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A Cairngorm Wild Camp and 3 Munros

A Cairngorm Wild Camp and 3 Munros

Postby Anne C » Tue Jul 28, 2020 8:55 pm

Route description: Cairn Toul - Braeriach traverse

Munros included on this walk: Cairn Toul, Sgòr an Lochain Uaine, The Devil's Point

Date walked: 18/07/2020

Time taken: 9.5 hours

Distance: 39 km

Ascent: 1283m

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We’d first planned this trip in 2019 , looking out for a good spell of weather but somehow with a family wedding and then rain/ low cloud or gales over what seemed most summer weekends, 2019 came and went and we still hadn’t made it happen. A very poor show, as they say! (I would add that it is not the traverse as such that we did this trip - just the 3 Munros without Braeriach but I thought that was the best way to link it.

Lockdown of course put a stop to most outings except our local park but July came, restrictions eased and a decent Friday/Saturday loomed. Come hell or high water, the Cairngorm Trio was on!

Chris finished work at 12noon and we set off for Braemar and the Linn o’Dee, 3.5 hours drive away. It was a glorious day, the hills lush and emerald green, the grassy verges of Glenshee bright with wildflowers. High summer at its best. :)

Every time I arrive in the Mar Lodge Estate I am just blown away by how beautiful it all is. Those elegant Scots Pines with their pinkish bark; wide, whisky coloured rivers burbling along before rushing wildly through deep gorges. And all overlooked by big rounded mountains clothed in bilberry and heather and topped with sub-Arctic tundra. Magical.

ImageBeyond Derry Lodge - Scots Pine country by scotlandmac, on Flickr

At 4.30pm, the Linn o’ Dee car park was mobbed, but we found a space. Then it was a case of getting the gear packed, making double sure we had everything – matches, stove, fuel – for 2 nights in Glen Luibeg, a 5 mile or so walk in. That would leave us with 1285m of ascent tomorrow and 11.5miles or just under 19km to cover from camp and back. No need to lug in water as there was plenty to be had in the glen for those essential mugs of morning tea which always help us get going. Plus I am a tea jenny and drink gallons of the stuff, I can't do without it. :roll:

My rucksack didn’t feel too bad, I could lift it, which was the main thing but that’s because on our camping trips, Chris believes he is a Pack Horse and it is his job to carry the bulk of our stuff. :crazy: I once tried to lift his pack and couldn’t even get it off the ground. Certainly, I’m quite lightly built and have never been great at carrying heavy loads nor have I ever enjoyed it much. But sometimes, needs must. For that reason, I didn’t sleep that well the previous night as I always worry a bit (I have a Masters in that) about whether I’ll manage it all ok and not collapse in a heap exhausted before we've even got round to the mountains themselves :(

Off we trotted up the familiar track from the car park through the forest, emerging into warm sunshine on the excellent path to Derry Lodge and beyond.

ImageNear Derry Lodge by scotlandmac, on Flickr

ImageTowards Glen Luibeg beyond Derry Lodge.Great paths by scotlandmac, on Flickr

My mind was going over all the supplies we had (the advocates of lightweight camping would have a fit at what we were lugging in ) and I was imagining all the little bags of this and that which I'd laid out in the kitchen. But one was missing and I suddenly realised what it was with a sickening jolt :( :(

'Oh God, I don't believe it! ‘ I stopped stone dead and turned to Chris.‘ I’ve forgotten the tea bags! ’

‘What?? ' he stopped dead too, eyes wide in disbelief. I would add that there could be a nuclear attack going on around my husband and his expression and voice would barely change,  so his reaction just confirmed (not that I needed that :roll: ) how awful my mistake was. In my defence, I have never, ever forgotten the teabags on any trip over the decades but I suppose it had to happen one day and that day had now come :oops:

We were about 40 mins into the 2 hour walk in but somehow the thought of going ALL the way back to the car, driving round to Braemar, waiting in the queue to get into the shop (it was only allowing about 3 customers in at a time) then driving all the way back, catching up with lost time... it just seemed too much. It doesn’t seem so bad now but at the time it felt horrible. :(

‘I’ll ask anyone we pass if they’ve got any tea to spare – there are so many campers here, we might manage something?’

I didn’t expect Chris to agree, he hates bothering other people, but he was so desperate he grunted  an ‘ok.’

