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Defeat on century bid – towel thrown in at Loch Etchachan

Defeat on century bid – towel thrown in at Loch Etchachan


Postby Graeme D » Sun Feb 13, 2011 11:09 pm

Date walked: 12/02/2011

Time taken: 20.5 hours

Distance: 28 km

Ascent: 970m

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This is not the report I was supposed to be filing today! This was to have been a triumphant report on my nailing of Beinn Mheadhoin and Derry Cairngorm and in the process, finally achieving the magic 100 Munros mark.

Well, I’m still waiting to hit that magic number following the events of yesterday in Glen Derry and Coire Etchachan.

These events are detailed below……

It had been another belter of a week at work (I am of course using the term facetiously!) and for the last few days, it was just the prospect of another Friday night walk-in to a bothy followed by a Saturday hill day that had got me through the week. Having done a similar thing three weeks ago, when I walked in from Linn of Quoich to Bob Scott’s Bothy and then did Sgor Mor and Creag Bhalg, I settled on the same neck of the woods and a variation on this theme. This time I decided I was not going to pass up on the opportunity to hit the 100 Munros mark, as I had done a few weeks previously. I would drive up to Linn of Dee on Friday evening and walk in all the way to the Hutchison Memorial Hut, therefore being well placed for bagging Mheadhoin and Derry Cairngorm the following day. I was on a tight schedule as well, as we were going round to friends for dinner on the Saturday evening, so being in-situ in the Hut on Saturday morning would offer me a great head start.

I was again, as seems to be the norm these days, running a bit behind schedule and so after another stop at the Braemar chippie for dinner, it was nearly 8pm by the time I pulled into the NTS car park at Linn of Dee and five past before I was off and running on the path through the woods, my trusty head torch lighting the way ahead and casting spooky shadows through the trees.

I knew that it would be quite an undertaking to make it all the way to the Hut tonight, even before allowing for potentially awkward conditions underfoot, so I had packed one of the tents in my pack, just in case.

In no time at all, I was out of the woods and onto the track heading for the Black Brig, then it was into wide Glen Lui. For the second time in three weeks, Lucy and I were heading for Derry Lodge, all alone at the start of the weekend under cover of darkness, with the weight of the world lifted from my shoulders. I guess Lucy doesn’t know about the weight of the world, but she looked happy to be out anyway.

The going was a lot easier than it had been last time in Glen Quoich and over the Clais Fhearnaig, with the ground cover much more of the crunchy snow variety and a lot less of the polished skating pond ice of a few weeks back. Exactly an hour after leaving the car, we were at Derry Lodge. The lights were blazing again in Bob Scott’s but I pressed on – staying there tonight would give me too much to do tomorrow.

I pressed on across the bridge and past the orange glow coming from inside a tent amongst the trees on the right. I knew that if I wasn’t going to make it all the way into Coire Etchachan and up to the Hut, there were a number of good camping spots between here and the bridge at the start of the Flats. Just as well really, because with the batteries in my head torch fading fast (I had spares but really didn’t fancy having to dig them out now), I suddenly started to feel overwhelmed with fatigue. The snow was also beginning to fall in quite chunky flakes, and about 10 minutes or so short of the bridge, I knew I was going to have to call it quits for the night, still a hell of a distance short of the HMH.

I found a flatish spot underneath the overhanging branches of a couple of trees which looked like a good place to set up home for the night. Further investigation revealed an old fire pit in one corner. Well, I guess if it was once good enough for someone in the past, it’ll do for me now in my hour of need. I quickly got myself into my sleeping bag and polished off a can of lager before lights out at about 11 o’clock.

It had been quite a mild evening for the walk in, and it certainly didn’t feel cold as I drifted off to sleep, or again when I awoke at 1am. However, when I next awoke around 3am, it was bloody freezing and I could feel Lucy shivering beside me under her blanket. The rest of the night passed quite fitfully until a weak grey light began to percolate into the tent in the morning.

I didn’t bother hanging about for breakfast, deciding to get the tent de-iced as much as possible, before getting packed up and moving as quickly as possible. I could always stop off for a late breakfast at the Hut.

IMG_5946.JPG
Derry Burn at first light from my camping spot

IMG_5947.JPG
Approaching the bridge

IMG_5949.JPG
Looking back to the bridge - a familiar camping spot of mine


Crossing the bridge onto the Glen Derry Flats was like entering another universe. The going was hard, and as I ventured deeper into the glen and climbed higher towards the Lairig an Laoigh, the path became more and more obliterated and the going went from tough to brutal.

IMG_5950.JPG
North across the snowy Flats of Glen Derry


As far as finding the path off to the bridge and up into Coire Etchachan was concerned, I was under no illusions. I was playing it purely by guesswork. I was still really struggling for fitness and pace this morning, and at one point I just had to stop and get the pack off for 10 minutes or so. I actually contemplated calling it quits at that point, until a glimmer of blue sky somewhere up above Coire Etchachan gave me a renewed sense of purpose and I resolved to carry on.

IMG_5957.JPG
There is some blue sky there - honest!


