walkhighlands

4 days and 3 nights Cairngorms epic

Munros: Beinn a' Bhùird, Beinn a' Chaorainn (Cairngorms), Beinn Bhreac, Beinn Mheadhoin, Ben Avon, Ben Macdui, Bynack More, Cairn Gorm, Càrn a' Mhàim, Derry Cairngorm, The Devil's Point

Date walked: 26/05/2022

Time taken: 80 hours

Distance: 90km

Ascent: 5383m

On my only other trip to the Cairngorms in Oct 21 as part of a large guided group, the intention was to do the “Cairngorm 4000ers” over two days. But having climbed, Braeriach, Sgor an Lochain Uaine and Cairn Toul on Day One, the consensus of the group the next morning was to head straight back to the Sugarbowl car park along Lairig Ghru, due to a combination of being too wet / tired / hungry.
This disappointment led to me planning to finish the job, but every time I looked at the books and maps, the more I thought “If I’m going back up there there’s no point in just going for one or two days on Ben Macdui and Cairngorm, it needs to be more worthwhile”. I should mention here that I live in Hampshire, so not local. Anyway, this marvellous four-day wilderness walk, starting in the East and taking in all eleven Munro’s in the area that aren’t on the Braeriach range, was born.


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Originally I planned to go solo, but I ended up asking Simon, an enthusiastic friend, who was also on that trip in October. I was by no means certain he knew what he was letting himself in for, or that he would cope. He has trouble grasping the fact that a decent path in Scotland can either lead you to a boulder field (a la Chalamain Gap) or a bog and leave you to battle your own way across! :lol: The thing was I had every Tom, Dick and Harry I told of my plan saying “eew, you shouldn’t do that on your own should you?” :roll: Even if none of them are experienced in this type of thing, I bowed to popular demand and asked a friend. Simon’s only other experience in Scotland apart from Braeriach etc was the tourist path up Ben Nevis, then Snowdon, Scafell Pike and the Dales 3 Peaks challenge. He’s also done the trek to summit Kilimanjaro and harbours ambitions to do more of the 7 summits (the continental summits). What’s more he runs marathons for fun. So, I was happy he was fit enough, even though he’s ten years older than me at 59.
For what it’s worth, my experience in a nutshell; it’s taken me from the age of 18 to 49 to do 76 Munros’s. Plus most of Snowdonia and The Lakes obvs.
The preparations for the walk were dominated by keeping the weight down, the biggest problem being carrying four days of food. I’d only done 2 days/1 night previously, apart from being on Exercise as an Army Reservist, but even then, you only have to carry 24 hours rations at a time. So despite lots of dehydrated food, and some new light weight kit, (e.g. 600g roll matt :D ) my bag was 18.5kg on departure. We each had a tent, mine is too small for 2 men plus bags, and as I was originally going solo, I wanted to carry what I would have had to on my own so I knew I could do similar again.
This sort of trip for me is a bit of a one off, living down South, with weekend time at home at a premium, once the sleeper train was booked, I can’t be cancelling because of something silly like…. weather! :lol: So as the end of May date gets closer, the forecasts become more and more anticipated….and we get….: 60mph gusts, wind chills between -7 and -12 degrees depending which Mountain forecast you look at, plus possible sleet or snow. Bugger. :cry:

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The bridge at Carrbridge


Day 1

We got off the sleeper train at Carrbridge, then got a Taxi over to Tomintoul and up the Inchrory Estate Road as far as the Farm Delavorar. We started walking up the beautiful Strath Avon in glorious sunshine at about 08.40. It was tarmac all the way, easy going. After 2 hours we started climbing out of the Glen, and this warmth was about to become a distant memory. As soon as we got over the lump of Meall Gaineimh, the full force of the wind and it’s chill hit us, in the face, exposing a floor in my pre booked inflexible plan to start in the East. :shock: On the plus side, visibility was good and there was still sunshine between showers. Continuing on the path past East Meur Gorm Craig, we reached the top of Ben Avon at about 14.00. The wind was so strong that the scramble up the summit Tor was a risky business. (I hope we chose the tallest one! The wind meant we did not climb both Tors.)

