Munros: Beinn a' Bhùird, Ben Avon
Corbetts: Càrn na Drochaide, Creag an Dail Bheag, Culardoch
Date walked: 17/07/2021
Time taken: 11.25 hours
After only having one free day over the past three weeks (and thus promptly using it to do nothing all day), I was just itching to go somewhere. With low clouds forecast for the W/NW areas, it appeared the Cairngorms were the place to be that weekend. Recalling a walk I had planned but never got to try, I packed my backpack and drove to Invercauld.
The walk began along a road. Absolutely clear, coupled with a sign for Invercauld. Still I felt nervous and consulted the map when I looked to my left, seeing the small hill nearby. 'This is not a 10-metre difference,' I thought, yet the hill was a tad too small to be Craig Leek. But I continued on regardless, still on the road to Invercauld, then Altdourie, and finally Inverchandlick - though after I crossed Allt an t-Slugain and entered the forest, I took the right path instead, straying from the named paths. Uphill and into the forest I went, hoping I'd recognise the bend where the track would turn left, and where I wanted to leave it. And because of the prominent S-bend just before, knowing where to go wasn't an issue.
By the bend, I saw a fence through the woods, making me think I'd have to cross it at some point, but I didn't have to worry. The fence started bending around, and to merely hug it, I didn't even have to stray from my line.
There was no path to follow through the forest, and the situation didn't change when I reached the heather and started to ascend Creag a' Chleirich. Given the number of paths I crossed during the ascent, I was hoping to find one running along the crest of the ridge that all of them were stemming from, but no such luck. However, by the time I reached the ridge, the heather had become low and quite lawn-like, so the absence of a path didn't really hurt.
Carn na Drochaide; the Cairn of the Bridge... I knew that. I knew what the name meant. So why, why, was I at this moment convinced I was about to climb the Cairn of the Camel?!
Translational nonsense aside, to bridge Creag a' Chleirich with Carn na Drochaide, I had to go all the way to the left, because the Clais nan Cat ravine began right away. From the bealach, I followed a path for a few minutes, but then left it as it was going too level, and went for some more pathless climbing. When the hill plateaued, at first I wasn't sure which of the small bumps was the true summit - but as is often the case, when I climbed one, I saw that the actual summit was quite some distance away.
The sight of the clouds drowning the Macdui group made me a little nervous - after all, I'd picked the Cairngorms because the clag shouldn't have reached all the way there - but at least given the way the wind was blowing, these particular clouds shouldn't bother me, and I didn't see any that looked like they might. Weather-wise, it should still be a very nice walk, I thought as I made my way to Carn na Criche.
Along the ridge, there was a path to follow. No such luck on the stretch between Carn na Criche and Quoich Water. Looking at the map now, I wonder if it would've been better to head for the bealach below Meall an t-Slugain and follow the path from there. But I headed directly for the ford where this path crosses Quoich Water. This was okay at first, but eventually - just like during the initial ascent - the heather grew taller. It was also interspersed with tussocks and boggy patches.
Reaching Quoich Water a little below the ford, I made my way upstream until I reached it, and the nice path on both sides. The ford, however... it didn't look very passable without walking poles (which I didn't have) or taking my shoes and socks off (which I could do, but I was lazy and wanted to avoid that). Remembering a promising-looking place I'd passed by a few minutes before, I returned to it and crossed over to the opposite bank before reaching the path I'd seen from above.
The path didn't show many signs of straying from the burn and heading up Beinn a' Bhuird, though. I checked the map, wanting to see how long the path should remain by the burn... only to see that it shouldn't, at all! Whatever this path was, it wasn't the one I had on the map, so I was somewhere I shouldn't have been! I left the path immediately, going for some more pathless heather bashing until I reached the one I'd been aiming for. Who knows, if I had crossed Quoich Water at the ford, perhaps the path would've forked right away and it would've been obvious which branch is the Beinn a' Bhuird one.
For a long while, this was a really pleasant path, not ascending too steeply despite the sheer amount of ascent needed on this stretch. Carn Fiaclach below was giving me a clue about how much I'd ascended from its 807 m, while above, I could pretty much see the 1177 m top to know how much was still left. The map, though, said the path was meant to disappear, and it was showing the signs of wanting to do just so... 'Please don't disappear, you're heading up a major Munro!' I thought, but eventually, it still did. To its credit, it had carried on for much longer than the map suggested, but the last bit until the S top still had to be pathless.
A path was regained in the little bealach between the S and N tops, and I started seeing some people again. I moved away from the path as a bigger group came running in the opposite direction - an activity I really didn't feel like doing on my way to the N top...
Beinn a' Bhuird is such a mass of gentle waves and lumps that the moment I saw a more prominent feature on one of them, I convinced myself that was the N top. Then, about halfway there, I came across a cairn and two guys snacking next to it and began thinking: 'Hold on, the path doesn't really continue further. And the ridge bends to the right. And would they really make a stop by this random little cairn a few minutes from the summit?' So I consulted the map, and worked out that the random little cairn was the N top, meaning the actual summit (though thinking back, the S top didn't even have a cairn to begin with), and what I'd taken for the summit was really Cnap a' Chleirich. But, I mean, I'd be going there next anyway, and reaching a place sooner than expected always makes for a nice surprise.