To cut a long story short, the third young couple I approached who were heading back to the car park with packs, nodded that they had tea bags and we could have them all!’ I couldn't believe our luck. :D

The chap had an enormous rucksack and I watched guiltily as he began unpacking most of it until finally he found a small plastic container . Those squashed little grey bags inside looked like nectar and I took them gratefully and with endless thanks. Then came his partner's words ‘Oh, it’s Earl Grey by the way. Is that ok?” It was ok by me , I quite like it, but Chris hates the stuff with a vengeance. He will eat and drink just about any food but has never managed to thole that Bergamot-flavoured tea. Beggars however couldn't be choosers! So we said goodbye to a very kind, cheery couple and got on our way again. Relief beyond belief, for myself at least. :silent:

‘You could try a weakish cup, it won’t be too bad, ‘ I broached the tea subject again with Chris, feeling guilty at my 'I'm alright Jack' mindset but he pooh -poohed the idea. He would, he said, survive – his favourite word under duress - plus he said he'd something far better to look forward to once we reached camp - a beer!

Well frequented Derry Lodge appeared, though it was very quiet but on we marched anyway towards Glen Luibeg and hopefully a camping spot all to ourselves.

ImageEvening view towards Lochnagar from Glen Luibeg by scotlandmac, on Flickr

It's such a good path, very dry and it took us alongside the beautiful Scots Pine - clad banks of the Luibeg river with Carn a Mhaim making a shapely appearance ahead.

ImageCrossing the Luibeg river (by bridge) by scotlandmac, on Flickr

Two hours later at 6.45pm, we had arrived at a lovely area with fine views of Ben Macdui and Derry Cairngorm bathed in early evening sunshine and with Lochnagar looking very distinctive, far to the east. A scout around for 10 minutes and we found a half decent pitch though it was rough and boggy ground (and I ended up with a hard tussock at hip level, feeling like a mini Munro in itself. Deserved perhaps :wink:

ImageThe tent (blue) in Glen Luibeg by scotlandmac, on Flickr

We’d lugged in our food for tonight's dinner – cold stuff from the Braemar shop and not part of the original plan. The idea had been to fuel up with a sit in meal somewhere in the village but it had been so sunny and just a bit too early for something biggish so we’d bought cooked chicken thighs, spicy wings, a sour cream and onion dip, coleslaw plus today's still uneaten sandwiches to eat at the tent. It seemed a good decision, eating in the evening sunshine and it was nice to perch on a rock and admire the surroundings of our new home for the next 2 nights. However, by 8pm the stiff breeze had died a death and midges descended on us like fiends! :evil:
We made an attempt to just keep walking about, me with endless mugs of Earl Grey, Chris now onto a whisky but finally, a retreat into the tent was the only option.

The MWIS forecast promised 25-30mph winds tomorrow and mentioned walking being 'impeded' on the Cairngorm plateau in particular :problem: but the predicted 70% chance of cloud free Munros had swung our decision overall, plus we have walked in worse (though not by choice.)

I didn’t have a particularly good sleep - I rarely do now before a walk and it’s really annoying because I need all the energy I can get these days :wink: Just the way I’m wired, though I also think that old saying is very true - ‘age doesn’t come alone.'

As ever, we were awake pretty early around 5.30am; tea for me and a little pot of porridge with lots of sugar and fresh grapefruit for Chris. You might have guessed by now that we don’t travel in lightly to a wild camp, tins of this and that, oranges, fresh milk, Chris’s whisky bottle (and not a small one) and beer. I’ve suggested looking at dried food to keep the load lighter, though food weight is the least of it but the idea has met with complete resistance. It’s the Old Way or No Way! Tins of curry for dinner tonight too, more weight.

ImageHeading towards Corrour Bothy and the ascent to the plateau by scotlandmac, on Flickr

We set off around 7.15am into a gloomy morning of very low cloud and the expected brisk wind. No midges at breakfast at least!  The moorland was a blaze of colour with white bog cotton and yellow bog asphodel,  pink cross-leaved heath and purple marsh orchids. That scent too of summer grasses and flowers – sweet Highland air.

ImageThe Devil's Point (very similar in outline to B. Etive Mor) by scotlandmac, on Flickr

Soon, the great slabby dome of The Devil’s Point, today's first Munro, came into view, looking very like the pyramid that is Buachaille Etive Mor. Remote Beinn Bhrotain loomed behind, clothed in mist – what incredible scale this country has. Cloud, please lift! I thought as we marched along.