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Strath Avon


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Looking back down Strath Avon as we start climbing


We pushed on across Ben Avon, down to The Sneck, through a spectacular rainbow which I sadly did not photograph (due to my phone being off most of the day to try make the battery last the 4 days), and on up to North Top of Beinn a’ Bhuird. Just before North Top we saw a man casually cycling along the plateau with his dog. We nodded to each other over the constant wind and I wondered where he would end up and if he would be walking the bike down the steep decline to The Sneck, if he was going that way? The only other people we saw all day was a group of five at The Sneck going the other way round, basing themselves at the Faindouran Lodge Bothy. Nice idea I thought as we headed on into oblivion! :lol: Or at least the uncertainty of where and how we would be spending the night.

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Looking down to The Sneck descending Ben Avon, Ben A’ Bhuird in the distance


Originally, I had planned to camp night 1 next to a small Lochan on the edge of the Moine Bhealaidh bog, close to the base of Beinn a’ Chaorainn to bomb straight up in the morning, and also well placed for an after-dinner stroll over the bog to Beinn Bhreac without the bags. But with the extreme wind forecast I had spent the last night at home poring over the map again and decided we should try to get to the Hutchison Memorial Hut, although it would add about 5km to the day and threw into doubt having the time to be able to summit Beinn a’ Chaorainn and Beinn Bhreac, even if it didn’t get dark until 10pm. Failing to hit all the Munro’s would class as a failure of the trips purpose of being able to bag the Munro’s in one hit as it were, but on the other hand making it to the hut would mean not having to worry about tents being destroyed and having no shelter in this brutal wind! :think:
As the afternoon panned out, decisions were made for us. It was obvious Simon did not have enough in the tank to get to the hut, even without the two Munro’s, so descending North Top towards Moine Bhealaidh, getting on for 6pm, finding a suitably sheltered place to pitch became a serious priority. Some nice peat banks looked quite good for giving shelter from the west, but we were still a bit short on distance, adding it to the next day, so we pushed on hoping another spot could be found, whist making a mental note and location on the map in case we had to back track. I was hoping the eastern slopes of Beinn a’ Chaorainn would have a shelf or two flat enough and that’s exactly what we found, so we set up camp at 910m. :shock: The wind was still blustery coming round the corner of the mountain, but well within the limits of our tents. We scoffed a dehydrated meal, before I set off across Moine Bhealaidh towards Beinn Bhreac at 19.30, while Simon sensibly decided he should rest. I had already noted earlier in the day that what I expected to be boggy ground was surprisingly dry, so when the dreaded Moine Bhealaidh turned out to be a walk in the park I knew the rainfall levels must have been well down. It was a pleasure to stomp the 8km return trip with no weight, in just under 2 hours, enjoying the views over to Derry Cairngorm and Beinn Mheadhoin, where we were heading tomorrow, with menacing looking clouds darkening the skies. I was in bed by 22.00, ear plugs in, so far so good. :D

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Night 1 Camp at 910m, Beinn Bhreac in the distance, across Moine Bhealaidh


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Evening clouds over Derry Cairngorm and Beinn Mheadhoin, from Beinn Bhreac. Beinn a’ Chaorainn on the right


Day 2

There was quite a lot of rain in the night, resulting in a deep puddle under the tents, so only having a damp foot end of the sleeping bag was a good result! :lol: Weather conditions were similar, still very windy, a bit cloudier, some fresh snow on Beinn Meadhoin. After porridge, the summit of Beinn a’ Chaorainn was easily reached in 25 minutes or so, then we headed down to the top of the pass of Lairig an Laoigh, a morning snack, then straight up the slopes next to the burn coming down off Stob Coire Etchachan and gain the main ridge of Beinn Mheadhoin. It was on this steep 300m ascent I knew for sure Simon was going to find this walk hard to complete, it was early in the day, but it looked like a struggle, head down, stopping often, and my thoughts turned to hours in the day and would I be able to do all the Munro's I'd planned? :think:
Thankfully there was not enough snow on Beinn Mheadhoin to cause a problem, but the wind chill was. Simon took at least 10 minutes getting another pair of gloves on, leaving me waiting with no shelter, my low point of the trip so far. But we kept plodding and got to the summit Tor at midday. It was no place to be pausing for long, the wind absolutely howling across the mountain. I quickly scrambled / crawled up and snapped a few photos peeping over the top, whilst Simon waited at the base and ate a snack, his early enthusiasm for scrambling up tors in gale force winds a distant memory from yesterday. Then it was back heading South along the ridge and descend to Loch Etchachan where we could stop for lunch behind a bolder.

