Being inspired by a few walk reports on WH, I had decided I wanted to do a bigger walk in the Cairngorms with a wild camp thrown in. I had never walked in the Cairngorms area, except the easy 3 in Glen Shee a few days earlier.
I particularly liked the idea of the Braeriach transverse and the Laraig Ghru, so my planning was focused on going south on the east side over Cairngorm and Ben Macdui and then north on the west side over the Cairn Toul / Braeriach Munros. An overnight around Corrour bothy would then be needed as it seemed too long for 1 day.
Arriving at the Sugal Bowl, I intended to walk up the path in the glen, rather than following the road. However, as I started down to the footbridge, there was a notice to say that the path had been washed away and not advisable. I decided then to take the car to the top car park and start from there. I knew it would give me a challenge on my return but I would handle that later
The higher car park gave the advantage of less ascent for the day and an easy start toward Cairngorm.
Immediately finding the path up the hillside, behind the ski centre, it made for easy walking and a nice gradient. I looked around and already the views were opening up back toward Aviemore
Within a few steps more, I encountered the first wildlife of the walk. I distrurbed a red grouse in the heather and it let me know it was not pleased (I guess it must have been nesting)
As I proceeded, the views to the west started to open up and give some glimpses of the northern corries and over the the west tops of the Laraig Ghru.
The ascent to the Ptarmigan restuarant was a nice steady path and a great start to the day. To gain so much height so early without too much effort was a relief. I had trimmed my overnight bag down from my first wild camp but was still carrying about 12kgs. Unlike my 17kgs first attempt, I felt very comfortable with this weight.
As I reached the top cafe, I was surprised to find this completely closed. I know there is no skiing and no funicular but I still thought that there may be some activity at the cafe.
I paused for a drink and short rest before the final push to the summit cairn for Cairngorm. There was a staircase leading away from cafe and finally some smaller cairns leading the path to the main summit cairn.
As I reached the summit cairn, the party behind me arrived also. I have heard about summit hoggers but had never experienced it, until now. There was a father and son being shown around by a guide from the southern part of the UK. A lot of talk and explanations of flora and forna was going on while summit shots were being taken. I offerered to take a picture of the 3 of them together, which they happily accepted. I hoped they would offer in reciprication but didn't happen. So I tried to get a selfy with the cairn in shot. I hung around taking pictures for a full 20 minutes but this was the best that I could do
However, I was happy with my progress for the day and the weather was great. I could see my next target of Ben Macdui looking not too far away and the path via the interim top seemed quite clear.
I headed off the top of Cairngorm toward the Corries but got some great views over toward some of the other Munros in the general direction of Derry Cairngorm.
Approaching the nothern corries the walking was very pleasant an weather still fine. I got great views down into the corrie an t-Sneachda
Making my way across the flanks of Ben Macdui and the snow patches, the weather started to change a litte with some clag closing in.
As I passed the small lochan Buidhe, I could see the day trippers heading to MacDui by the bus load. My path met theirs and there was a steady flow of traffic up the 200m ascent to the second highest peak in the land
Here the weather really started to close in and the visibility on the summit was not great at all, with only fleeting glimpses of the west side of the Laraig Ghru and the other peaks of Cairngorms to the east. I made it with the help of the steady traffic but there was also a massive line of cairns leading off the summit to the north to aid descent in bad visibility.
I took refuge from the light rain in the shelter cairn, took some refreshments and checked my map for the route forward. Up until this point, my day was using pretty standard tracks and Munro bagging routes but I wanted my visit to the Cairngorms to be a little different.
The plan was now to exit south east and then south west to pick up the ridge to Carn a'Mhaim. Getting off the summit of Ben Macdui was quite easy, following the path toward the route to Derry Cairngorm. But the point to change direction was not 100% clear and I had a little walkabout for 10 minutes trying to locate the best way to exit the plateau and start down the boulderfield on the sout west of Macdui. When I got to the start of the descent, I could not see a clear path through the boulderfield, so eventually just decided to go by way of least resistance By now I was already out of the summit clag of Ben Macdui, so could see the target of the start of the ridge quite easily.
Still to this day, I have have not encountered a boulderfield like this. The (almost) 700m of decent was largley through a boulderfield that made Schiehallion look like a pebble beach and Sgurr a'Mhaim descent feel like a minor step down
At the end of this there was then the re-ascent of around 500m back up the Carn a'Mhaim ridge. The ridge walk was quite easy and the views of the Laraig Ghru and the Munros in the west keeping the motivation high. The tops were not always clear but the scale of the the glen was awesome and breath-taking.
After the tricky descent of the boulderfield, I was now thoroughly enjoying the day. The visibility was good again and I just took some time to absorb the scale of the Cairngorms. The 4000 ers and the Laraig Ghru were amazing. It is rarely that I take the time to enjoy what I have in front of me. I usually focus on the summit target ("bagging" I guess). Now I was wrapped up in the moment and I was so happy with the feelings that I was experiencing and actually why I started hillwalking in the first place. Loving It!!!
