After the beautiful weather the day before, I woke up to a sky covered in low clouds. However, the mountain weather forecast predicted quick improvement and clearing skies during the day.
My options for the day were Ben Macdui via the Sròn Riach ridge, Beinn Bhreac and Beinn a' Chaorainn, or Derry Cairngorm and Beinn Mheadhoin. I decided to postpone my choice until as late as possible and make it dependent on the weather situation.
After an early breakfast, I parked my car at the Linn of Dee again and went along the now familiar way to Derry Lodge. Like the day before, it took me a bit over an hour to get to Derry Lodge.
A man was sitting on a log next to the bridge across the Derry Burn, and we had a little chat. He was an assessor for the Duke of Edinburgh award and waiting for the group of kids he was supposed to talk to.
At this time, the sky was still covered in low clouds. Some gaps could be seen far in the South, but all the Cairngorm summits were hidden in impenetrable shroud of white. Still hoping the weather forecast would come true, I decided to go on anyway - but where to? Both Ben Macdui and Beinn Bhreac were difficult to navigate in fog, over mostly pathless ground. Therefore, I chose to go for Derry Cairngorm, up the clearly visible path ahead of me.
The ascent was without event until I entered the clouds at approx. 750 m altitude.
After that, navigation was still easy enough, with a bit of hesitation across some boulder fields near the summit. Two hours from Derry Lodge, I finally reached the summit. I was quite wet and chilly, and took shelter a bit below the summit cairn to have my lunch.
While I was eating my sandwich and mandatory banana, the light became brighter and brighter, until I could catch the first glimpses of blue between the ever-changing rags of cloud all around me. Then all of a sudden, the whole summit was free of clouds, and everything bathed in bright and warm sunlight.
The magic lasted only a couple of minutes, then everything went grey again. I waited a bit for the sun to return, but it didn't. Being a bit cold again, I went on with the intention to reach Loch Etchachan and decide there what to do. A short distance down the summit, I met a couple walking up, and we exchanged the latest developments of the weather. When they had left Loch Etchachan, it was all in the clouds. By the time I arrived there 1:15 later, this was still the case.
I could not even see the entire Loch, and sat down on a rock beside the path going down to Hutchison Memorial Hut.
Time for a decision. Ben Macdui was out of the question, too difficult in this weather. Maybe Beinn Mheadhoin, but I did not know whether I would find the right summit tor. Going back to the Linn of Dee already? Only very unwillingly.
While I was still pondering, a man came down from Beinn Mheadhoin. I asked him how hard it was to find the summit, and he said not too hard. The summit would be the fifth (or sixth, I do not remember now, so don't take my word for it) and biggest tor.
Somewhat reassured, I went for it. At first, there was a path, which then disappeared between the rocks on the summit plateau. Still I went up through thick fog, and hadn't seen any tors yet. The distance seemed longer than I expected, was I still right? Then all of a sudden a big, dark shape loomed through the fog ahead of me - the first tor. It seemed huge and massive, but with every step I came closer to it, it dwindled in size - and was not as far away as I had thought. Oh fog, you old deceiver! The same thing happened with the next two or three tors, and each time I took out the GPS to see if it could possibly be the summit tor. After all, I had no way of knowing if I hadn't passed a tor unnoticed and if my counting was still right.
Each tor was higher up than the previous one, which was reassuring. Finally, I reached the fifth (or sixth) tor, and judging by the GPS, this could well be the summit tor.
After some searching by circling around the tor several times, I found a suitable route to scramble up and did my secret summit ritual in the dense fog.
Scrambling down was much easier by a different route I hadn't seen from below.
But again doubts overcame me. Was this really the last tor?
I had to know, so I went on a bit. The ground fell, this was a good sign. Or was it? A father and his son came walking towards me, and I asked them if there were any tors where they came from. Well yes, several of them, about four or five!
After a moment's confusion, it became clear to me that I had retraced my steps, and not continued beyond the summit tor. Back up again, past the tor, and on. No more tors there, and the ground falling again. Reassured, I went back to the summit tor - or did I? It looked so different now... I circled around it, trying to find the place where I had climbed up not even 20 minutes earlier. Ah, there it is! No. Yes? Or there?
Stupid fog! At this point, I really had had enough of it.
Deeply confused, I did what I should have done half an hour ago and took out my compass. With its help, it was no trouble at all finding the way back down from the plateau towards Loch Etchachan.
When I reached the edge of the plateau, big surprise: I could see more than 20 m of path ahead of me! I could see Loch Etchachan! I could see mountains!
The fog cleared quite fast, and I paused to take photos and enjoy the moment.
Down at the Loch, I could even catch a glimpse of Ben Macdui between some clouds. However, the clock and the map told me it was time to go back down to the parking directly. No Ben Macdui for this year, some other time then.
On my way down, the views were splendid, and I could finally see the top of Derry Cairngorm behind Sgurr an Lochan Uaine.
They way back to Derry Lodge was long for my tired legs which clearly felt that 7 days of hillwalking in a row are enough. Some distance before the path forked to either cross the Derry burn or walk on east of it, I spotted a lady sitting on a rock next to the path and observing a group of people in the heather below the path. Curious, I asked what she was doing. It turned out she was in charge of the young people the assessor had been waiting for in the morning, and part of the group was setting up the camp for the night.
She explained me a lot about the Duke of Edinburgh award of which I had known nothing until that day. The nice chat was a much welcomed opportunity to rest my feet, and going was much easier after that.
At Derry Lodge, another group had set up their camp close to the path, and not all the faces I saw seemed particularly happy to be there...
From the lodge, it was the familiar walk back to the Linn of Dee, rounding off a nice day in the hills full of experiences.
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