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Looking across Lairig a’ Laoigh descending Beinn a’ Chaorainn. Derry Cairngorm in the cloud. The burn we climbed up alongside is in front of my face.


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Simon toiling up Beinn Meadhoine from Lairig an Laoigh, Beinn Bhreac centre


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Looking south along Beinn Meadhoin’s ridge from summit Tor, whilst struggling to keep hold of my phone from the wind! Derry Cairngorm left, Ben Macdui right in cloud


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Another view from the summit Tor of Beinn Meadhoin, showing all the Crags at the head of Loch Avon, the Loch not quite visible


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Loch Etchachan , descending Beinn Meadhoin


At least we were not head on to the wind anymore, our direction being generally south for the afternoon, as we plodded up the path that goes to Ben Macdui, before taking a left behind the peak of Creagan a’ Choire Etchachan, and gradually ascend Derry Cairngorm, picking our way across the boulders, which required a lot of concentration on balance as a gust could easily blow you off a boulder. We stopped briefly just beyond the summit to refold the map in a slightly sheltered position, a good example of the most basic task becoming a tricky task, successfully completed without losing the map. We now had glorious views southwards, with our route down the ridge to Carn Crom in the foreground, although we forked right before Carn Crom to descend to Luibeg Burn and join the path alongside the Burn and a water refill stop at Luibeg Bridge.

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Looking south from Derry Cairngorm


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Carn a’ Mhaim from Derry Cairngorm, we descended down the ridge left of foreground


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Water refill at Luibeg Bridge


My next planning issue was regarding the “there and back” nature of my route to climb Carn a’ Mhalm and The Devils Point (much more fun to call it The Penis of the Devil as intended!) Simon was going ok, quite slow but steady, but now that I’d fully established that his appetite for ascending mountains for the sake of it was not as strong as mine, I knew there was no way he would want to double back to Carn a’ Mhalm whist toiling up Ben Macdui the next morning, nor an after dinner walk up The Devils Point this evening once we’d set up camp at Corrour Bothy, as per the original plan. The solution was that Simon would continue round the Glen track for the 4km or so into Lairig Ghru and the bothy, whilst I would go up and over Carn a’ Mhalm along its south eastern shoulder, then down the Ceann Crionn Carn a’ Mhaim ridge towards Ben Macdui before cutting back down into Lairig Ghru and south to the bothy. It was 6pm when we parted, I estimated it would take me two hours, but in the back of my mind I hoped I could take a short cut down the steep slopes from the ridge straight to the bothy.
The path up Carn a’ Mhalm was excellent, it was in the process of being improved, several one-ton bags of stones, presumably dropped by helicopter, lined the upper half of its route. After shedding layers at the bottom in hot sunshine, within twenty minutes I was getting a drenching, :roll: the only plus point being another stunning rainbow behind me that this time I did photograph. :D Approaching the summit my old friend the wind hit me again about the same time I also met two chaps coming down, (possibly a father and son) only the second group we’d seen all day. They told me their tent was already set up in a nice, sheltered spot close to the Luibeg Bridge, and one of them had just turned 79, fair play to him. :clap: They also said the slopes down to the Bothy were probably too steep for my short cut, which I agreed with, having seen them from the Bothy last October, but that didn’t stop me giving it a go! Not long after the summit and heading down the ridge, I saw what I thought was a path going down a reasonable looking gap in the cliffs. I paused for a minute or two whilst considering the gamble; this could save me an hour, but it could cost me an hour and a lot of energy if I had to abort the descent and come back up. Me being me I gambled. Poor decision. :oops: It wasn’t a path, just where occasional running water left some gravel amongst the grassy slopes. After descending about 50m, ripping holes in my lovely new merino wool glove liners scrambling down, I found the crags below impassable, with the easy grassy slopes only another 30m or so below leading straight to the bothy. As I turned to scramble back up the steep slopes, Simon’s recognisable red tent popped up next to the bothy, it was 6.50pm. I didn’t expect the Ceann Crionn Carn a’ Mhaim ridge to be so narrow and it would have been a highlight, if I hadn’t just hauled my ass and about 17kg of kit up an 80 degree slope, and getting properly fed up with the constant defining wind in my ears. :evil: I ended up going almost all the way to the bealach between Ben Macdui and Carn a’ Mhalm before I could cut back down to the Lairig Ghru track, then about 2km more to arrive at the bothy at 8.10pm properly knackered. Considerably more knackered and a good half hour later than if not for my failed gamble.
There were a lot of tents around Corrour Bothy, suggesting a full house, but it was a group of D of E’ers, they weren’t allowed in the bothy as it doesn’t count as wild camping. There was however a group of four young men staying inside, but thankfully they made room for me down the middle of the floor, I had a lot of wet kit and really couldn’t be doing with putting the tent up, in what was still a blustery wind at Glen level, once I’d had a hot meal. It was good chatting in the Bothy about where we’d been / going and past adventures, and it turned out two of the lads were on the same train as us coming up.