As Corrour Bothy came into view, a patch of blue appeared in the sky and as each minute passed, the cloud lifted higher until all of a sudden, we were walking in warm sunshine. There were a lot of tents getting packed up at Corrour, mostly groups of young men and we waved to them on passing, feeling quite pleased that we were already well underway. There were Bothy Closed warnings at Linn o Dee and Derry Lodge, but strangely Corrour was open and in use(the smell of the composting toilet hit me briefly as we passed - horrendous.) I thought they would have locked the bothy's door, unless someone unlocked it 'illegally?'

It was a fairly easy ascent from there, on an excellent track which zig zagged up the steep corrie headwall at a lovely angle making it less of a slog than I thought it might be. The wind hit us full force on the plateau – wow, it was freezing up here and we were buffeted wildly. A tough day ahead! I was glad I’d put my trousers on and not walked in shorts today.

It was a very short, easy angled ascent on good terrain to The Devil’s Point (1004m) or Bod an Deamhain, the Devil’s Penis as it translates more truthfully from the Gaelic.

ImageOn route to The Devil's Point summit.Nice terrain.Ist Munro of the day by scotlandmac, on Flickr

ImageThe Devil's Peak - 1st Munro of the day by scotlandmac, on Flickr

Oh the joy of reaching Munro No 1 at 9.15am! The views were fantastic – Beinn Bhrotain was now directly opposite and looking enormous, with neighbouring Monadh Mor similarly large and remote. Big, big country all around.

ImageLooking across to remote Beinn Bhrotain by scotlandmac, on Flickr

Cairn Toul itself, the next Munro on the round, was looking incredibly impressive with its vertiginous corrie of broken slabs. The bulk of Ben Macdui was a commanding presence on the other side of the glen. It was all looking superb.

ImageTowards Ben Macdui, UK's 2nd highest mountain at 1309m by scotlandmac, on Flickr

Our cheese sandwiches were now 24 hours old since I’d made them at home, but tasted none the worse for that. It had been quite cold last night so no worries about things going off; we hadn’t even had to leave the milk in the river though it helps too that it’s skimmed, it lasts forever.

What I did notice on the summit was that there was almost no wind; it was the cols that were taking the buffeting and that became the pattern all day. The wind was never 30mph either, around 20 at most thankfully.

I don’t think there is any feeling quite like sitting with a Munro under your belt, surrounded by amazing views and having the time to just soak it all in. All the effort was already worth it ten times over.

ImageThe route ahead to Cairn Toul from the Devil's Point by scotlandmac, on Flickr

Back to the col and then the realisation that there was a bit of a slog ahead on broad grassy slopes up onto the Top of Stob Coire an t-Saighdeir (1213m.) Somehow that felt quite hard, though there was a path and the little summit cairn we finally reached gave superb views. The cloud had come in again now and the bright morning had turned into quite a wild looking day again, with billowing mist and showers sweeping through. On with the waterproofs and also my winter hat and gloves – even Chris had his gloves on and he doesn’t normally feel the cold, though his bare legs weren’t helping! It was bitter up here and it stayed that way for the rest of the round, July or not.

ImageCloud on Carn an T Sabhail (1213m) before final rise to Cairn Toul by scotlandmac, on Flickr

We sat for quite a while in the shelter of the cairn, on the Peak of the Corrie of the Soldier, watching the cloud lift then drop again over Ben Macdui and Carn a Mhaim. Thankfully the rain eased quickly and we could enjoy the drama of the mist falling and rising on this really quite epic landscape. The colours were almost unreal - large, luminescent green rocks, emerald with lichen but on stone which itself was a sort of glacial green. This was set off against the pink base stone and boulders of the Monadh Ruadh, well named as the Red Mountains.

ImageCairn Toul and Sgorr an Lochan Uaine by scotlandmac, on Flickr

It got more bouldery on the short descent down to the base of Cairn Toul with up close views of its fine cliffs. The ascent UP looked even more bouldery and Chris thought it might be worth heading first for Sgorr an Lochain Uaine and perhaps finding a better route up the other side of Cairn Toul. Mist and showers were coming and going now and people were appearing from all directions. The mountains were busy!

ImageBouldery ascent on Cairn Toul by scotlandmac, on Flickr
We said hello to various groups of young guys with enormous packs and all looking quite shivery in shorts, doing the traverse over Braeriach and on to Glenmore. I recognised them from Corrour. Decades ago Chris had done the same trip with his brother but what he had forgotten about he said, was how bouldery Cairn Toul was as he had promised me lovely tundra-like terrain; I couldn’t complain though especially not after the tea bag fiasco. Plus those sections were fairly short.