In the end, after having struck out towards the river, I overshot the bridge by a few hundred yards. I retreated back to the bridge and clambered over it to begin the ascent up into Coire Etchachan.

IMG_5958.JPG
Bridge at entrance into Coire Etchachan


The snow was deep and soft and there was no sign of anybody having gone before me today, judging by the complete lack of any tracks or prints. There was also not even any sign of the sidewalls of the coire on either side, and I again began to question whether, given the way I was feeling, it was wise or worthwhile to carry on. After a few hundred metres, I decided to return to the bridge and set up the stove for breakfast. At least it was fairly mild and conditions were quite benign.

As I stood by the bridge enjoying a mug of coffee and a plate of beans and sausages, two walkers approached from the south. One of them turned out to be one of the blokes from the group of climbers who I’d shared Bob Scott’s with a few weeks back. He and his companion were heading up to the Hutchison and then were going ice climbing on the cliffs of Creagan a' Choire Etchachan behind. I was pretty resigned to packing up after breakfast and starting the long trek back to the Linn of Dee. However, the two guys had given me a few words of encouragement and breakfast had perked me up a bit, so I decided to persevere and start again up into Coire Etchachan.

Although every step of the ascent was a real mental and physical battle, I made quick time up to the Hut, where I downed my pack and took a breather for 5 minutes.

IMG_5959.JPG
Slopes of Stob Coire Etchachan

IMG_5960.JPG
Short section of exposed stream

IMG_5962.JPG
The Hut comes into view below the cliffs of Creagan a' Choire Etchachan


The two guys were still there and as we all prepared to set off together, the sun was bathing our respective routes onwards and upwards and I again felt a new sense of vigour.

IMG_5965.JPG
Leaving the Hut - the two climbers scan their route


I was under no illusions about managing Beinn Mheadhoin but I was confident I would manage Derry and get along and down its long south ridge and back home in plenty time to get ready for going out. Oh well, it would just have to be 99 Munros by the end of the day.

IMG_5966.JPG
Sunlight on the route ahead


The sun ultimately failed to sustain its breakthrough and as I struggled up towards the top of the coire, everything closed in again. I was now really toiling! I’d never struggled as much on a hill in my life before. I felt absolutely drained, both physically and mentally and could only imagine that the bruising week at work had exacted a heavy toll.

IMG_5967.JPG
Creagan a' Choire Etchachan gets shrouded again


Shortly before topping out I was passed by a large guided group of about 8 or 9 people heading down towards the Hut and Glen Derry beyond.

IMG_5968.JPG
Guided group heading down

IMG_5969.JPG
Boulder field at the lip of the coire


Crossing the boulder field at the lip of the coire, I could see their tracks disappearing away towards the Loch Avon basin, but there was no sign of Loch Etchachan. I assumed it was lurking somewhere in the gloom away to my left. Even although I now felt like a member of the walking dead, I was absolutely enthralled by the fantastic light effects within the bowl of the loch – the only way I can describe it was like standing on a lighted stage in the vastness of a darkened theatre. It really was like night time but with an overhead light switched on.

IMG_5971.JPG
Looking towards the Loch Avon basin

IMG_5972.JPG
And again


I eventually found a frozen Loch Etchachan buried under a blanket of pristine white snow. I was in agony now and knew that both time and energy were fast slipping away from me. I dumped my pack by one of the huge boulders peppering the shore of the frozen loch and walked over to the edge of the slopes down into Loch Avon to take a few pictures.

IMG_5974.JPG
Cairn Gorm slopes across Loch Avon basin

IMG_5976.JPG
Looking down on Loch Avon


Back at my pack, I knew that the most direct way back to the car was over Derry Cairngorm, but I was shattered and knew that the ascent involved would be liable to kill me. Either that or it would take me so long that I’d be late back home and my wife would kill me!

IMG_5977.JPG
Loch Etchachan

IMG_5978.JPG
Carn Etchachan across the frozen loch


There was no other option for it but to retrace my steps back down Coire Etchachan and into Glen Derry for the long, lonely march back to Linn of Dee. This was only the second time I’d ever been defeated by a hill, and the first time that it had been down to pure, utter exhaustion.

Strangely enough, although I was gutted at missing out on the magic century of Munros, it was probably the easiest decision I’ve ever had to make on a mountain. It was also absolutely the right call.

IMG_5982.JPG
Back down in Glen Derry - south across the Flats

IMG_5986.JPG
Sod's Law - looks like it's clearing above Derry

IMG_5987.JPG
And then closing in again

IMG_5988.JPG
Homeward bound - what a day!


I’ve now got a serious score to settle with these two, and I’ll take great pleasure in settling that score one day soon. :x


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Graeme D
 
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Re: Defeat on century bid – towel thrown in at Loch Etchachan

Postby Alan S » Sun Feb 13, 2011 11:19 pm

Nae luck there graeme but still a great write up which i really enjoyed reading :)
Im sure you will go back up there soon and forget about this day
Best of luck on your next trip to get that 100 :D
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Re: Defeat on century bid – towel thrown in at Loch Etchachan

Postby malky_c » Sun Feb 13, 2011 11:20 pm

And there was me thinking it felt like spring on Saturday :lol:

Unlucky, but probably a wise choice. There seem to have been a lot of people about on a Saturday morning, but I suppose you need to start early if you are climbing.

