So, the Cairngorm journey was finally over. It had started in the late 1970s with a snowy Easter foray with university mates: we bivvi-bagged down empty ski slopes in the gathering gloom. It’s taken in some of the dullest hills I’ve been on (eastern Drumochter in the clag) yet some of the most spectacular situations (wild camping by Corrour Bothy below Devil’s Point). I’ve experienced some of the strongest winds and toughest conditions (an autumnal gale on the Moine Mhor) and some of the most benign and sweltering (an early morning arrival on Ben Macdui followed by the danger of dehydration returning over Derry Cairngorm). It’s encompassed the quickest (yes, The Cairnwell), and the longest (Carn an Fhidhleir and An Sgarsoch – why?), and it’s forced me on to my bike, for which I like to think the punishment meted out by sadistic trainers in spin classes at the gym have prepared me.

But, as I head back westwards, what I’m looking forwards to is a proper top. Ambling up to a cairn that marks the highest point of an undulating plateau or domed expanse of gravel and stones can all too often be an anticlimax. Give me an airy perch any day.

Where next?

Go west young man.
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Re: Beinn a Bhuird and farewell to the eastern Munros

Postby portinscale » Mon Jun 13, 2016 2:00 pm

An entertaining read but surely you can't give up on the Gorms!
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Re: Beinn a Bhuird and farewell to the eastern Munros

Postby Mountainlove » Mon Jun 13, 2016 9:19 pm

Brilliant read and well done for completing the Cairngorms :clap: :clap: ...and a second walk up Ben Avon. I still have a few to be done, but hope to get the long ones out of the way. Talking about traffic...the queues past Loch Lomond on a Sunday afternoon are just as horrendous!
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Re: Beinn a Bhuird and farewell to the eastern Munros

Postby old danensian » Tue Jun 14, 2016 7:42 pm

Mountainlove wrote: Talking about traffic...the queues past Loch Lomond on a Sunday afternoon are just as horrendous!


Thanks ML - in the best possible sense - "ger on yer bike" and get just 'em done

But as for the A82 - from experience I've found it's best before 7.00am or after 10,30pm

At least the majority of what I have left are best reached via the A9, even with the 40mph stretch in place for the next year or so

OD
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Re: Beinn a Bhuird and farewell to the eastern Munros

Postby Huff_n_Puff » Tue Jun 14, 2016 9:54 pm

Great reading - sadly I'll have to do these 2 without a bike, my old Dawes is really past mountain tracks and as its owner is too (biking mountain tracks I mean :roll: ) there's no point buying another bike :lol:
Enjoyed the photos, very helpful as we're planning to head up this way in August.
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Re: Beinn a Bhuird and farewell to the eastern Munros

Postby steverabone » Thu Jun 16, 2016 3:36 pm

A superb report and one that will inspire me to go back to climb Beinn a' Bhuird. I climbed Ben Avon a couple of days after you. As I was walking the whole way from Keiloch I hadn't time to climb BaB as well. Anyway it's a good excuse to visit this superb area again.
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Re: Beinn a Bhuird and farewell to the eastern Munros

Postby Silverhill » Thu Jun 16, 2016 7:27 pm

A great report about one of my favourite areas in the Cairngorms. There is something special about the vastness of the landscape there. :D
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Re: Beinn a Bhuird and farewell to the eastern Munros

Postby Cairngorm creeper » Fri Jun 17, 2016 11:41 am

A good read and you do sum up the best and the worst of the Cairngorms. I enjoyed the pictures especially as Beinn Bhuird is on my soon to do list.
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