ImageLochain Uaine by scotlandmac, on Flickr

It was an easy pull up on a good track to Sgor an Lochan Uaine and we stopped to admire the lochan itself nestling below the steep terrain. A fine sight, with the pink slopes of Braeriach rearing up beyond, one minute clothed in mist, the next lit up by the sun. I think in some ways those are my favourite conditions on the hills - as long as rain doesn’t set in seriously.

ImageTowards Braeriach and Cairngorm summit (far distance right) by scotlandmac, on Flickr

As we ascended, we’d chatted to a young (everyone’s young these days :D ) East European girl ; we’d first said hello to her when she’d been coming off the Devil’s Point earlier. She looked at us in surprise – ‘hey, you’re going at a fast pace!’ but we had to admit we had skipped Cairn Toul and still had to do it! She’d been up and down already. ’Oh,’  she said, ‘never mind, you’re doing really well!’ Oh God , I thought, we must be looking like a couple of old crocks! :roll:

ImageMonadh Mor from Sgorr an Lochan Uaine by scotlandmac, on Flickr

So here we were on The Angel’s Peak, such a lovely name though overall I tend to prefer the Gaelic names which are often perfect descriptions too. As a native speaker, Chris helps me pronounce them while trying not to cringe too much at my strangled attempts. Not easy as the sounds are so different. It's a language I love hearing, so lyrical - it must be in my DNA as my grandparents were from Skye and North Uist and of course were Gaelic speakers. I almost feel like I've come home when I hear it spoken, it's a very deep feeling that I can't quite explain.

ImageSummit of Sgorr an Lochan Uaine looking towards Braeriach by scotlandmac, on Flickr

It was decision time now– we had thought about continuing on to Braeriach but it would add another 2.5 hrs to the day though on flattish and decent ground. Just under 5miles extra perhaps all in. Maybe lack of sleep for the past two nights swung it but suddenly, I just didn’t feel like it; in fact, I was a bit surprised at how fatigued I felt even now. Lack of sleep was catching up a bit perhaps and maybe dinner last night had been a bit light in calories, I don’t know. Excuses , excuses....

We sat for ages, admiring the changing light on An Garbh Coire, the Rough Corrie below Braeriach, wild country on the grand scale. Magnificent. An ancient land.

ImageBraeriach by scotlandmac, on Flickr

It was chilly though, sitting in the damp air with the wind picking up as another squall came in behind us. Distant Ben Alder was now disappearing in glowering cloud, as was Monadh Mor and Beinn Macdui. So it was time to move and attack the bouldery slog up Cairn Toul, Munro No 3.

ImageTowards Cairn Toul's final slopes. by scotlandmac, on Flickr

ImageBouldery hike ahead by scotlandmac, on Flickr

Ascending this side actually left us a bit more to do compared to the standard route so there was no advantage. It only took 20 mins or so but it felt much longer.

ImageThe awkward slog up the boulderfield on C.Toul by scotlandmac, on Flickr

Balancing precariously on boulders, aware of the wind pulling me a bit, picking the best line from no line at all really, it wasn’t pleasant terrain and a blessed relief when the tundra appeared again as the summit cairn came into view. Hunkered down in that big shelter, with the best seat in the house, we watched as the cloud lifted again all around us giving a grandstand view of Cairngorm once more.

A trio of hikers came up and sat down outside the cairn, the lead chap bemoaning the weather but I thought we’d been pretty lucky all in; we’d got plenty of stunning views and the wind was nothing like the forecast , so that was good enough for me. Cold yes for July - I noticed most folk were well wrapped up but that was a small thing really.

ImageCairn Toul's impressive corrie by scotlandmac, on Flickr

On cue, the air quality improved to perhaps the best of the day and incredibly, as we picked out the various distant summits -  Lochnagar, Bennachie, Beinn a Ghlo, the Drumochter hills I think - the lowly but distinctive tops of the Lomond Hills were very clear to the south. At least 60 miles away perhaps, deep in the heart of the Lowlands.

Time to descend via the shorter way this time, right by the vertiginous corrie rim that plunged to our left. Bouldery but not so bad with a faint path at times. I’m embarrassed at how slow I am on that terrain now, picking my way down ultra-carefully, even with the poles; I was so envious of younger folk skipping down it like mountain goats :shock:

ImageBeyond Monadh Mor - Drumochter by scotlandmac, on Flickr

ImageMonadh Mor clearing by scotlandmac, on Flickr

Another stop on Stob Coire an t-Saighdeir again, just enjoying the vistas, reluctant to lose the hard earned eagle’s eye view from the high tops. One final thrill - a wee Snow Bunting, very white, flitted across the stony slopes to our left. Unfortunately I never caught in on camera, it was a fleeting glimpse.

