Bike n Hike in search of the Devil's..err...'Spike'

Route: Carn a'Mhaim from the Linn of Dee

Munros: Carn a'Mhaim

Date walked: 14/05/2018

Time taken: 4.5 hours

Distance: 22.5km

Ascent: 648m

Monday the 14th of May….a whole hundred and thirty-four days into 2018 and I still hadn’t added to my Munro tally ! Don’t get me wrong I had managed a few repeats and the odd Corbett but so far 2018 had never really gotten out of first gear. However having missed out on the excellent weather over the weekend I wasn’t about to let another blue sky day pass by. There was the small matter of having started the first of 8 night shifts the night before, however I’d done Munros with no sleep before and Carn a’Mhaim in the Cairngorms was about to become the next to be climbed in the style of the walking dead ! No sooner than my relief had taken of his jacket I was in the car heading up through the back roads of Angus to meet the A93 towards Braemar and ultimately the Linn of Dee car park. I arrived just after 8 to find a good number cars already dotted around the huge car park, with the weather forecast as good as it was, I fully expected that number to have grown significantly by the time I had returned from today’s outing. On the advice of a mate the plan was for this to be my first bike and hike, so after paying the £3 for parking, I was soon dragging my partially disassembled mountain bike from the boot. My days of riding a bike regularly had ended about 10 years ago and, so it seemed, had my ability to put a bike back together in the 30 seconds it would take a 6 year old ! After some faffing and the odd expletive, my chariot was finally good to go. No sleep for 48 hours, and a good few miles in ahead of me on a bike that had simply decorated the wall of my garage for the best part of 5 years, what could possibly go wrong ?

The garage decoration, owned it for about 5 years, has about 3 miles on the clock !

It was about 08:15 as I gingerly headed North out the Car park towards Glen Lui. The initial path through the trees was very muddy and as I slipped and slithered my way towards the open glen I was already questioning the wisdom of this biking malarkey. These doubts intensified when after exiting the forest I reached the start of the excellent track to Derry lodge, and sat down on the saddle for the first time. Bloody hell, was it uncomfortable, and immediately raised the question in my mind of exactly when Gillette had started to manufacture bike seats ! I had expected the old ‘rear end’ to have softened somewhat over the years and in an attempt to ease the damage to my best feature I had thrown an old pair of padded cycling shorts into the rucksack at the last minute. The only problem was in my haste to get going I had forgotten to put the bloody things on. It was already with some relief that I jumped off the bike and set about retrieving the shorts from my pack. I couldn’t be bothered with the hassle of taking off all the gear, so decided I would just throw them on over the top of my trousers in true superhero fashion. I must’ve looked like a complete **** and about as far from heroic as you could probably get. As I climbed back on the bike I was desperately hoping the extra padding would prevent me from prematurely revealing my recently acquired superhero power…..the ability to split in two ! Not a nice thought but it would be worth it for a cameo in the next comic book blockbuster, it would certainly be a ’Marvel’ to witness the air ambulance crew treat my particular ‘injury’…..’Avengers Assemble’, just took on a whole new sub plot !

The boardwalk not long after exiting the car park

Given it was almost unbearable to sit down, I had spent most of the cycle in a high..ish gear and pedalling standing up. Although my thighs were burning somewhat as I reached Derry lodge, I had made it there in a pretty rapid fashion. Tender bottom aside, the cycle along by the river, under blue skies and a warming sun had been pretty stunning and befitting of a more gentile journey. Although the lodge is all boarded up and a little sorry looking now, it must’ve been an impressive sight in its heyday, set among the beautiful old pine trees that are common around the glens in this glorious part of the country. Not for the first time it crossed my mind that that settings such as these would not look out of place in any of the Jurassic Park movies. Although my thinking may have been heavily influenced by the acceptance that the remainder of today’s walk would see me accompanied by the biggest ‘Megasaur-ass’ you could care to imagine !

Derry Lodge

I had been advised to persevere with the bike beyond the lodge, which involved firstly crossing a very narrow bridge (the handlebars had only an inch or so clearance on either side) then navigating my way through a minefield of deep puddles and extremely boggy patches for a couple of hundred metres. I’m sure there must have been a reasonably more direct route than the one I took to meet up with the good track on the other side, having reviewed the track recorded on my Viewranger app it looked uncannily like Wayne Rooney’s autograph, although that might be me being a tad harsh on any self-respecting squiggle ! Once back on the track I had about another 3km to reach the Luibeg burn fording point. The path was much narrower and considerably rockier, but the real obstacles were the drainage channels cut across the path, although I soon developed a techniques of putting one foot down to essentially ‘hop’ the bike over and carry on in a fairly seamless manner. As I neared another forested section I finally got my first good look at Carn a’Mhaim, today’s target hill being bathed in glorious sunshine beyond some ancient looking old pine trees. Expectations were now high for some wonderful vistas from the much vaunted summit viewpoint

The narrow bridge after the lodge, no Harley's are crossing that bad boy !

