Thursday 20 April 2017
There's nothing like walking and wild camping to appreciate the countryside. I love it. It can often be hard - physically and mentally - but it's so rewarding when it all comes together successfully.
I'd only previously spent an afternoon around the Cairngorms, but friends visiting had inspired a proper trip. When I saw the weather was looking good for the next few days I wanted to do a big trip right into the heart of the national park. Some of the mountains here are remote enough that I wouldn't consider walking them in a day, so taking a tent and supplies made it possible to visit places relatively few people get to. Overall, our route was 43km, with 2900m of ascent over the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th highest mountains in the UK (view on OS Maps). We split it over four days and three nights, but the first and last day were both rather shorter and easier. We could have walked the distance in three days, but we wouldn't have found such suitable camp spots at the end of each day.
17th April - a short walk to get us in position for the ridge tomorrow
We parked at the lower (long stay) car park at Cairngorm ski station. There were warning signs that the path I wanted to take towards Sugar Bowl car park was closed due to a landslip, so we went down the road instead. Then there's an excellent path, before and after the boulder hopping through Chalamain Gap. We briefly looked at the boggy land near Lochan Odhar to camp, but dropped back down the hill to a small grassy patch we'd already passed to the west of the Lairig Ghru stream. It's right next to the path, but seems by far the best camping spot around - it's only a couple of minutes down the steep slope to get water. At his point there was a blizzard and I very quickly put the tent up to shelter. Fortunately after a bit we had some sunshine to cook dinner, albeit with a bitter wind.
18th April - Braeriach and Cairn Toul ridge
It was a cold night, -2°C inside the tent when we woke up. We've got warm sleeping bags though, so had slept well and were excited for the day ahead as the weather looked special. We set off around 8am and quickly warmed up climbing. Soon we were in the snow, often hopping over boulders - if there was a path it was buried. As we climbed higher, the snow started to get icy so we put on microspikes which helped with grip. We soon got great views over the ridge we would spend most of the day walking. It's a fantastic walk, so high above the surroundings, but never involving scrambling. By 4:30pm we'd reached Corrour bothy, where we had a good chat with some friendly guys. We'd hardly seen anybody else all day. As we had a tent and the weather was good, we camped nearby.
19th April - Ben Macdui and Loch Avon
Overnight, the cloud had dropped and we considered aborting the planned route and walking back along Lairig Ghru. The forecast I'd seen yesterday was much better than this! As there was very little wind, we decided to keep on going and were delighted as the clouds started to lift higher and higher. We first took the good path back toward the Linn of Dee car park, before heading up next to Luibeg Burn, then up Sron Riach. I enjoyed the granite here, which was very reminiscent of the tors on Dartmoor. Slowly picking our way through snow and boulders and plenty of false summits, we made Ben Macdui for lunchtime, with a fine panorama of the ridge we'd walked yesterday and beyond to Ben Nevis and so many other mountains.
After lunch, we descended over thawing snowfields to Loch Etchachan, then down to the delightful Loch Avon. My friends had visited a few days previously and inspired me to have a look - it's one of the most magical places I've ever been. There is such contrast: in one direction, the peaceful loch (at least during our visit), yet in the other direction there is the dramatic mountain amphitheatre dominated by Shelter Stone Crag. A perfect place to end the day.
20th April - over Cairn Gorm and back to civilisation
We awoke to some broken sunshine, but a fair breeze. From the forecast I'd checked yesterday, I was expecting it to get worse, so we started early. The climb out from Loch Avon up Allt Coire Raibeirt demanded a few careful steps with big bags, but soon enough we were up on the ridge overlooking Aviemore. I had considered dropping down here, but since the clouds were above us, we took the short detour up to Cairn Gorm, then stopped off for mid morning cake at Ptarmigan Station. I was surprised how quiet it was around, until I noticed that if you take the train up, you are not allowed out of the station. Then it was just the easy path down to the ski centre, back down to civilisation for a shower and a big meal. There really is nothing like a few days in the hills to make you really appreciate all we have in life.
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