Down we had to go eventually, the sun warm when we reached the top of the corrie headwall around 2pm. A final stop for water and chocolate, high above Corrour.

ImageDescent route towards Corrour Bothy on a good track by scotlandmac, on Flickr

Around 2.5hrs hours later we were back at the tent after a leisurely walk back and a stop at Corrour to cool my feet in the river’s cold clear water. Bliss!

ImageBliss for hot feet! by scotlandmac, on Flickr

ImageAt the River Dee with the hills we'd climbed in cloud. by scotlandmac, on Flickr

A 9 hour 20 min day all in – way beyond the book time I think, with plenty of lengthy stops. The views were too good not to sit and savour them.

ImageEvening view towards Lochnagar from Glen Luibeg by scotlandmac, on Flickr

We were both starving and after multiple brews of tea for me and Chris enjoying a beer, the curry and rice were on and we demolished the lot, as if we hadn’t eaten for days. I was surprised at how knackered I now felt and was glad we had another night’s camp to enjoy, hopefully with fewer midges. We could have walked the 5 miles or so out but it was nice not to have to. The light on the mountains was gorgeous and it felt good to have a bit more time in this special landscape. I was out for the count though by 9pm and slept well – at last.

ImageBack at the tent.Ben Macdui in sunlight by scotlandmac, on Flickr

Next day, an easy walk out, albeit with an early start at 7am as my older son was arriving in the early afternoon and staying for a few days. He would have been horrified to think we’d rushed back but we tend to be up with the lark when camping so it was no hardship to get going early doors. Gloomy skies greeted us and rain wasn’t far away, the good weather window now closed for a day or so. We hadn’t done the trip anywhere like the most efficient way (with a bike to Derry Lodge and perhaps making it a long day trip) but it felt the right way for us, giving generous time to enjoy truly wonderful country. As Chris said when we arrived back at the car – there’s life in the auld pins yet!
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Anne C
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Re: A Cairngorm Wild Camp and 3 Munros

Postby neilist » Wed Jul 29, 2020 11:07 am

Excellent write up, you describe the situation and surroundings very well. I made a similiar trip a couple of years ago (camped near the bothy) and your report took me right back there . A stunning area of big mountains, and lovely trees and glens. Makes me want to pack my tent and head off right now. Cheers.
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Re: A Cairngorm Wild Camp and 3 Munros

Postby Anne C » Wed Jul 29, 2020 6:47 pm

Thanks Neilist - great to hear you enjoyed the write up. Superb area, hoping to head in again this weekend if the weather behaves itself.
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Anne C
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Re: A Cairngorm Wild Camp and 3 Munros

Postby Sunset tripper » Thu Jul 30, 2020 7:55 pm

Cracking pictures Anne and some great hills too. :D
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Sunset tripper
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Re: A Cairngorm Wild Camp and 3 Munros

Postby Anne C » Sat Aug 01, 2020 7:37 pm

Thanks sunset tripper, the light was great at times, very dramatic.Very difficult to stop photographing the same view over and over again, given it changed so quickly.
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Anne C
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Re: A Cairngorm Wild Camp and 3 Munros

Postby litljortindan » Wed Aug 05, 2020 11:26 pm

Enjoyable writing and description!
So your tea bag crisis was solved by a bit of solvitur ambulando. I just recall that motto from your 2014 Lochnagar report. I kept that simple idea "it is solved by walking" in mind all through my 18 month recovery from disc bulges. It helped! Didn't realise it also applied to tea bags.
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Re: A Cairngorm Wild Camp and 3 Munros

Postby Anne C » Fri Aug 07, 2020 9:31 pm

litljortindan wrote:Enjoyable writing and description!
So your tea bag crisis was solved by a bit of solvitur ambulando. I just recall that motto from your 2014 Lochnagar report. I kept that simple idea "it is solved by walking" in mind all through my 18 month recovery from disc bulges. It helped! Didn't realise it also applied to tea bags.

That's really good to know Litljortindan! It still helps me often too and yes , most recently with that tea bag crisis!
Glad to hear you recovered from your disc problem, sounds nasty :shock: Have you been back to Lofoten yet?
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Anne C
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