My Munro map showed the Cairngorms as a big area of red balloons, punctuated only by one solitary blue dot. I’d climbed Cairn Gorm from the ski centre twice, but not ventured into the area surrounding it, so I had a browse around for any well-known rounds I could do that would put that right. The Cairngorm 4000’s was the first to come up and it ticked all my boxes. Long, remote and takes in 5 Munros, only one of which I’ve already climbed.
After plotting it out on the map, I saw that what looked like a relatively small detour, could add another two Munros to the tally. Devils Point being a relatively easy diversion with only 60 meters of prominence (seriously, why is this a Munro? Is it just because it looks pretty??) and Carn a’ Mhaim being a more challenging addition.
With 25miles and 8300 feet of ascent, I’d need an early start so as the light faded on Saturday night I parked up my van near the start of the route and set my alarm for 5am with the intention of leaving at 6.
Sustained use of the snooze button and a reluctance to unzip my sleeping bag saw me jogging off into the dusk at 6:20, with the Moon and Mars above sharing the same small piece of the sky.
I’d decided to do the route anti-clockwise so I wouldn’t have to climb Cairngorm from the north for the third time in a year and took the path to the Chalamain gap. I could see clear skies to the north but the mountains I was heading for were keeping their cover of cloud. The forecast was for this to lift through the day, giving another good reason to do the three and a half miles of lower level stuff at the start of the day.
Other than a short scrabble through the boulders in the gap the path was excellent and lead to a speedy start to the day. Upon reaching the Lairig Ghru I came across a woman packing up her tent after a night out in the wilds and breezed past with a cheerful hello, taking her slightly by surprise. I say “breezed past with a cheerful hello”, but I should qualify this by saying, that’s how I saw it in my head. In my head I’m sauntering effortlessly along Killian Journet like in my gait. In reality I more than likely stumbled past giving a hello-ish grunt in between gasping for air, but I like my in head version best! Sadly I had “breezed” past her up the wrong path so soon had to return to find the right one, which wasn’t embarrassing at all!!
The correct path marked the start of the climb up to the mighty Braeriach. I passed another coule of wild campers, who were very pleased to report a midge free night and enjoyed climbing the easy to follow path giving swift (for me) progress up the mountain. As I reached about 950 meters, I was amazed to see two Golden Eagles take flight from their perch about 20 meters from the path.
I was already pretty happy to be in the hills, but that had me bouncing. I stood and watched them glide off until they were dots in the distance. Smiling to myself as I went, I continued climbing.
I was soon in the cloud cover and would remain so for a while. I summited Braeriach and beyond this point the path petered out, so careful navigation was needed to get over Carn na Criche and down to where the path re-appeared as it followed the tops of the crags above Garbh Coire Mor.
As I climbed Angel’s Peak the clouds started to lift, and the views south opened up. Braeriach and Ben Macdui were staying hidden, but the rest of the mountains were starting to get some sunshine. The route over to Cairn Toul didn’t take long and from here I could see a good chunk of the route ahead. The Devils point was far below me, looking more like the end of a ridge than a mountain in it’s own right. The climb up from the River Dee to Carn a’ Mhaim looked like hard work but I was relieved to see that I could easily skirt around the south of the crags that wer guarding the summit from the West.
The descent to from Cairn Toul was bouldery and slow going and it was here that I hit the morning rush hour. A seemingly endless string of folk who had camped at/near the Corrour Bothy were heading up the other way. I was a little jealous of their night out in such a stunning place, but also a little bit pleased that my bag weighed a fraction of theirs!
The Devils Point took little effort to climb, and I was feeling a bit disparaging of its Munro status until I stood on the summit and took in the panorama. It’s one hell of a view point. I also bumped into the same chap I met on the summit of Luinne Bheinn the week before giving us both a ‘small world’ moment!
The path down to the Bothy was clear and easy to follow and runnable, so I enjoyed the descent, crossed the bridge and joined the Lairig Ghru path to find lots of runners heading in the opposite direction in the Lairig Gru race.
After about a mile I could see a sensible line around the crags that were guarding the top of Carn a’ Mham and set off up through the heather. This was easily the toughest part of the day.
With 15 miles covered already the steep heather bashing seemed endless, but it did eventually pass and I reached the summit of Carn a’ Mhaim, another Munro rather dominated by it’s neighbour. Ben Macdui, finaly clear of cloud, looked enormous ahead, so I just focused on the enjoyable running on the ridge that headed towards it. Pausing a couple of times to soak in the views to my left of the mountains I’d traversed that morning, but making decent progress.
The Belach was at 800 meters, giving me 500 meters to climb, the last really big push of the day started on a nice path which disappeared into a field of boulders which continued to the plateaux, where thankfully I found a small stream where I could fill up my water bottles.
The summit of Ben Macdui was another busy one, so I quickly bagged the summit and jogged off down across the plateaux following the obvious tourist path towards Cairn Gorm. 4 Miles covered all above 1000 meters, and all with the late afternoon sun lighting the mountains around me, gave me a good first experience of crossing the famous plateaux and got me to the final mountain of the day feeling happy.
I followed the easy line down through the ski area, legs getting pretty wobbly and only allowing me to intermittently jog/walk as I descended back to my starting point.
This was my first time really exploring the Cairngorms and I was really impressed. I’m also pleased to have a decent cluster of blue balloons in the area and several good ideas for how to expand it, hopefully soon.
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