A path was spotted again on Cnap a' Chleirich. Another reason why Chleirich felt more summit-y than the N top, perhaps, although this particular path left a lot to be desired. In the steep descent towards The Sneck, it was unpleasantly loose and sandy, so in searching for the firmest spot to place my feet, the path itself often wasn't that useful. When a sandy path crosses a patch of scree, though, it's hard to say which one is better...
In short: not as much. Maybe it truly wasn't as steep, maybe going uphill instead of downhill made the difference, but reaching the plateau - and then crossing it to climb Ben Avon's main summit, Leabaidh an Daimh Bhuidhe - was no problem and only took me some 35 minutes.
Speaking of the main summit, it was meant to be pretty windy that day. I didn't feel it the whole day... except for this one place. Doing the short scrambly bit with the wind pushing me from the side... Couldn't it have found any other place?
Originally, I thought I'd walk along Ben Avon's ridge and drop down to the Gairn from Stuc Gharbh Mhor, but thinking I didn't really fancy doing that descent I reconsidered and headed directly for the path running alongside Allt an Eas Mhoir. I kind of hoped this path could continue all the way to the summit, but that wasn't to be; I found it ending sort of randomly in the glen, just as the map says. The terrain above it wasn't difficult, though, and once I found the path, it carried me down to the Gairn. (Well, eventually; I lost the path somewhere just below 600 m, but simply heading down to the river through the heather, I came across the path running along Glen Gairn anyway.)
The last heathery bit left me quite grumpy and I started entertaining the idea of giving up on the last two hills and just heading straight for the car park - it would've already been a decent enough walk anyway - but when I looked at the map and saw how far the Glen Gairn path would deposit me, i.e. above the Quoich Water ford, the idea was binned immediately. (And the route planner says that crossing Creag an Dail Bheag and taking the track along Glas Allt Beag is one hour faster than sticking to paths.) Creag an Dail Bheag it was, then!
On that note, though, I planned to take the Glen Gairn path for a little bit, until the river got reasonably small, and cross and ascend then. But looking at the slopes ahead of me, the Corbett looked a lot friendlier where I stood than further to the right. So I made my way to the Gairn to see how crossable it currently was. And the answer wasn't immediately obvious, but I found a meander where I'd jump from the high ground, the river was reasonably deep (and thus narrower) underneath, and I'd land on a beach of sedimented gravel. So I went for it and made it to the other side dry. I'm not sure how possible it would be to cross the Gairn in the other direction, though.
So, up some pathless heather. Honestly, I expected this to be awful, but it felt like a refreshing change of pace - at least, for some reason, until the slope got less steep. From then on, it really was a struggle to reach the summit...
The summit of Creag an Dail Bheag, of course. This sounds like an obvious thing I shouldn't need to specify, but I consulted the map once again to judge how much of a detour Culardoch would be, compared to just descending by Glas Allt Beag. 'Not too much, and it would be a shame to omit it,' I decided once I rested and fueled up a little. Yet I couldn't help but feel like there was too much mass between me and Culardoch...
...because for some reason, I read the map thinking I was not on Creag an Dail Bheag but on Carn Liath - the very 'mysterious' mass in front of Culardoch. Good thing I decided to include Culardoch, for I would've been looking for Glas Allt Beag at the wrong place!
There was a path leading down to the obvious track, which I followed until a sharp left bend, at which point a rougher track continued forward. Two paths branched off of this track quite early on, but I stayed on it. The track then bent to the right to head directly uphill and met a path a little below the summit. Was it one of the two I'd seen below? Quite likely, but I couldn't be sure. I was happy to have made it to the last hill of the day anyway.
From Culardoch and its trig, it was a short heathery descent - the last pathless section of the walk - down to the track, which I then followed back to the start. Not the shortest of stretches, but generally downhill and on a good surface, so I could maintain a good pace until I reached the car.
That being said, I still managed to make a wrong turn as I didn't think the junction corresponded to how it was depicted on the map, and when I realised it really was the junction, I couldn't be bothered going back, so I took the next one. Still, all that cost me were some 200 extra metres.
I used to have this walk in my head as something to fit between the first and last Deeside buses (that I could manage to catch in Aberdeen). In that case, I would've descended from Culardoch to Crathie, which would've saved me 30 minutes. But... I didn't think I was walking particularly slowly now, nor did I take long breaks. If I pushed myself (and finished in Crathie), perhaps I might've done the walk in 10 hours. The buses would've needed me to finish in 8h30. Good thing this idea never came to fruition before, as it just wouldn't have been possible!
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- Distance: 119.2 km
- Ascent: 9012m
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- Joined: Jul 08, 2019
- Last visited: Oct 22, 2021
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