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Cairngorm Gold & the mysterious disappearance of 4 young men
by Graeme D » Wed Jun 29, 2016 5:03 pm
Munros included on this walk: Ben Macdui, Braeriach, Cairn Toul, Derry Cairngorm, Sgor an Lochain Uaine
Date walked: 19/06/2016
Time taken: 72.5 hours
Distance: 59.8 km
Ascent: 3625m2 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).
I was down to staff the final outing of the season before the summer break - a Gold Assessment group of only four boys, all fairly competent and strong walkers. Gold Assessments, as I have said before, are the holy grail of DofE trips for me. Remote supervision is very much the order of the day, the bare minimum of contact with the candidates encouraged. In other words, four days where the "leaders" have a high degree of flexibility in terms of exactly how they get from A to B and then on to C.
The route was an interesting one, taking the lads from Aviemore train station through Rothiemurchus and into the Lairig Ghru. From the southern end of the pass, they would pop up onto Cairn Toul before returning back down to Corrour and then on to Derry Lodge where they would spend the second night. From there, they were heading up Glen Derry and into Coire Etchachan, performing another sortie up onto the high summits, this time Macdui, before returning to camp by Loch Etchachan. The final day would then see them descend into the Loch Avon basin and up onto the Saddle at the head of Strath Nethy, which they would follow back round to Glenmore from where they would get the bus back to Aviemore. I was chuffed to bits - it would give me the opportunity to claim three new Munros, from Braeriach round to Cairn Toul.
Sunday 19th June
Being a Sunday, we had forgotten to factor in the limited train service so it was nearly 11am before we left Perth and the back of 1pm before the lads set off from Aviemore. My colleague Steve and I gave them a good 15 minute head start and then raced ahead to take a more direct route to the Cairngorm Club footbridge and then up into the Lairig Ghru ahead of them.
As forecast, the rain started to threaten and by the time we were clear of the last of the trees in Rothiemurchus Forest, it was full waterproof weather with little prospect of it clearing up anytime soon.
We had toyed with the idea of giving the lads the opportunity to go in over Braeriach before making their way over the plateau to Cairn Toul and then down through Coire Odhar, with a high camp somewhere that first night. With the wind gaining strength and the prospect of a stormy night ahead, we reconsidered that plan and decided to make camp on the small, flatish patch of grass on the other side of the river from the path, just where the path comes down from the Chalamain Gap at the start of the ascent into the Lairig Ghru proper. We would flag the lads down and tell them to squeeze their two tents in there too. Needs must and all that.
It was indeed a wet and wild night. 16 hours I spent in my tent as it was battered by the rain and gales, save for a couple of minutes in the murky pre-dawn light when I had to venture out to answer a call of nature. I did so with my boot laces untied - school boy error! As I turned away having answered the call and headed back towards my tent, my left boot was sucked off in the semi-bog I had been standing in. A rather awkward one legged dance then ensued as I desperately tried to reinsert my left foot into the boot before I lost my balance. Unfortunately my balance went before my foot could reconnect with the boot! In the morning, Steve was disappointed that he had not surpassed the 18 hours he spent holed up in his tent on a similarly skanky evening on a recent Silver expedition!
Monday 20th June
The morning showed glimpses of blue sky and the wind had dropped, but it still looked fairly clag bound up on the tops. Still, I was taking the high road over Braeriach! I had faith that the weather would improve and in any case, there are only so many times you can go through the Lairig Ghru in the same direction with a DofE group before the novelty wears off.
Steve opted for the high road too and so we set off up onto the broad ascent ridge of Sron na Lairige with instructions to the lads that we would see them that evening at Derry Lodge.
I'll let the following photos tell the story of the rest of the day, taking in Braeriach, Sgor an Lochain Uaine and Cairn Toul, before descending to Corrour Bothy for a brew and then along Glen Luibeg to Derry Lodge. The weather did improve somewhat, even although the views from the second and third Munros were non-existent.
