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Beinn Mheadhoin by Fiacaill Ridge

Beinn Mheadhoin by Fiacaill Ridge

Postby Phil the Hill » Sat Oct 02, 2010 4:50 pm

Munros included on this walk: Beinn Mheadhoin

Date walked: 22/05/2010

Time taken: 10 hours

Distance: 18 km

Ascent: 1480m

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Having enjoyed reading other peoples' walk reports on Walk Highlands, I thought it was time I gave something back by posting one of my own. This was my Best Day on the Hill (TM) of 2010 - so far at least. I see malky_c has already posted an ascent of Beinn Mheadhoin by the same route, with a much more ambitious walk out, but hopefully an account of my own walk will still be of interest.

Half the fun is planning the walks beforehand, when I'm stuck in London far from the hills. The plan for this year's summer (end of May/beginning of June) trip was to bag some of the remoter Cairngorms Munros from a wild camp. The original idea was to camp by Loch Etchachan with a walk in over the Cairngorm plateau, but obsessive viewing of the blogs over the winter and spring had indicated there was still a lot of snow up there and I usually try and avoid carrying a heavy pack (preferring to bike in to establish a wild camp wherever possible).

Andy and I discussed the plan as we drove up, and had a look at the Cairngorms from the Loch Morlich campsite the night before. We decided to do Beinn Mheadhoin as a one day expedition, then drive round to Linn of Dee for an easier walk in to establish a wild camp South of Derry Cairngorm (report of that trip to follow). I wanted to use Ralph Storer's route for Beinn Mheadhoin from 50 Classic Routes, as Ralph's routes are always good and this one ascended to the plateau by the Fiacaill Ridge, which I'd been reading about in the winter blog reports and looked like a good summer scramble.

The next decision was whether to take ice axes and crampons. There was clearly a lot of snow up there, but I didn't believe it was going to be particularly icy and it would be a long day so we wanted to travel light. We therefore settled for just a trekking pole each, as emergency ice axe substitutes and because they're good for river crossings (of which more later).

We drove up to the ski centre car park and set off for the Northern Corries. I'd only seen them from above before, so was looking forward to this. As we began to climb onto the ridge the views of Coire an t-Sneachda did not disappoint.
First view of Coire an t-Sneachda

The scrambly part of the ridge soon reared up ahead, looking suitably impressive. We were glad we had decided against the heavy packs. At this point a lone walker passed us. We noted he was packing an ice axe…
Phil poses before Fiacaill Ridge

The scrambly bit of the Fiacaill Ridge

This part of the ridge was reminiscent of the Bristly Ridge in the Glyders (one of my favourite routes – especially as you reach it via Tryfan). As malky_c says in his report the final chimney is probably the crux, but today the crux was the bypass path round one of the avoidable difficulties on the crest. The path was covered by the top of a steep and exposed snow slope. As we were eyeing this up, the other walker returned from recce'ing the crest route, having decided this was the better route (so that otherone must have been pretty scary). He went first, cutting steps for us with his ice axe. We might have got through using the trekking poles and hands, but were grateful for his assistance.
Beyond this the chimney provided an exciting but not too difficult scramble which emerged onto the plateau right below the top of Cairn Lochan.
Cairn Lochan

We bagged this because it was there, and as I hadn't ticked it off after my previous trip across the plateau from Cairngorm to Ben Macdui, not having been sure on my return that it was one of the bumps I'd visited (that was way before the days of iPhones with GPS logging of your route in Memory Map, as I was using today). Checking out Cairn Lochan on the ground it's such a distinct top I can't believe I'd have passed by without bagging it though. Anyway, we paused here for Elevenses Part Two, or Third Breakfast if you're a hobbit (on the hill, small frequent snacks are best) and checked out the view.
A snack at Cairn Lochan summit

There was a lot of snow still on the main plateau. Indeed there were a few skiers passing by. But it wasn't icy and didn't look too bad below the plateau. Beinn Mheadhoin was obviously one of the hills with tors and I recognised Ben Avon from a previous trip, so was pretty sure I could identify our destination by process of elimination. As usual the one we were aiming for looked depressingly distant from the first top. We took a compass bearing to be sure we headed for the correct descent route and set off. (Always take a compass bearing when setting off from a top after a snack - it's surprisingly easy to set off at 180o from your intended route, especially in mist. I speak from experience here!)

