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My first Munro... by accident

My first Munro... by accident

Postby renee2 » Fri Aug 04, 2017 3:59 pm

Route description: Ben Macdui and Cairngorm

Munros included on this walk: Ben Macdui

Date walked: 18/07/2017

Time taken: 7 hours

Distance: 16 km

Ascent: 680m

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I returned to Scotland for my summer holidays for the second year in a row. In the past two years I have walked well over 300 km in the Highlands (blessed by fair weather and with major thanks to walkhighlands for inspiration), but this is my first walk report - I figured my first Munro deserves that honour.

My home country is flatter than flat and so while I was looking forward to climbing some hills, I didn't think I was quite ready yet for something major like Ben MacDui. Which is why I had planned to tackle only Cairn Gorm (via https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/cairngorms/cairngorm.shtml). I was solo-walking, so I was well prepared with careful prior planning of the route, carrying (and constantly using) an OS map (and a compass for back up) and making sure I saved this walk for the day with the best weather forecast thereby avoiding clouds, fog and rain. Despite all my best intentions, I somehow missed the path/track I had been planning to take and ended up on Ben MacDui. :shock: In hindsight, I'm super happy that I did, because it was an amazing walk... not to mention the feeling of accomplishment that came with bagging my first Munro.

I arrived at the Cairngorm Ski Centre car park by bus from Aviemore around 10:30 am, figuring that should get me back in the car park around 16:00, with two hours to spare just in case I got delayed (in summer the last bus that heads back towards Glenmore and beyond leaves a little after 18:00). I started out on the track up the hill that starts to the right of the Ski Centre with superb views down towards Loch Morlich.

View towards Glenmore and Lake Morlich

It was a steady climb that forced me to make frequent stops, allowing me to enjoy the panorama that stretched out before my eyes - the first few hundred meters on a day are always the worst and I remember thinking how I made the right call in deciding that Ben MacDui was way out of my league (especially given that I had already walked >55 km in the preceding two days). The path was quite decent with a pleasant surface (a nice variety of more sandy stretches and well-walkable rocks). There were plenty of other people around, but not so many that I ever had to capture any of them in my pictures.

Looking down the path to celebrate the first ascent from the car park

I reached the top of the hill at what I thought was about 1/3 of my walk and sat down on a large boulder to have a bite to eat, while enjoying the views towards Coire an Lochain.

Perfect lunch spot

I continued by staying on the path, figuring I was close to the rim as intended. What I should have done, in order to stick to my original plans, was leave the path here and follow an obscure track even closer to the rim. But I didn't and it has taken a lot of staring at my photos after I got back to even find a trace of that track. In real life I completely missed it and so I continued south, not quite aware that I was heading for Ben MacDui...

A hint of a track along the gully?

It was a sunny day, and yes - I did realize at this point that I was going south for much longer than I thought I should, but so did everybody else (including a Belgian family in shorts and sneakers, a British son with an elderly father and a Dutch couple with a toddler in a carrier backpack). Subconsciously I figured that they must all be heading for Cairn Gorm. In hindsight, they were all heading for Ben MacDui - clearly much more confident in what they could tackle than I was.
On this stretch there were beautiful views towards Lairig Ghru, Cairn Toul and Angel's Peak - while nearby my surroundings changed to rugged moorland before culminating in a patch of large, loose rocks with some cairns scattered throughout.

Lairig Ghru

Towards Cairn Toul

By now I was pretty sure I was supposed to head east and so I scrambled across the rocks to get to higher ground to see if I could find a path heading in that direction. Then someone nearby (the Belgian father, in fact), who was also looking to see where the path continued, exclaimed "I found it!" - and I decided to follow him (because quite frankly the only other option was returning the same way I had come and I was not about to do that).
From then on it was all loose rocks with cairns guiding the way and a steady ascent that demanded all my attention. Once I had gained a bit more height I looked back to where I came from and I could now also clearly see a path heading north-east towards Cairn Gorm. I figured I would take that on the way back, once I got to the top of whatever hill I was now climbing.

Approaching the summit of Ben MacDui

Looking back to where I came from

When I reached the summit, it was super windy - a harsh environment on even the brightest sunny day. A family was huddling together in a large stone shelter and lo and behold I saw a summit compass, which I decided to check out. Imagine my shock when I read that I was on the top of Ben MacDui. Clearly it was not so out of my reach after all. Now that I knew exactly where I was, the rest of my map also made more sense (although I could barely take a look at it with the gusty winds that were blowing on the summit), although I still feel like not every track I saw before me was also annotated on the OS map and vice versa. I realised I had to head back down if I wanted to be on time for the bus and so I left the summit mere minutes after I got there - without having a decent look around or enjoying the views, I must admit. And without taking any pictures that actually prove I had indeed climbed my first Munro. :( I guess I will have to come back for that and will gladly do so in the near future - until then you will have to take my word for it.