As I proceeded steadily up the ridge, the views just got better and better.
I was in no hurry at all and was making good time toward my schedule for today, so I just took half an hour to sit down and take it all in. Then I proceeded up the ridge. This was not any knife-edge stuff or scrambling. There was minor hands-on at one stage but easily negotiated before coming to the summit area.
I wandered south and noticed another top with a large cairn and decided to take it for good measure. I would hate to come all this way and miss the true summit
After this, I had contemplated heading straight down into the glen, to minimise my milage for the day. However, the clearer path toward the Linn of Dee was far easier walking. I followed this until it met the path from Linn of Dee heading up the Laraig Ghru and then started to follow it north. The extra kilometers were starting to tell. Not that I was getting tired, but just that it seemed to take for ever for the Devil's Point to re-appear.
Continuing along the great path, progress was fairly fast and easy. I started to think about my camp for the night. I had no intention of using the bothy. I know there is a lot of fun in bothy life and great companionship but there are some parts which I do not anticipate with much happy thoughts. I guess I am not alone. I don't wish to be controversial or offend anyone but the idea of ending up with 16 people on the bothy floor, a group of people that just want to party all night or sleeping with a room full of dogs just don't appeal to me. Don't get me wrong, I love dogs, I like a beer and I like company but the a full bothy all night just doesn't feel right to me. So I had packed my tent and intended to sleep somewhere around the bothy area, enjoy a bit of company but sleep alone
The final stretch took me over the metal bridge and the river Dee and the final couple of hundred yards to the bothy.
It was fairly quiet and I found the best spot for my tent and got everything ready. I was really happy with my pitch and view for the evening.
I collected some water from the burn and started to boil up for my dinner and clean water for the morning. Some other walkers arrived from the 4 Munros on the west side and pitched their tents right next to the front of the Bothy.
I shared a few words with them and continued on with my dinner.
I would love to have the energy and will to do some camping cooking but on these hikes the effort just isn't there and I take the pre-packed freeze dried meals for convenience and pack weight.
The evening was great and the sun-set was kissing the tops of the hills.......................
............................However, I checked the weather forecast for the next day and rain was to start around 4 am and not stop for the rest of the morning. I decided to be ready to either take the high road, for which I had planned (4 Munros on west of Laraig Ghru) or the low road (straight up the Laraig Ghru), depending on which weather the morning delivered me.
I had a fairly good sleep (for my level..... I toss and turn most nights anyhow) but I was awoken by the sound of the rain starting right on que at 4am. It did not let up for the next 2 hours, so at 6am I decided to get up and pack the kit away.
I used the toilet behing the bothy to get my clothes on in the dry and get my waterproofs on. I then set about packing the tent and my gear away the best I could in the rain and thick clag.
There was nothing to be seen at all and I decided at that point to take the low road back to the upper ski carpark. I was still in a great mood following yesterday's fantastic day, so I had a skip in my step despite the rain and the poor visibilty.
The first few kms through the Laraig Ghru had almost zero visibility and constant rain. I found my way up to the high point near the pools of Dee. This was quite atomospheric but I did not think to take any pictures at the time. Finding the tracks around some of the "pools" and some boulder fields was not so easy without the landscape aiding navigation but I made it through to the descent.
By the time I got to the crossroads, between the Chalamain - Braeriach route and the straight Laraig Ghru path, the sun had finally started to come out. I had a bit of mixed feelings about this. On one hand it was nice to complete a stretch of a famous walk in the sun. On the other had, could I have (should I have) taken the 4 Munros. I mentally decided to be satisfied with what I had done. The mountains will be there for another day.
During this process going on in my mind, I was so focussed on taking note of the route to Braeriach, so I would know where to go next time, that I missed the turn off to the Chalamain Gap. I just put my head down and kept going straight.
Checking the map, I realised that I was on track for Rothiemurchus and then toward Morlich. The route was always pleasant and followed a mountain bike route (going by the tracks on the ground). The pine forests were very nice and the going was good.
Eventually reaching Rothiemurchus, the road became harder on the feet and the impact of the sun was now catching up on me. The last couple of kms was tough going and I mentally could not envisage taking the road all the way from Glenmore back to the upper ski car park. That road walk would be a killer but cross country uphill would be rough. I would have rather used that energy for my original plan.
The result was that I called the Aviemore taxi to come and get me at the Loch Morlich. He took me to the upper car park and back to my car.
A strange ending, which I never envisaged when I looked forward to the walk. Still on the whole, I look back on this walk as the best experience I had on the hills so far to date.
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Warning Please note that hillwalking when there is snow lying requires an ice-axe, crampons and the knowledge, experience and skill to use them correctly. Summer routes may not be viable or appropriate in winter. See winter information on our skills and safety pages for more information.