The crossing of the plateau was no problem with gore-tex boots and gaiters. Crampons were not needed. Our route now differed from malky_c's, as we descended Coire Domhain towards the Shelter Stone. (The other walker from the ridge must have taken malky_c's route to Beinn Mheadhoin, which was probably a better choice today as it turned out.) It was a steep descent to the left of the stream, following a path, but diverting off it when it got icy. I love steep descents, but this was a bit too steep to run down. Andy took it more cautiously. As we descended, awesome (and I do not use that word lightly here) views of the Shelter Stone Crag and Loch Avon opened up. This was why I wanted to bag Beinn Mheadhoin from the North.
Andy checks out the view

Loch Avon with Beinn Mheadhoin beyond

Shelter Stone Crag

It was also becoming clear that the Feithe Bhuide was in spate and might well be impassable.
Feithe Bhuide

No crossing this

Still, the head of Loch Avon is a worthy destination in its own right, and maybe there would be some rocks we could hop across on. There weren't. The only possible way across looked to be fording the head of the loch at the outflow of the Feithe Bhuide. But how deep was it? As we headed in that direction a couple of other walkers answered our question by wading it from the other side. They didn't drown or get washed away, confirming it was thigh-deep but passable.

Encouraged by this we took off boots, gaiters and socks, rolled up trousers, hung the boots by the laces from our necks and set off using the trekking poles as support. It was brass-monkey cold.from all the snowmelt. If you got washed away, hypothermia would soon set in. But the raging torrent upstream had calmed to a swift though not dangerous current here, and the rocks were relatively smooth underfoot. Halfway across was a tiny islet which provided a welcome breather, but you couldn't hang around too long getting cold. At the deepest point the water just came up to sensitive parts.
Andy crosses the head of Loch Avon

That's cold!

Safely on the other side we had Lunch Part One whilst drying off.
The beach

Suitably fuelled with chocolate and caffeine for the ascent we headed up the slope for Coire Etchahchan. We didn't stop to look for the Shelter Stone, as this was going to be a long day and I was already getting monocular vision for my next Munro tick up ahead.
Looking back as we climb


When Coire Etchachan came into view it was clear that this frozen wilderness was not a good campsite today. We bore off to the left for a boggy crossing of the stream in what must fairly recently have been a snowfield, and headed up the hill towards Beinn Mheadhoin. Loch Etchachan came into view behind – looking distinctly frozen. The other walker we'd met on the ascent of Fiacaill Ridge passed us coming back down. I suspect his route was quicker, but he was younger and on his own.
Loch Etchachan

Summit tors

We had a quick Lunch Part Two at the first big tor, left our packs there and strolled along the ridge to the summit tor. This provided an easy scramble and a good place to pose for photos and admire the view - but not for long as the wind was a bit cold and time was getting on.
Phil on the summit tor

The summit tor

Scrambling back down

I've read Stacan Dubha is a fine viewpoint but we still had a long walk back and we'd seen the view from other angles. I bag Tops when I can (you never know when they might get promoted to Munros – after all I got 6 new Munros in the coffee shop at NevisSport one day, just because a new edition of the Tables had come out), but not to the extent of making an extensive detour. So we reversed our route back down to Loch Avon. Returning along the ridge we began to worry that all the tors looked much the same and we might miss our packs, but this turned out not to be a problem.
Loch Avon and Coire Raibeirt

Back at the river / lake crossing, this time I took my trousers off too to save them getting wet. It felt even colder than before.
Shelter Stone crag in afternoon light

Ralph Storer's route now took us back up Coire Raibeirt rather than Coire Domhain. Coire Raibeirt is more of a gully than a corrie and from the descent off Beinn Mheadhoin it looked equally steep to Coire Domhain, if not more so, but a variation to the route is good and it provided a more direct route back over the plateau leading to an easy descent to the car park via the ski slopes.

