Saturday 22nd – Sunday 23rd June 2019
Cairngorms National Park
"Not all who wander are lost", J.R.R. Tolkien
So this weekend is our last weekend before our Russian adventure begins.
We wanted to make this one a wild, long and pretty hard going adventure to train (some may say punish) the body and mind.
Our destination was the Cairngorms. The harshest and most rugged mountain region in the UK.
The Cairngorms is one of my favourite destinations in Scotland. I love the dramatic mountain ranges here, the lakes, and the trees – they are everywhere, for miles, green and vast!
Before heading off to the wilderness we firstly headed into Aviemore a beautiful little touristy resort, situated within the Cairngorms National Park in the Highlands of Scotland. This town is popular for skiing and other winter sports, and for hillwalking, obviously! We had to have that one last coffee.
From here we headed up to the Cairngorm Ski Resort car park where we left our car and began our weekend adventure.
I love the feeling I get when starting out on an adventure, the anticipation of what lies ahead fills me with excitement…I look forward to the long walk ahead and where it may take us!
The last time we were in the Cairngorms area on low ground we had great weather but as soon as we reached higher ground it got tough, with poor visibility, high winds, and freezing conditions…up here anything can happen…and it usually is very unpredictable weather so being prepared is essential.
They say the Scottish Mountains are as good a place as anywhere to train for our Mount Elbrus climb.
Today we were also carrying heavy packs.
We had food for the two days, enough clothing to suit any conditions, sleeping bags, carry mats, cooking utensils, tent….and everything else we carry in the rucksacks like first aid kits…and a whistle…you just never know do you!!!
We headed up past the Funicular Railway, and up the Fiacaill a’Choire Chais Ridge on to the plateau, views even at this stage were wonderful…we could see all the way down to Loch Morlich.
As we went up the path we passed two men, I overheard one of the men saying “enjoy the hotel at the top”, he obviously saw our tent attached to the bags.
At the top we reached a plateau and had some wonderful views.
We then descended down a very steep long track Coire Raibert which required care in a couple of places as we scrambled over some rocks.
This passes through the magnificent Loch Avon basin…this place was magical…something very special…the beaches were beautiful and so remote with no-one on them…some of our beaches here in Scotland especially these remote ones up high on a mountain are for me the most stunning beaches in the world, surrounded by wilderness…my perfect beach.
It was a beautiful spot, I stopped to soak up my surroundings.
I mean who would actually believe there are beaches so high in the mountain ranges of the Cairngorms.
The water was so clear that you could almost count the sand grains on the floor of the loch…it was a gem of a loch.
This walk was taking us through very remote country, lacking clear path and far from help and it felt good.
A good deal of experience is necessary, especially navigational skills as if you get caught out here you are in trouble – big trouble!
We had to make a decision here…we could camp here for tonight or we could continue on for another bit to reach another Loch at the top of another mountain.
We continued on as the night was still young.
So reluctantly leaving paradise behind we made our way along the shore path, across the beaches at the head of the loch towards Feith Buidhe.
Now this next part turned out to be quite an experience as we had water to cross, several times.
The water level was pretty full and we had heavy rucksacks on…we did not remove our boots.
Paddling across may have saved us time here. Instead we walked up its north side until we found a place to cross which was pretty sketchy.
I was so glad we had this place to ourselves or so I thought as there was plenty screaming going on!!
We crossed over by using any rocks we could find/balance on as stepping stones until we were back on land!
We passed by The Shelter Stone Crag which is an imposing tower to the right of us, with steep and rocky sides and we even saw the much celebrated Shelter Stone.
The Shelter Stone below is a giant fallen boulder which provides a handy refuge from the elements. There are actually many of these shelters scattered around the Corrie and people do actually use these to bivvy under.
Here we met two guys so we stopped to have a chat. The guys were saying they had been surprised on seeing so many people out here on the hills today as it was so remote – our whole day from morning until bedtime we had met 9 people in total – that’s a busy day on these remote mountains in Scotland!!
We said our goodbyes as we were now ready to tackle the slanting path up towards Loch Etchachan.
It was a stiff, steady climb but the lovely views of Loch Avon opening up below sure took your mind of it.
Looking back and across the scenic and interesting mountainscape with its imposing cliffs and fabulous beaches was perfection.
We walked along the path to Little Loch Etchachan.
Until we finally reached Loch Etchachan an exceedingly remote freshwater loch set deep within these mountains.
Loch Etchachan is the highest water body of its size in the UK, 927m above sea level and is actually normally iced over for 7 months of the year.
This was perfect and was our place we would call home for tonight!
What a great Loch in an ideal location…and today we witnessed her in perfect conditions.
We searched for our perfect pitch…this involved looking for an area of land which was flat and didn’t have rocks or divets…we found our spot…tested it which involved lying down flat to see if it felt comfy and it did so we pitched our tent right there on that spot on the shores of Loch Etchachan.
We decided to then have some dinner and because of the nice evening and our legs feeling like they still had energy left we then decided we would get in a Munro before bedtime – Beinn Mheadhoin.
Our insanity was actually a good plan as doing it tonight would save us tackling this in the morning and allow us to undertake some other mountains we wanted to climb.
It was 8.30pm when we set off, we would still have light until at least 10.30pm and if all else failed we had our head torches.
Beinn Mheadhoin is one of the more remoter peaks in the Cairngorms as its a pretty long trek out to get to involving lots of ascents and descents just to even reach the start of the climb!