Monday 09.15 hours - beginning the ascent of Braeriach and the entrance to the Lairig Ghru
Ascending Sron na Lairige
Clag hugging the southern cliffs of Sron na Lairige
Across Garbh Coire to Lochan Uaine
Lochan Uaine zoomed
Beinn Macdui across the Lairig Ghru
Summit cliffs of Braeriach dropping into Coire Bhrochain
Carn a'Mhaim and Cairn Toul facing one another across the Lairig Ghru
Ben Macdui from the summit of Braeriach
Me at the summit
Pretty much the source of the River Dee
Connecting ridge walk to Sgor an Lochain Uaine
Loch nan Stuirteag nestled below Monadh Mor
Macdui, Sgor an Lochain Uaine and Cairn Toul
Approaching number two
Across the head of Garbh Coire
Nothing doing on the summit of Sgor an Lochain Uaine
Between numbers two and three
Midsummer on Cairn Toul
Cloud caught in the eastern corries
All three new blue balloons
Beinn Bhrotain and the River Dee
Carn a'Mhaim and the Devil's thingummyjig
Sunshine and shadow on Ben Macdui
Carn a'Mhaim and a rainbow over Corrour Bothy from the descent in Coire Odhar
The Devil's Point from the path into Glen Luibeg
Carn a'Mhaim from the crossing of the Luibeg Burn
Tuesday 21st June
I had spent the Monday evening in Bob Scott's. Having only ever spent the night there once, a rather raucous Friday night in January several years back in the company of some professional heidbangers, I was all too aware of the potential pitfalls of staying there. I figured that a Monday night might be a good time to hopefully see the other side of a night in the place, and so after I had checked in with the lads, wandered down. It was empty and so I settled in for the evening, while Steve pitched his tent outside.
Three guys from Aberdeen did turn up a few hours later, but they were not off the heidbanging variety, and it was not a raucous night in the style of my last stay.
Steve had headed off early in the morning to take breakfast in the Hutchy Hut, and I arranged to catch up with him either at Loch Etchachan or at the Hut itself. The boys tents were still up amongst the trees as I set off. I was planning on going directly to Loch Etchachan over Derry Cairngorm and probably just waiting for them by the loch. We certainly didn't want them heading up onto Ben Macdui without us being in fairly close proximity.
For midsummer it sure was chilly up on Derry Cairngorm. It's always a good walk up there from Derry Lodge although I knew it would not hold a candle to my previous ascent on a stunning June evening a few years back while out on a Silver expedition. Still, there would at least be that moment where having continued beyond the summit, I crossed the flat bealach at the head of Coire Sputain Dearg and crested the rise to look down onto Loch Etchachan, the highest body of water of that size in the British Isles.
There was no sign of anybody when I reached the outflow of the loch at the head of Coire Etchachan and so I pitched my tent and set about getting some lunch on the go. As I was having lunch, the lads appeared and quickly reorganised themselves to carry one pack between the four of them, before heading up the path I had descended. Steve appeared about 10 minutes behind them and I got my finger out and headed off another 5 or so minutes behind him, carrying only a dry bag with a few essentials in it.
I met the lads coming off the summit of Macdui just as I arrived and after ensuring they had picked up the correct line of descent and weren't walking off into oblivion, Steve and I followed them down. After dinner and a wee wander over to the edge of the trench of Loch Avon, I settled down in my tent with my crossword book for a rather less stormy night than Sunday.
Looking south from Carn Crom
West across Coire Sputain Dearg from the summit of Derry Cairngorm
Selfie at the summit of DC
Beinn Mheadhoin from DC
DC, the Sron Riach ridge and Carn a'Mhaim
Loch Etchachan and Cairn Gorm
Loch Etchachan, Cairn Gorm and Beinn Mheadhoin
Loch Etchachan from the Macdui ascent path
Derry Cairngorm through a break in the cliffs of Coire Sputain Dearg
Summit of Ben Macdui
Descending back to Etchachan
Loch Avon in the evening
Wednesday 22nd June
We had had a little chat with the lads last night before they toddled off to their tents away across the loch and agreed on an early start. The sooner we got back to Glenmore and caught the next bus into Aviemore, the sooner we could get on a train and get back home for a well needed shower or bath. There was some talk of a train around 3.40ish so we made that the objective.
True to their word, the lads made a sharp exit and we followed them down into the deep trench of Loch Avon. By around 11.30ish we were bidding them farewell at the Saddle, from where they headed down into Strath Nethy. Steve and I climbed up onto Cairngorm via Ciste Mhearad and then dropped down to the Ptarmigan where we stopped for a while before walking down the access track and through the clutter of ski hardware to the bottom station where we stopped for lunch.
Loch Etchachan campsite
The Shelter Stone and the south western end of Loch Avon
Down to the Ptarmigan
From there we caught the bus down to Glenmore where we got off to sit and wait for the lads. The timetable at the bus stop indicated that there was a bus into Aviemore at ten past the hour so we sat at the tables outside the Pine Marten bar and the campsite and fed our leftover oatcakes and cheese to the ducks.