The first glimpse of Carn a'Mhaim

My mate had told me to ditch the bike in the pines just before the point at which you can potentially ford the burn, I wasn’t sure exactly how soon I should stop after reaching the trees around the burn, I shouldn’t have concerned myself as mother nature decided to dictate where I should get off. I came rattling around a corner at a fair old rate of knots on a pretty decent section of path only to hit a section of very deep and loose gravel. The end result was the cycling equivalent of an emergency stop, although no part of it was instigated by me it was bloody effective nonetheless. As the wheels ground to a fairly immediate halt I suddenly found myself frenetically attempting…..and failing…. to avert the comedy fall. Fortunately there was no one around to observe my ‘dismount’ and the heather at the side of the track had done a fantastic job of cushioning my fall. As I lay there I couldn’t help thinking, firstly, why don’t they make bike seats out of heather ! and secondly, I chuckled away to myself as I recalled the tale of an old colleague of mine who had decided to take up road cycling and had went for it in a big way, having bought every bit of equipment there was to buy and without much in the way of prior ‘training’, he decided to join a colleague, and seasoned cyclist, on a 100 mile jaunt around Perthshire’s countryside. Not being the kind to admit any sort of weakness and despite clearly struggling with the exertion he refused the numerous offers to cut short the trip. In all fairness he did complete the distance but upon entering Perth they found themselves side by side in front of an increasing procession of disgruntled motorists. As they reached the city centre the convoy was halted by a red traffic light. This was the first time that had actually stopped cycling in some hours and such was the level of exhaustion that had suddenly come over the ‘newbie’ he simply did not have the energy required to remove his feet from the pedal’s cleats. Unsurprisingly he was unable to maintain his balance and he soon began listing to one side, he later described the experience as happening in some kind of super slow motion, he inevitably reached the tipping point and hit the deck to the utter bemusement of his companion. Priceless. Sadly it appears that no dash cam footage exists of the incident, although the pain of the broken wrist he suffered will no doubt serve as all the ‘reminder’ he’ll ever need !

I quickly stashed the bike in the trees and made my way to the burn, there was a fair amount of water cascading down through the larger boulders but a ford looked possible. It was certainly the preferable option as the bridge is another ½ km up stream, with the ½ km return on the far side being reputed as an extremely wet and boggy section of path until you re-join the main path above the ford. I managed to reach the middle of the burn easily but quickly found myself a bit stuck, the next ‘step’ was a lot further away that it had looked from the safety of the bank as I had planned my route across. I couldn’t go back either as the last step had been down from a pretty big boulder and there was no way I could step back up onto it. As I stood in the middle of the burn contemplating my next move a very smiley, young foreign chap sauntered up the path, shouting out a hearty “good morning” in a thick Eastern European accent as he passed. At least I think it was ‘good morning’, it could just as easily have been “Best of luck now, ye fanny’ in Polish ! In the end I resigned myself to getting wet feet and decided to attempt the ‘leap’ to the next boulder. Using my walking poles as some sort of stabilisers, come crutches, I was able to my utter surprise to quickly step on and immediately off the target boulder and on to the next, where after some frenzied flailing of arms I found myself securely located on another large rock and now over the worst of the crossing. Safely over, the absence of the good path on the other side meant that I had crossed somewhat ‘prematurely’…..at least I hadn’t come in my shorts so to speak, having had the good fashion sense to ditch them in the trees with the bike. Making my way up the steep banking beyond the burn I was soon able to see the start of the excellent hill path just a few metres further upstream.

Crossing the burn looks ridiculously easy....don't be fooled !