Lucky for us we were camping right at the foot of it.
The path up from the bottom looked intimidating but once you were actually on it it was easier than it looked.
We reached the top and wow.
This must be my new found favourite top of a UK mountain…well I tell a lie…it sits on par with Ben Nevis only because we hit Ben Nevis as the sun was setting and we had it all to ourselves.
But this one wow. And we had it all to ourselves!!
As we walked the sun was setting turning everything pink.
We saw the Tor studded summit, it was like something out of star wars, or walking on the moon I imagined!
We saw views over to Ben Macdui which we were hoping to undertake tomorrow and views of the many mountains surrounding us 360….we even saw all the way over to Skye.
The remoteness of this Munro really makes you feel like you have earned it.
Views were incredibly far reaching.
We climbed some of the grippy granite torres admiring their beauty.
We spent ages on top. I did not want to leave.
The light, the atmosphere, the silence was overwhelming.
Never have I experienced such peace apart from in the Himalayas, feeling at one with nature, serenity, call it what you want but something was happening and I felt it.
By this time it was well after 11pm and it was still light enough to see, reluctantly we had to head back down to our tent.
The walk down was pretty easy and quick and before we knew it we were back at our tent.
It was at this point that Andy surprised me when he revealed he had been carrying up two small bottles of wine. Talk about fine dining!
We woke up early or actually could you even say we woke up, as I think I had been awake all night. The ground we lay on was rock solid and it had been freezing cold all night long….talk about worst nights sleep ever!
Nevertheless we had the most amazing window view as we opened the ‘doors’ to our tent – I laughed as I thought about the mans comment yesterday about enjoying the hotel at the top – I truly was enjoying this hotel at the top!
Sitting eating breakfast felt pretty surreal, in such a remote and idyllic location so early in the day.
After breakfast we packed up and we were off again heading up the ridge towards Ben Macdui…here we had an option to bare south and hit Derry Cairngorm.
This is another very remote Munro and being so close meant we had to tick it off our list.
The summit of this Munro is an elongated cone composed of boulders.
From here we were able to look across at the Torres we had visited the evening before and we had an amazing view of Ben Macdui which we were going to undertake after this.
We headed back down along the way we had just climbed up and returned back to the main path and continued up towards Ben Macdui.
The walking was still enjoyable, the scenery still amazing but the bags were starting to feel heavy.
Before hitting the summit of Ben Macdui we decided to stop for lunch at the remains of the Sapper’s Bothy.
It was the perfect spot to shelter us from the wind, find a stone to perch on and ‘put the kettle on’.
As we approached the summit of Ben Macdhui, we could see 360 degrees for miles and miles.
We were at the summit of the Cairngorms; only Ben Nevis is the higher in the whole UK.
We spent quite a bit of time here, taking pictures and just simply admiring the view.
We had previously summited this mountain 3 years ago but due to poor weather conditions we never saw a thing…today we saw everything.
This summit is said to be haunted by a wraith-like man known as the ‘Gray Man of the Corrie’s’ who is said to ‘dog the footsteps of lone climbers in the fog and who wanders the hills at night’.
This has been known locally for decades and it entered popular folklore when a Professor Normal Collie reported his experiences in 1889,
“I was returning from the cairn on the summit in a mist when I began to think I heard something else than merely the noise of my own footsteps. Every few steps I took I heard a crunch, then another crunch as if someone was walking after me but taking steps three or four times the length of my own. I said to myself ‘this is all nonsense’. I listened and heard it again but could see nothing in the mist . As I walked on and the eerie crunch, crunch sounded behind me I was seized with terror and took to my heels, staggering blindly among the boulders for four or five miles nearly down to Rothiemurchus Forest. Whatever you make of it I do not know, but there is something very queer about the top of Ben MacDhui and will not go back there again by myself I know.”
Before summiting Ben Macdui 3 years ago we had read about a plane crash that had happened on the mountain which killed five men in a WWII training flight crash on 21st August 1942.
To this day there are remains on Ben Macdui of the plane.
We had tried to find these remains previously but due to poor visibility that day and having no exact co-ordinates we couldn’t find it.
Today we were on a mission and we found the remnants from the wreckage from the Avro Anson air crash.
A memorial to the five dead men has been built close to the top of the summit entitled “They Shall Not Grow Old”.
After spending some time here we left to begin our descent down to Lochin Bhuidhe.
As we walked down we saw the ridge walk of Braeriach which is next on our hit list.
This looks like another amazing over night wild camp but it’s a long slog of a walk/hike and will have to wait until another day/weekend.
Lochin Bhuidhe is another site where another disaster has taken place in the Cairngorms.
In 1971 The Cairngorm Plateau Disaster occured at the above spot.
Six fifteen year old Edinburgh school students and their two leaders were on a navigational expedition. Weather deteriorated and they became stranded for two nights on this high plateau in a blizzard.
Five children and the leaders assistant died of exposure.
The tragedy, also known as the Feith Buidhe Disaster, is regarded as Britain’s worst mountaineering accident.
From this disaster it led to formal requirements being placed on leaders for school expeditions.
From Lochin Bhuidhe we followed the track along the top of Lairig Ghru and headed down the ridge below Lurchers Crag.
This then led us back towards the car.
It had been an amazing weekend in out in Cairngorms and what was even more amazing was the fact that we had spent two full days here and never once had to put on our waterproofs – now that’s what I would call a result!
To check out our Cairngorm weekend hike in Relive click on the link below: