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Cairngorms: 4 days, 3 bothies, 6 Munros.

Cairngorms: 4 days, 3 bothies, 6 Munros.

Postby rorymch » Mon Apr 03, 2017 5:27 pm

Munros included on this walk: Ben Macdui, Braeriach, Cairn Gorm, Cairn Toul, Sgor an Lochain Uaine, The Devil's Point

Date walked: 28/03/2017

Time taken: 80 hours

Distance: 52 km

Ascent: 2911m

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Myself, my brother and three friends spent last week in the Cairngorms - it was an epic adventure with baking sun, freezing rain, hard days, easy days, mountains, bothies and various interesting characters. This will be a long report so ye have been warned... Here's what happened:

On Monday four of us flew from London to Inverness, hired a car and drove to Glenmore Lodge where we met the fifth, Arthur, and spent the night. I wish I could say the journey up was easy but it was not - All five of us had booked flights but a last minute change meant we would be meeting Arthur up there but we still needed to bring his kit so we asked the Easyjet lady at Gatwick if it would be okay if we checked his bag in without him, otherwise we would just pay for an extra ourselves. We were told it was fine, so we did. But when we took our seats on the plane the Captain made an announcement "I'm sorry for the delay but someone seems to have checked a bag into the hold without being on the plane so we're just going to remove it". This bag had all our crampons, axes, food for the week and one of our sleeping bags... We designated Tom to run up to the front and try to convince them to not remove it and after half an hour of various official looking people getting on and off we were told it was okay and the bag would go back in the hold. Throughout the hour and a half flight I came up with various alternatives to our planned route just incase the bag didn't make it into the hold and we were ill-equipped to get up into the snow. But the bag came off the carrousel at Inverness so all was okay in the end. Anyway, lesson learned - don't check in a bag without a passenger to go with it!

On with the trip.

Tuesday morning we grabbed breakfast at Glenmore Lodge and hopped in the car and drove up to the ski centre car park where we would leave the car until Friday. Our planned route was Cairn Gorm, across the plateau to Ben Macdui then down to the Hutchison Memorial hut for the first night. Day two would be down Glen Derry to Bob Scott's Bothy for the second night. Day three would be Bob Scott's to Corrour bothy for the third night and then day four would either be a walk out through the Lairig Ghru or up over Cairn Toul and Braeriach if the weather and our bodies were in a good condition.

The weather on Tuesday was impeccable. Clear blue skies and not a breath of wind. We hauled on our rucksacks and started the trudge up the path to the Ptarmigan Station - our first scheduled stop. We had weighed in our rucksacks at Glenmore Lodge the night before and were each carrying between 23 and 26kg each. Generally our ethos is to carry the extra weight to make life in the outdoors a little more comfortable but on that first walk up to Cairn Gorm we were already questioning the necessity of Prosecco and Grand Crus Bordeaux.

However, before we knew it we were at the Ptarmigan Station rehydrating and enjoying the views and grabbing a quick group shot.

At the Ptarmigan Station. L-R: Me, Henry, Arthur, Tom, Dom (my brother)

From there it was a shorter but steeper climb up to the summit of Cairn Gorm through mixed snow, ice and rock. Dom and I stopped to don crampons while the other three decided to carry on without and by 10:00 am we were all standing on the summit cairn. The views were incredible. The visibility was crystal clear with views all the way across to the Nevis range. A temperature inversion to the south east was funnelling clouds through Glen Avon.

Inversion to the South East

I unpacked my drone to attempt to get some arial shots (something I always seem to do on a mountain without much success yet) and we had a flapjack each. Then, feeling fresh, hauled on our packs again and headed off down to the plateau.

Before long we were into the snow fields around Lochan Buidhe and down to a single layer each due to the heat. It was an absolutely beautiful day to be in the mountains. The rest of the plateau was an easy walk, even in the softening snow and we made quick progress towards Ben Macdui. Although we did stop once for a bit of mountain yoga...

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crossing the plateau

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mountain yoga

As we approached Ben Macdui, Arthur elbowed me in the ribs and pointed at a figure descending towards us, "Rory, I think that's Chris Townsend". Low and behold it was. I had only a few days before watched his documentary on the Cairngorms and recognised his rucksack. We stopped and had a chat, in awe and a little star struck by such a legend, but were too nervous to ask for a photo. This is the best we got:

Chris Townsend

From our chat with Chris it was five minutes further to the summit of Ben Macdui where we brewed up some tea and ate a lunch of cheese and oat cakes. Two Munros bagged by 1:00pm.

After lunch we set off down the eastern side of Ben Macdui and bumped into a group of five mountain rescue chaps from Northern Ireland on a training week. We had a quick chat with them and carried on down through the wonderful snow towards a frozen Loch Etchachan with a couple of bum slides for good measure (in which Tom managed to lose his brand new Swiss Army Sigg bottle).

bum slide

frozen Loch Etchachan

From Loch Etchachan we dropped down out of the snow into Coire Etchachan and down towards the Hutchison Memorial Hut - our home for the night, where we took off our boots and relaxed in the sun with a cupasoup each.

Heading for the Hutchy

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ditching our boots after a great day's walk

Around 5:00pm we had convinced ourselves that we would be the only ones at the Hutchy that night, thinking that everyone would have been in the mountains at the weekend with such good weather, until Tom pointed a mile up the way we had come and said "I think there's a man coming down". For the next twenty minutes we watched a figure descending towards us until about halfway down the track when Henry said "I think it's a female". Ten minutes later someone else said "she looks our age." Another ten minutes later: "she's really pretty". Another ten minutes: "She's got a ukulele." Ten minutes after that she stepped up to where we were sat and introduced herself "allo, my name's Florence" -you can imagine the best behaviour five late twenty-something guys suddenly put on when an attractive, twenty-something French girl with a ukulele on her rucksack introduces herself...

We chatted for a few moments until we were joined by Merrick, a lawyer from Notting Hill, who had come up the coire from the other direction. Now that we were definitely not having the Hutchy to ourselves for the night, Dom made up a round of Rob Roys for everyone and some foie gras on brioche (that Florence particularly liked) to break the ice. We all chatted a bit more as the sun dropped over the crags behind the bothy and then a couple of ex-Marines turned up. (whose names I can't remember). They quickly counted the seven people already at the bothy and turned to each other with a "looks like we're bivvying outside". Amazingly one of them had found a brand new Swiss Army Sigg bottle on the way down and reunited it with Tom.

We got the stove going with some coal we had carried in, cooked up a mushroom orzo pasta dish that Henry had dehydrated himself at home and drank a very nice bottle of 2009 St Emilion. Then we all turned in for the night. It was quite cosy with seven of us in there...

Wednesday morning saw the weather change. Damp clouds rolled in up the coire towards the bothy.

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The Hutchy, Wednesday morning

Merrick was up and out early. Florence had a cup of tea with us and, obviously having decided that she liked us, changed her plans and said she would join us at Bob Scott's bothy that night. She headed off down the Coire and we chatted to the ex-Marines for a while about baking bread (I was cooking some bannock at the time). We had a breakfast of home cured bacon and scrambled eggs (with bannock bread) and lots of coffee. Then packed up and set off for Bob Scott's.

It was a very leisurely walk down Glen Derry and we took our time to enjoy the surroundings and stop for tea breaks.

Tea break in Glen Derry

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The Derry dam

We arrived at Bob Scott's around 2:30 where our new friend, Florence was waiting, playing Ukulele. We had a cigarette (all butts were burned, don't worry), collected fire wood, washed in the river and made ourselves at home. I made some dough to bake a loaf of bread later in the wood burner.

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Having a smoke with Florence.

Making bread dough

At some point that afternoon, a fellow walker popped in to grab some stuff he had left at the bothy and seemed to have an incredible knowledge of everyone who was out in the Cairngorms that day and the previous day. He had heard about us and he had heard about the French ukulele player. I had no idea word travelled so fast in the mountains!

We ended up having Bob Scott's to ourselves (Florence now included) that night and after a dinner of bean stew and colcannon mash (again dehydrated at home) we had a bit of a party. We threw out any idea of rationing our booze for the following night and ploughed through champagne (prosecco) cocktails, beer, more Bordeaux wine and then whiskey and cognac. We played games, sang songs, Florence played us ukulele, Dom recited chunks of Henry V using the sleeping platform as a stage. And then we collapsed into our sleeping bags around midnight. Florence had the sleeping platform, we had the floor. It was like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs...

Homemade loaf made in the wood burner

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"And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here" Henry V.

Thursday morning was even more leisurely than Wednesday. We hung out, made breakfast (again bacon, scrambled eggs and bannock bread) drank copious amounts of coffee and had a very cold dunk in the river before cleaning the bothy and collecting some more fire wood to leave for the next occupants. Around 1:00pm we bid Florence farewell with the promise of going to do some hiking near where she lives in the Alps. She was headed back to Braemar and we were headed to the Corrour bothy in the Lairig Ghru.

The walk round to the Corrour bothy was an easy amble through a vast countryside. The landscape south of Carn a' Mhaim is spectacular. We forded the Luibeg Burn and before we knew it we were looking up the Lairig Ghru at the imposing sight of Devil's Point, Cairn Toul and Braeriach with the Corrour bothy a mere dot beneath them.

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Fording the Luibeg Burn.

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Looking back towards the Forest of Mar

The Lairig Ghru

We reached the Corrour bothy by around 3:00pm to find it in a bit of a bad state. There was a lot of rubbish and a broken plastic chair and the fireplace looked like it hadn't been cleaned out in a long time. So we brewed up then set about giving the bothy a spruce. We packed up all the rubbish and broke up the chair to carry out with us the next day. We also cleaned the window and emptied the fireplace then lit some candles and got a fire going. Happy to be now sat in a tidy bothy we cracked our last beers and relaxed in the epic surroundings.

Cleaning up the Corrour Bothy

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The Corrour Bothy with Devil's Point behind

The Northern Irish mountain rescue guys called in on their way off Cairn Toul and we had a chat with them about the conditions the following day. They seemed to think it should be okay up there the following day and that there was an easily identifiable path. We were still making up our minds whether to just walk out the Lairig Ghru or head over Cairn Toul but were leaning towards the latter seeing as we had just had two very easy days. The Mountain Rescue chaps left us and then the two ex-Marines turned up having also just come off Cairn Toul.

We chatted with them some more about the conditions and made the decision that we would go over Cairn Toul and Braeriach and bag 4 more Munros. With that in mind, we cooked up a dinner of Tadka Dal (dehydrated at home again), rice and freshly made naan bread then had an early night. Sleeping seven people in Corrour bothy is a lot easier than the Hutchy! We set alarms for 6:00am.

We overslept till 7:30...

The ex-marines found that very funny.

But we quickly packed up, had a breakfast of porridge and set off up towards our first Munro of the day, Devil's Point.

The summits were all shrouded in cloud and as we worked our way up the zig zags, the wind steadily increased and we started getting wet.

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The zig zags up to Devil's Point

This day could not have been more different to our first day out on Cairn Gorm and Ben Macdui...

Looking back on it, it has all become a bit of a blur of howling wind, freezing rain, whiteouts, thawing bogland and ice and rock underfoot. The Munros themselves were indistinguishable and unmemorable with no views or anything other than my GPS telling me that we were standing on them. I didn't manage to take many photos as I was concentrating so hard on navigation.

At one point we had to double back when our route got cut off by the springs of Dee - a river of freezing, fast flowing water had cut it's way through the snow and we were certainly not going to try to ford it or jump it. But we had no idea how far back we would have to skirt around it when we came across the only section of snow still crossing it - effectively a bridge 4 feet wide and around 6 feet long. It looked pretty solid so Arthur tentative tested it out and determined that it would definitely hold our weight so we took it in turns to run across it - all the while the wind howling and the freezing rain stinging our faces.