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Looking back towards Glen Lui whilst ascending Carn a’ Mhaim. Carn Crom is the hill, at the end of the Derry Cairngorm ridge


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The Devil’s point (left), Stob Coire an t-Saighdeir and almost Carn Toul (right) from Carn a’ Mhaim, Corrour Bothy visible bottom


Day 3

A pretty good sleep was had until the body clock / bladder timer awoke me at about 0600 to 0630 as expected, :lol: just right for a pre breakfast stomp up The Devils Point! With just my water bottle weighing me down, and with a protein bar to chew on, I was looking down on the bothy from the summit before 07.30, very happy that I had succeeded in bagging the three “there and back” Munro’s of this route, without having to drag Simon up them or have an awkward interruption to our main bulk of walking during the day. I was back down and having porridge with Simon in his tent at around 8, we got his tent away and were walking just before 9, a bit of rain in the air, the cloud was hanging low on Ben Macdui, but the wind had dropped considerably. It was a long tough slog up alongside the stream Coire Clach nan Tailiear, and the compass came out for the last kilometer to Ben Macdui’s summit, where we found a space in a shelter for lunch amongst the relatively heaving populous joining us in the clag. No need for the compass heading along the Plateau towards Cairngorm (although I still had it out) due to the cairns about 50m apart marking the way. I’ve read strong criticism of these in some books, but on a path with a lot of tourists / more casual walkers, surely anything that prevents anyone getting lost and into trouble must be a good idea? It was certainly good going for us, given some of the ground we had covered with no paths or tracks. We were in the clag until we saw the tremendous views down to Lock Morlich from the crags between Cairn Lochan and Stob Coire an t-Sneathda. Although I was a bit disappointed I forgot to take the detour to get the classic view over Loch Avon from Hell’s Lum Crag, but given the ground looked rough and boggy maybe that was for the best. This disappointment was soon compensated when I turned round on the way up Cairngorm to see the glorious view south-west all the way to Ben Nevis clearly visible 59 miles away, :shock: not quite as clearly visible with my phone’s camera though. It was pretty slow going up to Cairngorm for Simon but it didn’t matter, I was much happier now I had persuaded him when we set off from Corrour that he should lead, so I didn’t go on too far ahead before noticing he wasn’t with me, then having to wait in often exposed places getting cold.

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Carn a’ Mhalm from The Devil’s Point. If I had seen this view of Carn a’ Mhalm’s crags before, I would not have attempted the short cut!