So have these two just cemented themselves as your 99th and 100th or are you contemplating doing the Ben and CMD still?
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Re: Defeat on century bid – towel thrown in at Loch Etchachan

Postby Graeme D » Sun Feb 13, 2011 11:25 pm

malky_c wrote:So have these two just cemented themselves as your 99th and 100th or are you contemplating doing the Ben and CMD still?


Dunno Malky - I guess it's all up in the air now. Next weekend (long mid-term weekend) is probably going to be my last chance of an outing until April, and it's only likely to be a day walk. I have a few options on the table, but if truth be told, none of them are as exciting as these two or the Ben and CMD. :(
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Re: Defeat on century bid – towel thrown in at Loch Etchachan

Postby Stretch » Sun Feb 13, 2011 11:25 pm

Yikes Graeme, brutal walking there. Doing these both makes for a pretty long day even in the summer/fall. Glad you're back safe. Just make sure to contribute properly to Valentine's Day, you were nearly in trouble :lol:
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Re: Defeat on century bid – towel thrown in at Loch Etchachan

Postby Graeme D » Sun Feb 13, 2011 11:26 pm

alan s wrote:Nae luck there graeme but still a great write up which i really enjoyed reading :)
Im sure you will go back up there soon and forget about this day
Best of luck on your next trip to get that 100 :D


Cheers Alan!
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Graeme D
 
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Re: Defeat on century bid – towel thrown in at Loch Etchachan

Postby Graeme D » Sun Feb 13, 2011 11:27 pm

Stretch wrote:Yikes Graeme, brutal walking there. Doing these both makes for a pretty long day even in the summer/fall. Glad you're back safe. Just make sure to contribute properly to Valentine's Day, you were nearly in trouble :lol:


:lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: Cheers Stretch!
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Re: Defeat on century bid – towel thrown in at Loch Etchachan

Postby sloosh » Sun Feb 13, 2011 11:31 pm

Wait for nice summer's weather then nail the pair of them in a day's walk. :)
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Re: Defeat on century bid – towel thrown in at Loch Etchachan

Postby davgil » Sun Feb 13, 2011 11:38 pm

What a great report Graeme....fascinating!

I don't know anything about these Munros but curiosity now drives me to investigate
and find out exactly where you were :D

Sorry you missed your objective but I'm sure everyone will appreciate the work that
you put into this!!

Thanks,

David
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Re: Defeat on century bid – towel thrown in at Loch Etchachan

Postby rockhopper » Sun Feb 13, 2011 11:51 pm

That's a hell of a read graeme and absolutely the right decision. Despite the conditions, you still managed to get some great pictures. These two are on my list for our summer holiday at Coylumbridge. :D

Graeme Dewar wrote:another stop at the Braemar chippie for dinner
Given the amount of business he's getting from you, you should be on a commission :lol:

Graeme Dewar wrote:but I was shattered and knew that the ascent involved would be liable to kill me. Either that or it would take me so long that I’d be late back home and my wife would kill me!
Not much of a choice there then....the hills can wait :wink:

Graeme Dewar wrote:deciding to get the tent de-iced as much as possible
I've now got my first tent but will need to get a lot fitter to be able to carry all the extra load ! It'll be May at least before I use it though as I have a 2 season bag which only goes down to comfort 3C rating (that's my excuse anyway).
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Re: Defeat on century bid – towel thrown in at Loch Etchachan

Postby ChrisW » Sun Feb 13, 2011 11:59 pm

Great post - really enjoyed it. Sorry you didn't complete your intended route but by the description I would say you made the right choice. You got home safe, with some good pics and a tale for us guys on the forum, I would say it was still a very successful day :D
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Re: Defeat on century bid – towel thrown in at Loch Etchachan

Postby andyfitz » Mon Feb 14, 2011 12:12 am

Valiant effort making for a great read. Like the idea of being past point of exhaustion that far into the gorms and getting the camera out for a few photos. I may have been tempted just to lie down and cry a bit.
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Re: Defeat on century bid – towel thrown in at Loch Etchachan

Postby Mama Bean » Mon Feb 14, 2011 12:36 am

Might have had to sack it off, but makes for much more interesting stories and gorgeous snaps than your average ticking a couple off day!
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Re: Defeat on century bid – towel thrown in at Loch Etchachan

Postby kinley » Mon Feb 14, 2011 6:58 am

Could feel the leg sapping exhaustion there. :shock:

Still - when you're motoring over this terrain at 4kph with minimal effort it'll seem all the sweeter :lol:

I've only just got up, but after reading that I may go back to bed :lol:
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Re: Defeat on century bid – towel thrown in at Loch Etchachan

Postby Merry-walker » Mon Feb 14, 2011 10:04 am

Ahh, the week of dreaded work sapps the energies of the humble walker - know that feeling...

Glad you and Lucy got back safely

Beautiful pictures and report :)
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