Here are a few notes on this walk that we did on September, 5th, 2019 - ‘we’ being myself, 55, and George my son, 20. I won’t try to write a complete review, others have done that here in more text and photographic detail than I can offer. Instead, I’ll offer a few specific points that would have been helpful to us – certainly to me – before memory fades. I’m sure some of them will seem pretty obvious to seasoned Cairngorm, experienced walkers more generally. But here goes – I’m not a novice and you may pick something up below that will help you get the best out of this tremendous walk.
The first thing to say is that we didn’t do this walk in its entirety. I initially tried to draw the walk we did on the website, but it was too fiddly. We went the way up from the car park to the top as described and mapped. And, in line with the given walk, from the summit of Ben Macudi we made our way along the path in the direction of Derry Cairngorm. However, rather than then striking to right we then continued further along the pass til we reached a fork to the right so that we could walk down the next valley to the South. To be clear, with Loch Etchchan (and Little Loch Etchchan) below us to our left, and Creagan a Choire Etchachan above to the right, we proceeded further before turning down the mountain side through the valley below Derry Cairngorm. There’s nothing new about this as I’d seen the route in an old walking book in the Braemar Youth Hostel (that I can fully recommend by the way). We went this way rather than along the top because the weather had closed in over the high mountain. Also, I was feeling a little disorientated because of the altitude combined with a sharp drop in the temperature (see below). As it happened, 15 minutes later the skies had cleared again with brilliant light over Kerry Cairngorm above us; at the time ducking down a bit seemed a good idea. This did make the walk significantly longer, perhaps by several miles, but it gave it that satisfying feel of having walked up one valley to the top, along and down the next valley back in a squared C shape. So, I recommend this as a possible alternative. The manager of the youth hostel described this route as going through a ‘forgotten valley’. I wouldn’t quite put it like that, you pass the Hutchinson mountaineering hut to your right and the path is good under foot, but it was both magnificent and remote – a beautiful loneliness - in the late afternoon sun.
When I compared the route on the website map to the ordinance survey map and plotted it on my phone, I was a little dismayed to see that there is a section with no marked path on the way up. The ascent to Sron Riach has no path on the OS that I could see. Having done the walk and found there to be a path all the way to the summit, I checked again when we got back: and it still wasn’t there. The best I can say in defense of OS is that there is section of rocky scree where there are only cairns to guide the walker. We went slightly off route at one stage and it probably wouldn’t have been wise to have attempted the climb in heavy cover. However, my main point is that there is a definite route all the way up and all the way down (both the way went and along the ridge to Derry Cairngorm and down) to guide the walker.
We did the walk after a week of heavy, if not torrential, rain. As a result, the river Luibeg Burn was spectacular but difficult to ford at the final fork (you then ascend between the two tributaries towards Sron Riach) for an older walker like myself – actually for anyone. I almost toppled and fell into the rushing torrent despite sticks and the only time that day water came over the top of my waterproof socks and down into my boots. This didn’t spoil the walk in the slightest, but it might have done if it had been raining hard at the time making drying impossible. So, I’d recommend waterproof gaiters in addition to knee length waterproof socks, waterproof trousers as well as, of course, waterproof boots for the walk.
As indicated, cloud suddenly came down whilst we were at the top of Ben Macudi. There is a microclimate up there. I don’t know what the drop in temperature was exactly, but I’ve never experienced such a transformation. The description of the high plateau’s weather as ‘savage’ is right. It wasn’t warm anyway, perhaps 4-5c. Suddenly it was well below freezing. As a result, my fingers got a severe chill despite gloves – a semi frozen numbness that lingered for a while. So, to prevent this, I’d recommend another pair of warmer winter gloves stashed away in your bag, regardless of the time of year. I even thought of investing in a pair of electric heated ski gloves. You probably won’t need them, but there’s a fair chance you will – and whilst a bit of wetness in one boot is par for the course in a day’s walking, I could have done without those chilled fingers.
When coming back, be sure to fill up all your water bottles high up the fast flowing Coire Etchachan Burn – it’s the same delicious, rock filtered stuff people are paying £5 a bottle for in Fife Hotel, Braemar, and you will need to replenish unless you take ridiculously heavy amounts of water up with you. Lower down there is only stagnant water by the track and the river is unapproachable. Relatedly, you can’t take too many energy bars with you. The last couple of miles were tough – the mobi step counter said the walk was 23 miles – and we could have done with an extra boost.
Other than that, I’d only say it’s a cracking, if demanding - crackingly demanding - walk. Enjoy.
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