The path along the NW shore of Loch Avon shown on the maps was largely illusory on the ground at this point. The slopes fall steeply into the lake and there are various bits of trails where people have made their way through the rocks and heather. Having traversed this, we were faced with another spate river crossing. The obvious path up Coire Raibeirt was on the other side of the stream that drains it, but that stream was in spate and tumbled straight down into Loch Avon, which looked deep at this point. On the other side a party of youths were camped on a prominent flat spot and appeared to be enjoying the sun. Possibly they were waiting for the stream to become fordable, which would be some time.

We had a brief scout up and down for some stepping stone rocks, as it wasn't as wide as the Feithe Buidhe, but it didn't look worth risking. The slopes on our side (right bank of the stream) looked steep but we could see a grassy route up, so up we went. I like steep ascents - maximum altitude gain with minimum distance, but they can be slow going with frequent short rests. Anyway after a really steep initial climb it began to level out and the convex slope took us back onto the plateau.
Beinn Mheadhoin from Coire Raibeirt

A ptarmigan crosses our path

By now it was beginning to cloud over, with the odd bit of mist / low cloud. We followed the stream up to where it disappeared beneath the snowfield and then took a bearing for our descent point. I suggested to Andy he might like to bag Cairngorm from here, but he claimed not to be bagging Munros (despite having ticked off over 100 already).
The cloud came and went as we reached the far edge of the plateau but our bearing took us to a cairn which looked like the sort that marks a descent route. The cloud cleared as we reached it, revealing a suitable descent slope, and down we went. This was a considerably less exciting route than the Fiacaill Ridge, with an initial stony slope taking us down into the ski runs and tows, but it did get us quickly back to the car. There were a few sleety flurries as we began the descent, but the weather held off and we got back to the Caledonian Hotel in Aviemore in time for a couple of pints and a well-earned hot meal.

It had been an epic route to a remote Munro with a range of interesting terrain and navigational issues and some stunning views. The phrase "Best Day on the Hill" was uttered as we headed back down the ski centre road.

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Phil the Hill
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Re: Beinn Mheadhoin by Fiacaill Ridge

Postby kinley » Sat Oct 02, 2010 4:58 pm

Interesting - we looped round Ben Macdui and forded the head of Loch Avon that day south to north.

2 walkers had a chat to Hazel and I prior to wading in the other direction.

Did we meet? :)

It was a Baltic wade :lol:

Edit - 1310hrs doing the crossing from my pictures.

Re: Beinn Mheadhoin by Fiacaill Ridge

Postby Phil the Hill » Sat Oct 02, 2010 5:03 pm

Kinley, I think we might well have met.

We did chat briefly to the couple who had crossed the other way before attempting the crossing ourselves. Thanks for checking it out for us. At least you only had to do it once!
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Phil the Hill
Posts: 345
Munros:261   Corbetts:26
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Sub 2000:9   Hewitts:136
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Joined: Sep 22, 2010
Location: Wallington, Surrey

Re: Beinn Mheadhoin by Fiacaill Ridge

Postby malky_c » Sat Oct 02, 2010 5:28 pm

Really enjoyed that - looks to have been a bit more awkward than the day I did it! I was looking at the route down Coire Domhain, as it was one of my other options for the day I was out. Looks like you need to get on the right side of the burn otherwise you might end up in all sorts of difficulties. Would've liked to have passed by the Shelter Stone as well, but ther's only so many bits of the Cairngorms you can cram into a day!

A good day for Beinn Mheadhoin reports! Looking forward to your Derry Cairngorm one - no icy wading involved hopefully? :lol:
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Re: Beinn Mheadhoin by Fiacaill Ridge

Postby kinley » Sat Oct 02, 2010 5:31 pm

Cool :lol:

I remember you saying you'd come down Coire Domhain - was a great day in the 'Gorms. Not quite sure why I didn't post a report.

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