Getting onto a mountain top is one thing, but getting back down is another. Once you are at the top it is always easy to lose track of where you came from: it's all rocks up there with no hints of where to go. And the downside of walking on rugged less touristy terrain is that there are no signs and arrows pointing you towards the start of the track for your descent. So I made sure to keep an eye on the direction I came from and headed back down the mountain, having decided to take the path starting at Lohan Buidhe, which heads north-east in the direction of Cairn Gorm.
This may have been one of my favourite stretches of the entire walk. Not only were the views towards the east (across Feith Buidhe towards Beinn Mheadhoin) absolutely amazing, I also encountered a flock of reindeer. Clearly they were accustomed to humans because they did not seem to mind my passing nearby and I could take some photos from real up close as they quietly kept grazing alongside the track. Sadly, some of my fellow human beings felt they had to run and scream while chasing the animals up the mountain. Shame on you, two teenage kids from the Belgian family and shame on your parents for only laughing at what you did instead of telling you off. Sometimes I just don't understand my own species.

Feith Buidhe with the barns on Beinn Mheadhoin in the background


Reindeer galore

Below me I saw a walker coming across Feith Buidhe. He was headed my way and since he was clearly walking off track, I figured he must be a local. When we crossed paths we started talking. He told me he indeed knew these mountains like the back of his hand and so I asked him for some tips to get back to the parking lot. He advised me to go up Cairn Gorm, but also showed me a steep decent that was shorter (at least in distance), into the gully towards Coire an t-Sneachda. I quickly decided that that was too steep and so I headed for Cairn Gorm. I thanked my fellow traveller and let him go off at his own speed, while I followed slowly but steadily in his track. The Belgian reindeer-chasing family headed down the steep track at this point. No ill wishes, but after their disrespectful behaviour I hope that Mother Nature gave them a hard time.

I rounded Stob Coire an t-Sneachda and had one last decision to make. The path towards the Cairn Gorm summit now veered off towards the right... or I could continue straight towards Fiacaill a' Choire Chais and head down a path that was clearly marked on my OS map and that would take me straight towards the car park. Math got the better of me and I fell for the temptation of the short, straight line.
Oh boy. I do not necessarily recommend this descent to anybody. The path was well marked, but it was bloody steep and 300 metres downhill on rocks and boulders is not easy on the knees. But at least I could clearly see where I was going and it wasn't long before I ended up on the S curves of what I think are ski slopes come wintertime. This stretch along the funicular railway is not the prettiest, but it's ground that needs to be covered in order to get back to the car park. All the shops (as well as the toilets) had closed by the time I got there, but luckily I had some water and snacks left in my backpack.

I had just missed the 17:00 bus and so I had to wait for almost an hour for the last bus. About 5-10 of us got on (including the British son with the elderly father who arrived just as the bus pulled up - I really do hope I will still be climbing hills and mountains when I get to his age!). I had an amazing day, even if I ended up climbing a different summit than I set out for. However, I think I got the better end of the deal in the end, because this walk was absolutely wonderful - the pictures barely even do it justice. I am definitely returning to properly enjoy the summit of Ben MacDui (and to ensure that photographic evidence exist of my being there), but next time I will start earlier so there's plenty of time to also include Cairn Gorm summit on the way back.

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Last edited by renee2 on Mon Aug 07, 2017 9:29 am, edited 1 time in total.
Posts: 5
Munros:2   Corbetts:1
Sub 2000:1   
Joined: Aug 29, 2016

Re: My first Munro... by accident

Postby Cairngorm creeper » Sun Aug 06, 2017 8:53 am

Great report and well done for doing two Munros, :clap: :clap: and glad your accident turned out for the best, easy to do when one path is so big and the other so small :lol: .
Some nice pictures of the reindeer, terrible to hear about them being chased, the teenagers concerned were lucky they didn't end up being the ones chased, the reindeer have been known to retaliate .
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Cairngorm creeper
Posts: 696
Munros:144   Corbetts:21
Grahams:6   Donalds:1
Sub 2000:1   Hewitts:15
Joined: Jun 4, 2013
Location: Grantown-on-spey

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