Cairngorms June 2011

Arriving into Aviemore relatively late in the day, my sister & I take a taxi up to Glenmore lodge, and from there walk up to the bothy at Ryvoan. We share the bothy with Jan, a young chap from Germany who is walking some of Scotlands long distance routes. Ryvoan itself is fairly tidy, tho the amount of ‘diggings’ and paper upstream of the bothy is pretty horrifying. We resolve not to drink any water from that stream!

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Up early in the morning, we retrace our steps back to where the track forks and take that leading west, finding (hopefully unpolluted) water a short distance along. Crossing the stream, we begin climbing up a long spur leading to Bynack More on a good path. After the 818 spot height the way steepens, easing only in the last 150m. We summit shortly before 11am, to patchy cloud & sunshine.

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From the summit of Bynack More (1090m) we head first south, past the ‘Barns of Bynack’, tors protruding from the hillside, and then southwest to A’Choinneach (1017m). Continuing southwest we drop down the ridge, joining the path that comes through the deep cleft between Cairngorm and Bynack More and following it in the direction of Loch Avon. The path along Loch Avon is heavy going, muddy, and with a lot of ups and downs, so it is almost a relief to reach the steep ascent past the shelter stone and up to Loch Etchachan. We make camp on the northeast shore of Loch Etchachan, and then set off for an evening stroll up Beinn Mheadhoin.

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It is obvious we have had the best weather of the day, the cloud is coming in and it begins to drizzle. We reach the 1163 spot height at the southwest end of the ridge and navigate on compass bearing to the summit of Beinn Mheadhoin (1182m) with its distinctive tors. Loitering here for quite some time we hope the cloud will lift and reveal to us the view, but despite several teasers it never quite does!

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Returning to camp we cook up some supper and get to bed. I am trying out my lightweight tarp shelter (& using my bivi bag!) – getting settled proves to be quite the contortionists art, but once I am in I am quite snug. It rains a fair bit in the night & the tarp does indeed keep the rain off. I’m awoken at about 5 am by an inquisitive reindeer snorting at me, which is rather amusing.

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Grey but not actually raining in the morning. We descend to the Hutchinson hut & have a look inside, before following the path a little further down the valley. Leaving the path shortly after it crosses to the east side of the stream, we pick our way up the steep valley side, heading for Beinn a’ Chaorainn. Gaining the plateau almost 2 km from the summit, we proceed to do some bog hopping! Summitting at last (1082m) it is still grey, but not raining. I am modelling my fabulous stripy thermals with shorts for maximum embarrassing-older-sister potential, so of course we see no-one all day!

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From Beinn a’ Chaorainn to Beinn a’ Chaorainn Bheag (1017m), and then a whole load more bog hopping brings us to Beinn Bhreac, where we visit both summits, west (927m) followed by east (931m), just to be sure. Descending from Beinn Bhreac brings us through heather and bog into very wet-underfoot forest, and finally out onto a well maintained track through the forestry in Glen Derry. I’d kind of forgotten that we started our ascent from a relatively high point and that the valley had been dropping away as we headed south, so the length of our descent took me by surprise. We followed the track to Derry Lodge and then headed into Glen Laoigh Bheag, looking for a spot to camp. Sister got waaaay ahead of me at this point, with my poor sore feet. I caught her at the woods near Luibeg Bridge, and we found a spot to pitch camp.

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On the third day, it rained! We got up, it was drizzling on & off, we thought, ‘oh it might clear’ so we headed off, up Luibeg burn, and into the cloud on Sron Riach. Realising that the cloud was thickening rather than thinning, we contour below Ben MacDui on a bearing, (me double checking our whereabouts with the GPS what felt like every 5 mins) eventually joining the path descending Ben MacDui’s southwest ridge. From here we follow the ridge to Carn a’ Mhaim (1037m). Narrowish ridges are good in cloud I guess, its easy not to get lost when you can only go one way!

Arriving back in camp I grab my things and head round to Corrour bothy, because I want to be indoors in the dry! We join a group of 5 also sheltering from the lousy weather, so its a very cosy night. I’m afraid I’m that annoying snoring person, as I’m going down with a cold that makes it hard to breathe. In the morning the weather is uninspiring, so we chill out in the bothy and procrastinate. Heading up into a cloud with a cold does not appeal! Late afternoon we are joined by a group with a BBQ and a guitar and a lot of whiskey who announce that they intend to PARRRRRTAY! Not our scene, so we pack up. We head out via the Lairig Ghru, and although I was kind of annoyed as I had settled into the mindset of being lazy and staying another night at Corrour, then maybe climbing another Munro the next day, I’m glad to have experienced the Lairig Ghru, as it is an iconic walk (and now I don’t have to do it again!). Lairig Ghru is full of boulders and awkwardness, very gloomy especially in cloud & drizzle, tho the views as you descend from moorland into the trees at the end are quite quite stunning. By the end of the Lairig Ghru I was pretty impressed that whiskey girl had walked it in snowboard boots!

So that night we pitch camp in the forest back on the Rothiemurchus side of the Cairngorms. The next day we start in the direction of Braeriach but this doesn’t work out, so its time to head for home! A force march into Aviemore sees me on a train that will get me all the way back to Sheffield the same day – but only just, & I have to walk across town in both Glasgow & Warrington, which is a pest!

This trip left me convinced that I am becoming ‘too old’ or ‘too soft’ for this bivvying malarkey. It was interesting to try out the tarp shelter and it was a lot lighter than lugging the tent around, but, it was kind of a pain to get in and out of bed!

I was left with pretty mixed feelings on bothies too. It is nice to have somewhere to head for to get out of bad weather, on the other hand, the state of these two demonstrate exactly how the more popular bothies can suffer from overuse (water pollution at Ryvoan, lots of rubbish left at Corrour). I felt a lot less inclined to rely on bothies when planning future trips after this one… because you never know when someone is going to rock up and announce that you wont be getting any sleep!

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