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Cairngorm from Stob Coire an t- Sneachda


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Looking west on the final pull up Cairngorm. Ben Nevis visible in the distance…


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I’ve zoomed in on the same photo in case you don’t believe me! Ben Nevis dead centre, Creag Meagaidh right


Having got used to saying “Hello” a lot to all the people between Macdui and Cairngorm, we instantly lost them again when we continued East from the summit, to join the path down to The Saddle. There was a frustrating navigational hiccup on this descent, we somehow crossed the path without noticing it, and consequently were heading down the steep slopes to Garbh Allt, so had to blunder across the slope, traversing until we intercepted it again. Not that it turned out much better than our own route! :lol: Then the path from the saddle down to Loch Avon’s east end was a lot of boulders separated by mud and puddles, Simon was not impressed! :lol: But the sun was out, and we could see the little beach at the end of the Loch looking every bit as good a camping spot as I had read about. It was good to finish walking a bit early for the last night, we had the tents up by around 6pm, and I had a quick dip in the Loch, followed by a double dehydrated treat of mac cheese then salmon / broch pasta. :D :D

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Pano’ from the upper western slopes of Cairngorm, showing a lot of the route; From furthest; Ben Avon, Beinn a’ Bhuird, Beinn a’ Chaorainn, Beinn Mheadhoin, then on the right; Derry Cairngorm, Loch Etchachan and Ben Macdui slopes far right. Loch Avon Bottom


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The glorious beach camp at the end of Loch Avon, a real highlight


Day 4

It was a cold night, my sleeping bag’s “comfort” level of 0 degrees well and truly tested, I had every layer on I had (including Army issued thermal long johns), at least that gave me the satisfaction that I had worn everything I had packed! Fresh snow fall greeted us on unzipping the doors, good decision to have my wash in the Loch the evening before. We set off up Simon’s favourite path back to The Saddle, where we turned right up the slopes of A’ Choinneach, soon climbing back into the clag. To avoid about a 100m of climbing we traversed east then north around A’ Choinneach to the wide bealach between it and the ridge of Bynack More, our sole target for the final day. It was a straightforward climb up to the ridge, then along to the summit, where we immediately met a group of young woman who had come up from Glenmore Lodge. We exchanged photo shoots of each other’s groups, then continued along the narrow ridge for 15 minutes until we found a sheltered spot for lunch, the clag lifting conveniently so we could see the way down. From there it was a pleasant decent down the excellent path that crosses Strath Nethy then round into Glen More past the Green Loch. There were plenty of people now, on their way up and down, we stopped to chat briefly to a chap pushing his mountain bike up. He was heading to Braemar along Lairig ‘a Laoigh and Glen Lui, whilst doing the “Cairngorms Loop”, a circumnavigation route of the Cairngorms. Now there’s an idea…. :think:

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Walking back up to The Saddle alongside Loch Avon on the last morning


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Bynack More. The 11th and final Munro of the trip. Can you tell I’m in the Reserves?


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Almost down to Strath Nethy


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River Nethy


There had been no rain for the last few hours which had an enabled us and our bags to dry off nicely, so by the time we made it to the Visitor Centre at Glenmore about 3pm, it meant we didn’t have to worry about soaking all the seats in a taxi. We were dropped at the always busy Old Bridge Inn in Aviemore and enjoyed a very satisfying pint, followed by a hearty meal in the evening, before the sleeper train whisked us back South, ready for work Monday morning with very achy legs.
Simon had done well, slow but steady, never really any doubt he would make it. I said if I can still do something like this when I’m 59 I will be well pleased.:clap: We had completed a huge walk, at least 4000m ascent (we partial tracked on Strava) in arduous conditions a lot of the time, in the epic Cairngorm Mountains. Suitably satisfied with that achievement. :D

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Comments: 1


ridge blunderer


Activity: Munro compleatist
Pub: Kirkstile Inn, Loweswater
Mountain: Suilven
Place: Inverie
Gear: Army daysack
Member: None
Ideal day out: A good circuit on a high level ridge, with a little scarmble thrown in.

Munros: 87
Corbetts: 4
Grahams: 2
Wainwrights: 71
Hewitts: 48
Islands: 12



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Statistics

2022

Trips: 1
Distance: 90 km
Ascent: 5383m
Munros: 11


Joined: Jan 28, 2019
Last visited: Jul 03, 2022
Total posts: 5 | Search posts