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Into the depths

Into the depths

Postby bernadettewalsh » Sun Feb 16, 2020 10:21 pm

Route description: An Sgarsoch and Càrn an Fhidhleir

Munros included on this walk: An Sgarsoch, Càrn an Fhìdhleir (Càrn Ealar)

Date walked: 17/05/2019

Time taken: 11 hours

Distance: 42 km

Ascent: 1059m

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I gave up the fight for sleep at 4am on the morning of my first wild camp, located near the ruins of Geldie Lodge, which is secreted in the inner most sanctums of The Cairngorms National Park. I decided that sunrise was the better part of lying in so, dressed for the day, I crawled out of my shelter. Even though it wasn't dark the sun had still to cast it's full glow across this remote terrain but as it did...

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an-sgarsoch.gpx Open full screen  NB: Walkhighlands is not responsible for the accuracy of gpx files in users posts

Beyond the gathering pace of this morning light, and gaining a different perspective on the views this week had already supplied, the prospect of today's walk – if I'm honest – didn't really appeal. There wasn't much that was written about these two lumps of Munros, far into this isolated and desolate area of the Caringorms, that inspired excitement – and, that was on a fine day!

One feels a little ashamed to describe such wild territory, that speaks directly to the soul, in such terms but, to misquote my much loved, and sorely missed, father-in-law... “There's no such thing as a bad mountain, it's just that some are better than others.” Harry, of course, was talking about pints of beer, but the general philosophy seemed equally applicable.

From Geldie Lodge, the stalker's path - penetrating deep into the heart of Carn an Fhidhleir's foothills - was a blessing. Then I crossed the Allt a'Chaorainn and all the solid ground beneath me dissolved into bog. Well actually, the uncharacteristically dry late winter and spring of 2019 created a wet, spongy morass of peat, from what would otherwise have been a foot sucking quagmire. Even in these conditions, I had to haul myself up the slopes. Of all the challenging mountain terrain I had encountered, these pathless peaty hills were my least favourite, and I found myself venting my disapproval in loud grunts that did absolutely nothing to alleviate the situation.



Respite came on the ridge and, though the summit of Carn an Fhidhleir might not be my greatest thrill, the views around were clear and extensive.


Meantime, the path towards the beleach lay ahead and striding out was joyous after the long haul up but, you can probably guess what greeted me in the dip. Yup, you got it, what is described in the walk highlands route as a “peat mess”. I do understand the allure of remoteness, getting as far as you can from civilised life. I could even endure – I think – the wild lashing of wind and rain, while wild camping (well, once in the tent anyway) but, I can't for the life of me, see any pleasure in being calf down, in squelching bog, in the middle of nowhere.


I made my way across the mess, which was less of a mess than it might have been, and crawled up the side of An Sgarsoch, swearing heartily as I went. With no one around I could give a voluminous edge to my objections, with the vocal style of melodic hardcore ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melodic_hardcore). I hated this hill, it had nothing to recommend it and all I could do, in the face of such a relentless slog (the day was hotting up too), was shout obscenities at it. In truth, I was venting the frustration of age, I really didn't have anything against this hill at all and, all this pointless little scene served to do was to use up energy, which I would have been much better off preserving. The top of An Sgarsoch denoted the number 63 for the Munro bag and it put me in a much better mood. That, and the thought of going down hill till I got back to my tent.


After six days of warm May weather the effect of snow, that had carpeted the tops when I arrived, was now negligible. That is, until about a third of the way back to the stalker's path, when I encountered a broad expanse of the white stuff that stretched as far as I could see, and with no footprints for me to utilise. I made for the narrowest stretch and put a foot forward gingerly, expecting it to break through a thin crust and then sink into a soft marsh mellow of snow drift. It didn't. Instead, my foot glided away from my body with an intention all of its own, aiming to show off my ability to do the splits. I can't. The boots that carried all 8.5 stone of me had made not the least impression on the surface of this band of snow, which left me with a conundrum. Had it been on the level I might have given a bit of impromptu ice skating a go. However, I wasn't so keen on this form of locomotion on a downhill trajectory, with the end not in sight. There was only one thing for it. I sat down and let myself go, using my hand as a brake every time I started to exceed my own personal speed limit.


I successfully reached the other side of the snow with only a wet bum and very cold hands to testify to my endeavours and, it was with some relief, I stood up - with two feet on more predictable turf. The rest of the way down, to rejoin my path back to Geldie Lodge, was straight forward and in blissful conditions. With both Munros completed my spirits soared considerably. There are, however, some mountains you know you will never walk again.

Before being reunited with my tent and, hopefully, all it contents, I had the two river crossings to negotiate. On the way out, I had managed to find a way across on boulders only just submerged, and I expected to be able to so the same on my return. Alas, at the the first, a step onto a particularly slippery rock caused a wobble, followed by a couple of seconds of frantically trying to gain control, followed by... whoops, down she goes. I quickly scooped up the handbag I had been cavorting with, since a pain in my back had rendered the rucksack an instrument of torture. Map, camera and my pride were the only casualties and, luckily the former two dried out without damage, while the pride got away with just a bit of a bruising. At the second crossing I decided against the gymnastics and just got my feet wet as I waded across.


Within five minutes I was back at camp and, in another 30, I had dismantled the tent, packed up all the gear and loaded up Vic, the hybrid. I set off eager to establish how much of the journey would be achieved with the bike in it's up right position, and me in the saddle. The answer to that question was... not as much as on the ride in. The weight on the bike caused, any move from our balanced centre of gravity, to give a preference of lurching to one side or another, often too far out of control. Even Passing through gates could bring on a shimmy and the danger of an unwelcome tete a tete with the geological make up of the track. I put the additional weakness down to fatigue and allowed myself to marvel that, after such a long walk and with such rocky terrain, I stayed on at all. The rocky terrain might account for why one of my panniers lost contact with the bike but, I'm not quite sure what could explain my total ignorance of the fact that it had happened. I was so lucky that - in this hugely unpopulated spot - the only estate vehicle that I had seen in the last two days just happened to be passing. Having caught up with me, the driver stopped to give me back the luggage I didn't even know I had lost, returning 1/3rd of my camping kit.

11 hours, after starting out this morning, I was back at the micro-camper as satisfaction burned a light within. Since I had last seen my van I had completed two off road cycle rides (of sorts), experienced my first wild camp and added two more Munros to the bag. I registered, but didn't wallow in the achievement, just padlocking the bike, making for the the back of the van and succumbing to blissful sleep.

Posts: 27
Joined: Oct 1, 2015
Location: South West Scotland

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