The start of the excellent path which heads straight up the nose of the hill

The brilliantly maintained path steepens quite quickly and in sections turns into a staircase made up of large boulders. The absence of any cooling wind and the increasing heat from the rising sun made this section pretty hard going. However, I was gaining height quickly and the views behind me down the length of the glen were ample recompense for my exertions. It wasn’t long before the worst of the climb was over and I was soon walking through a short lived boulder field before exiting onto the gentle and stony slopes that led up the South ridge towards the summit. As I began to cross a shallow coll prior to the final push to the summit I was treated to my first glimpse of ‘Bod an Deamhain’, Gaelic for the ‘The Devil’s Penis’ ! or as we have come to know it The Devil’s ‘Point’. Not since 1st year when Tommy Smith (henceforth know as Tommy Tripod) decided to let it all hang out in the changing rooms after a cross-country event had I expended so much energy to be unashamedly ‘greeted’ with the sight of another man’s tadger. At least this time I had no compulsion to avert my gaze as quickly as humanly possible, nor did I get the impression that the view now before me would not result in the same inferiority complex I’ve carried for the last 30 years !! Apparently the Devil’s Point euphemism arose as a result of Queen Victoria wandering in the glen one day where she asked her Gillie what the English translation was of the fine mountain before her. Mortified, the gillie apparently chose not to cause any further embarrassment by tweaking the translation slightly to avoid mentioning the Devil’s….err…..unmentionables. Can you imagine if she’d been given the literal translation, “Orff with his head”, would have taken on a whole new meaning !

Stunning views back down the length of the glen

The gentle slope up to the boulder field and summit beyond. Good luck pitching a tent anywhere around here !!

First sight of Bod an Deamhain....or the in the vernacular, the De'ils Tadger !

Exactly an hour after fording the burn I took the final few steps to the summit cairn. Carn a’Mhaim is not an insignificant mountain at a height of 1013m but the overwhelming feeling was of being surrounded by giants, big mountainous freaks of nature (although not quite as freakish as young Tommy !) were surrounding me on three sides. Carn Toul, Sgor an Lochan Uaine, Ben Macdui & Derry Cairngorm are all well seen from the summit. Despite these the eye is continually drawn to the Beelzebub's Boaby, as disconcerting as it was there was no doubt it was an impressive view, no doubt made all the more imposing by the plunging slopes of the deep trench of the river Dee far below. The weather was still great, there was a bit more cloud being blown around high above the tops which was briefly blocking out the sun, but even at this height in such a light breeze it would have been thoroughly pleasant to sit on the summit and take in the views, had I taken the option to walk in, as it was it the earlier cycle necessitated that it was a thoroughly pleasant ‘stand’ on the summit to take in the views. I enjoyed a bite to eat as I wandered about on the summit plateau, briefly considering whether to take on the connecting ridge over to the mighty massif of Ben MacDui. The idea was only fleeting, as common sense took hold I had to admit that it was probably a tad too ambitious and would significantly impact on the afternoon ‘nap’ I was eagerly anticipating before heading back out to work.

Cairn a'Mhaim summit cairn. DP and Cairn Toul to the right

Looking North to the mighty Ben Macdui

Summit Pano. Left to right, Beinn Bhrotain, The Devil's Point, Carn Toul and the craggy slopes of Sgor an Lochain Uaine

Carn a'Mhaim summit 360 & Devil's Point timelapse

Surprisingly I felt remarkably awake, I grudgingly acknowledged that this would only be a temporary state of mind and the lack of sleep would have to hit me eventually. With this in mind, after about half an hour of enjoying one of the best viewpoints the Cairngorms has to offer, I reluctantly began my descent. The excellent underfoot conditions meant that in next to no time I was again approaching the burn and the very real prospect of an early bath. To be honest it was that hot in the midday sun that it probably wouldn’t have been that unwelcome. However, I made it across without incident, which more than likely had everything to do with the fact I was crossing at the correct place this time. It was then that I was suddenly unnerved by the strangest mixture of emotions as the prospect of getting back on the bike became an unavoidable reality. On one hand I was pretty excited and readily anticipating the joy of a mostly effortless freewheel back to the car park, on the other hand there was a real feeling of dread at the thought of the inevitable pain in my already heavily ‘tenderised’ rear end. It was a strange sensation that my warped mind could only conceive being precisely recreated by your girlfriend seductively suggesting that ‘we’ try anal sex for the first time, only for her to turn around and reveal, strapped to her body, a mightily impressive Devil’s Point of her own !! What can I say ? I know, I need help. At this point in time however, all the help I needed could be provided in the form of great big bloody cushion. I will spare you the graphic details (bit late I know !) but it is suffice to say the return journey was completed fairly rapidly and was only really interspersed with a few winces and cries of “ooohh ya” before I rolled into the car park exactly 4 and a half hours after leaving. 95% of me had had a fantastic day bagging Munro number 90 and I’m pretty sure in a day or two that the other 2 x 2.5%’s will forgive me. All that remained was to head back down the road to Perth and straight to bed where there was a high likelihood of ‘side sleeping’ being the order of the day !

The river is much nicer to look at than to cross. You'd have no chance if the water was just a little higher

Last look at Carn a'Mhaim

A wee 'Arty' edit !

A wee 'Arty' edit, take 2

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