Time drifted past, I stretched out on one of the benches, I drifted off to sleep for 15 minutes or so, I wandered off to avail myself of the facilities in the campsite, came back, no sign of the lads, the 2.10 bus went past, no worries, they'll be here in time for the 3.10 bus, time drifted past, still no sign of the lads, time drifted past, hang on a minute, it's gone 3.30 and the 3.10 bus hasn't gone past yet, into the shop to ask the wee mannie, he says the 3.10 and 4.10 buses don't run because they go away to do the school run, next bus is 5.10, oh well, there goes the early home idea, the lads will definitely be here by then though, more time passes, hang on a minute more, this isn't right, these lads should have been here by now, there goes the 5.10 bus, only one bus left at 6.10, time passes and eventually so does the last bus. No lads! ****!
Well, two things are for sure - the lads are WAY overdue and there is absolutely no point in us continuing to sit like a couple of numpties where we are. We hadn't taken any action up until this point as experience has generally taught us that groups turn up in the end and when action has been taken, it usually turns out to have been a bit premature and something of an over-reaction. I recalled a situation a couple of years back where a colleague was on the verge of calling out MRT because a group were a mere hour overdue at a checkpoint. He had to be talked down and guess what, the group appeared about 20 minutes later without a care in the world. But this was now a bit different. There should have been no real opportunities for navigational blunders on the route the lads were taking and they were at low level with decent visibility, not walking across the plateau in the clag. No real danger of having gone over cliffs or anything like that then.
Neither of us had any reception, so we decided to head up to Glenmore Lodge where we both recalled getting some patchy reception in the past whilst staying there. I picked up some signal at the Reindeer place so called home to let my wife know the situation and to tell her not to worry about me - I'd be home whenever. Then I tried to call my colleague and good friend Robin who was Home Base Contact for this gig. Voice mail!
We carried on up the road to the Lodge, asking anyone who passed us if they had seen four lads with big packs. All responses were negative. I pretty much decided there and then that one of them must have suffered a bad accident somehow, and they had dealt with it at the site and put the tents up, but then why had a couple of them not come and found us? At Glenmore Lodge, Steve waited outside on the road in case they appeared while I went in to call Robin on the payphone. This time he answered and I briefed him with what we knew. At least he agreed that we were in a pretty handy location if it came to getting boots out on the ground to search! He went away to call the Headteacher and to inform parents and said he would call me back on the Lodge number in 20 minutes or so. My adrenaline was pumping as I waited and spent the time bringing the guys behind the desk up to speed with what was going on. After only about 5-10 minutes or so, the phone rang and one of the guys handed it to me. It was Robin, who informed me that having phoned the Headteacher who was understandably very concerned, he had phoned the first set of parents, only to be informed that their son was at home having his dinner!!!!!!!!!
My response was about 5 seconds of complete silence followed by an outburst lasting some 20 seconds or so in which every third word began with F and ended in UCK!!!!
Steve and I had to get a taxi back into Aviemore where we fully expected to have missed the last train, but discovered that there was still one more train south at about ten past nine, giving us just enough time to head for the Cairngorm Hotel for a couple of pints and the first half of the Ireland-Italy match before finally getting back to Perth after 11pm.
It turns out they had got to Glenmore at about 2.30ish and gone into the wee information place to ask when the next bus was, where they were told it was at 5.10. Panicking, they realised they would miss the train we were targeting so they arranged for a taxi into Aviemore and duly got that train south while we fed ducks and were regaled by Aubrey, a local jakey. Their taxi must have driven right past us, probably while I was sleeping on the bench and Steve had gone for a ****!
Let's just say a few choice words were used the following morning back in school when we caught up with the four jokers!
by gammy leg walker » Wed Jun 29, 2016 9:04 pm
by ancancha » Thu Jun 30, 2016 12:51 am
Some good photos on the way to the finish though
Nice report Graeme
by dogplodder » Mon Jul 11, 2016 11:38 am
by Mal Grey » Mon Jul 11, 2016 12:39 pm
Nice trip apart from that though!
by Sick Kid » Mon Jul 11, 2016 8:30 pm
by Jaxter » Mon Jul 11, 2016 8:50 pm
I'm not sure I'd have survived if I'd pulled a stunt like that Looks like a great trip otherwise
by basscadet » Tue Jul 12, 2016 10:58 am
by kevsbald » Wed Jul 13, 2016 4:39 pm
by Graeme D » Thu Jul 14, 2016 10:41 pm
kevsbald wrote:When you hitting the 200??
Probably October at this rate!