At another point, somewhere around Braeriach, we had a white out so bad we literally could not see beyond our own hands. Knowing that there was a steep fall into Coire Bhrochain nearby, we had two GPS's on the go for every single step until the cloud cleared enough to just make out some rocks ahead.

It was like some kind of weird nightmare, concentrating on every foot placement to avoid ice, while balancing in the wind at the same time not seeing anything but white. But bloody hell it was great fun!

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Somewhere near Cairn Toul

Eventually we dropped down to Sron na Lairige and out of the worst of the snow and wind and rain. From there it was an easy walk out with just the boulder field in the Chalamain Gap to contend with and then a 2 hour walk back to the ski centre car park.

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The Chalamain Gap

Eight hours after we left Corrour bothy we were at the car, absolutely exhausted, wind battered, soaked but having had one hell of a last day.

Over the four days we were out, we saw the Cairngorms at their finest and at their fiercest. We bagged 6 Munros, slept in 3 bothies, walked over 30 miles, climbed nearly 3000 metres and ate some great food and made a friend with a French ukulele player from the Alps.

When we got home we tried to explain our trip to our other friends but no words can really describe it - it will just be something the five of us will share among ourselves as one of the best adventures any of us has ever had.

Cairngorms, I love you!

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Re: Cairngorms: 4 days, 3 bothies, 6 Munros.

Postby Somerled87 » Mon Apr 03, 2017 8:39 pm

Good for you lads, sounds like a great weekend. Nice job on tidying up the bothy, too. Wouldn't mind ending up sharing a bothy with you lot, with you carrying in all the posh victuals! Poor old Chris doesn't know what he missed. Good report :)
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Re: Cairngorms: 4 days, 3 bothies, 6 Munros.

Postby rockhopper » Mon Apr 03, 2017 8:41 pm

Great area for a big trip - a bit of a cracker and a very enjoyable read :thumbup:
Baking bread is an interesting idea and well done for cleaning up as well. Have only spent one night in a bothy...and couldn't manage to light the fire :roll: - cheers :)
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Re: Cairngorms: 4 days, 3 bothies, 6 Munros.

Postby yellowbelly » Wed Apr 05, 2017 3:38 pm

Very much enjoyed reading your two walk reports so far. Love the "Take That" on tour first pic.
Baking and posh nosh in a bothy is obviously the way to go.
Nice to pass the time with Chris Townsend - I've been on a couple of walks with him, very knowledgable and laid back.
Looking forward to reading your future adventures.
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Re: Cairngorms: 4 days, 3 bothies, 6 Munros.

Postby rorymch » Wed Apr 05, 2017 5:30 pm

Thanks guys it was a really great trip! And yes, all about the posh nosh for a bothy trip - definitely worth carrying the extra weight when you can kick back with a nice glass of wine and some freshly baked bread after a day's walking!
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Re: Cairngorms: 4 days, 3 bothies, 6 Munros.

Postby Jaxter » Wed Apr 05, 2017 8:01 pm

Quite a trip! :clap: It's a shame I never got to Hutchy but there's always another time and I've already hatched another plan to include it next time :lol:

I'll admit I tend to go the other way when packing - super light, nae luxuries, although I suppose when you're travelling alone you have to carry all the essentials yourself anyway. My pack was heavy enough without the prosecco :lol: :lol:
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Re: Cairngorms: 4 days, 3 bothies, 6 Munros.

Postby colin liptrot » Thu Jul 13, 2017 7:20 pm

This looks like an awesome trip, nice one for sharing. It's given me some ideas for my forthcoming expedition to the Cairngorms. I've been trying to weigh up what would be the best backpacking route but seeing as you guys managed to cover so much ground, including summits, carrying a similar weight to what I usually take, I reckon I might take a leaf out of your book! Very inspirational :-)
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