Monday, 23 September 2013

Ben Macdui

Derry Lodge autumn carpets
One of the real advantages of retirement is the chance to select the days that you walk. The longer term forecasts are not always right but they greatly increase the probability of avoiding those wind assisted miserable days that were such a familiar occurrence on the weekends when walks had to fit in with time off and family life. An email from John on Wednesday evening had suggested two days in the northern Cairngorms walking into Ben Macdui and then camping by the Fords of Avon before collecting the remote corbett of Creag Mhor and coming back over Beinna' Chaorrain and Beinn Bhreac.

I unhesitantly said yes before checking the forecast. Our optimism was rewarded with a mainly clear and dry day on the four munros from Carn a' Mhaim to Ben Macdhui, Derry Cairngorm and Beinn Mheadhoin. Even the gale force winds forecast for the summits were less than expected. Then a dry night with a full moon and a perfect day for Creag Mhor and the two munros. I have split the walk into two days, the second of which was the best day ever in the Cairngorms.

Crossing the Lui

Deeside from Carn a' Mhaim

The Devil's Point from Carn a' Mhaim

Braeriach and the Lairig Ghru from Carn a' Mhaim

Corrour Bothy in the Lairig Ghru

Bein MacDhui from Carn a' Mhaim summit

Ben Macdui from Carn a'Mhaim ridge

Final steps - summit of Ben Macdui

Braeriach from Ben Macdui

Looking north to Beinn Mheadhoin from Ben Macdui

Loch Etchachan and Cairngorm beyond

Beinn Mheadhoin summit Tors

Topping out on Beinn Mheadhoin

Sunday, 22 September 2013
Ascent:         1805 metres
Distance:       28 kilometres
Time:             9 hours 11minutes

m Carn a' Mhaim         1037m 2hrs 54mins
m Ben Macdui             1309m 4hrs 52mins
m Derry Cairngorm     1155m 6hrs 08mins
m Beinn Mheadhoin   1182m 7hrs 54mins

We arrived at the Linn of Dee at 10:30am, the hills were still in cloud but the forecast was for sunny periods and clear tops by midday. We spent some time adjusting our packs before setting out at 10:45am, the National Trust car park was full and the familiar trail through the plantations and then the native Scots Pine conjured up many memories of the walk along the banks of the Lui Water to Derry Lodge. The walk today was to be very similar to that in 1997 when I had taken my 13 year old son on a two day trip over the six munros on a dull August weekend.

Crossing the Luibeg burn was the first obstacle but we managed to dance across without getting our feet wet, not easy with 45 litre rucksacks. The two Polish walkers who we had just caught up with waited for us to find a way before following.  The path into the Lairig Ghru begins to climb more steeply from here and after 400 metres the excellent path up Carn a' Mhaim takes the direct route up the hill.

We climbed steadily to the summit stopping only to talk to a couple returning from the hill and telling us that the winds were a lot less severe than predicted. We had some lunch at the summit and then began the long but spectacular walk along the ridge with Ben Macdui out of cloud and displaying its full southern profile. Braeriach and Cairntoul were still wrapped in cloud but this dispersed as we continued the walk. The Devils Point looked impregnable and the Lairig Ghru was like a Harvey's map below us with the same colour tones at this time of the year. The light conditions were first class and if anything they got better as the day progressed.

We began the long (400 metre) ascent of the flank of Ben Macdui as  a lone female climber came down from the screes. She had completed three munros already and was returning to Derry Lodge where she had discovered the joys of wild camping. We were a bit ruthless on the ascent hopping across the field of tumbling granite boulders until we reached the source of the Tailor's burn where we slaked our thirst and filled our water bottles. The walk from here to the summit of ben Macdui is easy going over short heathers and grasses interspersed with granules of granite. The summit has a collection of cairns and shelters as well as a trig point mounted on a pedestal . It provides superb views over Braeriach and its massive corries to the west,  with Cairngorm and our next set of hills - Derry Cairngorm and Beinn Mheadhoin to the north and east.

Leaving Ben Macdui we were a bit lazy and headed north east instead of east and then had to climb over another ridge to find the path down to Loch Etchachan. It had not cost us much time but we were beginning to realise that we would need to push on to avoid descending Beinn Mheadhoin in the dark. We dumped our sacks on the path to Derry Cairngorm by a small Lochan and hammered on, the winds had begun to make walking difficult and we were in cloud for the first time all day. I cannot recall ever being on this hill in clear conditions and this was my fifth visit. The wind made the return tricky at first but as we descended conditions began to improve, we grabbed our sacks, found the Etchachan path and made our way to the lip of the Loch which we crossed with the aid of a walking pole.

The climb up Beinn Mheadhoin starts with 200 metres up a steep path before you arrive on the long summit plateau and are drawn to the granite tors that signify the summit. We arrived at 6:45pm and allowed ourselves 15 minutes to climb the Tor despite hands cold from the strong winds. I had descended to the north on a previous visit and we did the same again, keeping the minor tops to our right before turning below them and descending down steep heather slopes to the Dubh Lochan. John went a rolling and a tumbling in the twilight. We just about managed the descent before nightfall and the moon had not yet risen. We then had an awkward walk over boggy ground alongside the lochans to reach the Fords of Avon.

We found a good camping spot close to where the path crosses the burn leaving the Dubh Lochan. It was a struggle to pitch tents in the strong wind but once up the full moon arrived and provided a spotlight for our meal of soup, pasta and couscous. It was washed down with a brew of tea to dilute the monasodium glutamate. It was a warm night and sleep came easy on the mattress of grass and sedges. A helicopter was hovering over Cairngorm but the night was quiet apart from the gurgling of the burn and the regular squawking of grouse.  The star studded skies suggested that we were in for a treat tomorrow.

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