Friday 24th & Saturday 25th July 2020.
On finishing work again we had that ‘Friday Feeling’…and we were off.
We were heading back up Braemar way to undertake an epic long hike to tick off another two Munro’s this weekend which are more remote and require a massive long walk to even just get to the foot of them. These giants had been on our Munro-bagging list for quite some time now.
Some people choose to bike and hike this route as it’s a long walk in and out and I can see why, on looking at the map it is quite obvious. We chose the long walk in and out!
Weather this weekend said Friday night would be perfect conditions with Saturday afternoon bringing in thunder storms. So the plan was to undertake a two-day overnight Munro trek to summit these remote Munros. We would hike up into the bealach late Friday evening, pitch our tent, then undertake the first of our two Munro’s, Ben Avon that night, which would then mean us getting up early Saturday to complete our second Munro Beinn à Bhuird via Glean t-Slugain which would then hopefully bring us back down on to low ground for the thunderstorms rolling in….
…..plans on Scottish mountains don’t always work out in real life as they do in your head….and so my story begins!
Arriving and parking the car in Keiloch carpark in Invercauld Estate we headed off quickly to begin our hike.
The walk takes you through Invercauld Estate, passing the attractive estate house’s in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park, in a beautiful area of Royal Deeside.
Once off this tarmac path we soon hit a track which passes through some pinewoods.
On leaving the trees, the route then follows a stream before continuing up the glen.
The path is so scenic, purple heather everywhere, it was simply perfect and still an absolutely stunning setting….its known locally as the “Fairy Glen” and I can see why, its magical and delightful.
We were soon on a mission. At this point of the walk we were in an area famous in the hill-walking world as being the location of the “secret howff” – a tiny and well-hidden bothy whose whereabouts has been kept a closely guarded secret – so its a case of trying to find it yourself!
Andy thought the ‘obvious clue’ was a route up a steep quarry! My suggestion was an obvious faint track through the heather….but we went Andy’s way…I quote “its obvious its up here, look there’s a track, its up here for sure”! We climbed vertically, up a faint track (if that’s what you could even call it) which felt more like rock climbing than hiking….and on that subject rock climbing is not undertaken with massive heavy rucksacks on ones back. We eventually ditched the bags, climbed some more before I gave up allowing ‘mountain goat’ aka Andy the chance of going further up this steep quarry until eventually he had had enough came back and told me “its up there I know it is, just further up, we can check it out tomorrow”!!!! In my head I’m thinking surely these guys were crazy as why would they build a little hut up there on top of a steep massive climb to make things easier when they could just continue along the path and climb the bloody Munro’s with less effort!!! Once again I pointed out my obvious faint track in the heather whereby I suggested would take us to the “secret howff”! It was instantly dismissed by ‘Mr know it all’, he will tell you differently, and once again went on to point out his obvious route – up the quarry!!!
We then passed by the roofless ruins of Slugain lodge.
The path went on and on but in such beautiful conditions there was no complaining.
We just took one step at a time, with not a care in the world as time meant nothing to us at this point, after all we had everything we needed to set up home whenever we wanted to. The only downside to this was your body knew you were carrying your home on your back.
We crossed the Glas Allit Mor, crossed a stream before our ascent to the bealach. I’m not going to lie to you but even before beginning the ascent our legs already felt it…and my shoulder (the one where I tore tendons) ached! Our bags were seriously packed and seriously heavy.
Once on the bealach at over 970 metres after 4hrs hiking in we were hit by majorly strong winds (common theme to these hillwalks one might say), it was getting dark. This was where we had planned to pitch the tent originally as this is were the high level link between Ben Avon and neighbouring Beinn à Bhuird was.
We literally got the last peg in and down came the rain…our decision was made for us….we would undertake the two Munro’s tomorrow starting early which meant an even longer day on an already very long day! However, staying here would give us the best chance for both to be climbed the same day – they say by the very fit and at this precise moment in time I did not feel very fit! Never one to dwell on what could have been we were now on to Plan B although Plan B was never in the equation to begin with – we were going to be completing these two monstrous Munro’s tomorrow in one day!!!
I just love being in a tent in the wind and rain. I love the noise. I also loved the fact that tonight although it was windy and wet it was not as cold as our previous last two weekends so it felt quite cosy lying listening to the wind and rain around us, whist falling asleep.
We were up early and having our breakfast in the clouds. Visibility was poor and it was cold. We set of quickly leaving our tent for now (making our rucksacks slightly lighter) as we needed to come back this way before approaching our second Munro.
We hiked upwards seeing nothing, cloud remained low. As soon as we hit the plateau the cloud began to open up and my goodness we were surrounded by beauty and we didn’t even know it, someone somewhere was looking out for us!
We hit the summit of Ben Avon, the easternmost Munro in the Cairngorms…its a huge area… enough for an entire hill range to be dropped right on top of it.
The unusual granite tors on Ben Avon which are a photographers paradise could be seen, with the unmistakable granite tor of Leabaidh an Dalmh Bhuide clearly visible.
From here we could also see the wonderful views back towards Beinn à Bhuird and what we were about to undertake…it looked miles away…it was! After taking some photos and admiring the view we headed back down to camp.
We quickly dismanteled our tent and began our ascent. Once again the views north into the wild Slochd Mor were dramatic and stunning.
We hit Beinn à Bhuird, our highest point over the two days at 1197 metres which has huge cliffs with a summit on a vast plateau, with a small cairn resting on top. At this point it had started to rain and cloud and mist was building up, it had been forecast, was the storm approaching!
As we started to walk a short distance along the summit clouds started to lift and the sun began to shine, we once again had the most amazing 360 degree views…wow.
It was here that we ate some lunch and took it all in.
This place has a special atmosphere, especially in such fine weather.
It was also here that we began to think about our long descent down and our long walk out!
The storm never appeared and we were hit with some nice warm sunshine and no wind, we stripped down to shorts and t-shirt, this felt good. Once again we walked through spectacular scenery.
It was now Mission Impossible II….the “secret howff” point on the track. At this stage we were knackered. Was it worth the find. Hell yeah it was, I was not heading down without finding it! So we were back hiking up Andy’s obvious route in the quarry….why were we even going this way…it aint obvious…the track in the bloody heather is obvious!!!!! We hiked and hiked and hiked before giving up and were back on the track. After taking a few steps I said I know its up that heather path….for an easy life Andy asked do you want to go back….erm without a doubt I want to go back as it was doing my head in. We were soon hiking up my obvious heather track. Low and behold after a steepish bit of a hike…the “secret howff”…on my obvious track…and my god what a place…she was stunning.
And by the way just for the record we did have a long walk out, 3hrs to be precise and no he did not quite hear the end of it!!!
This had been an amazing hike and both Munro’s were certainly stunning and felt extremely remote, we never met a sole. This trek is certainly specifically designed for walkers who like to walk and walk. We had walked almost 28 miles (27.7 miles to be exact). By the time we reached the car we felt destroyed…today alone we had walked for 11 hours solid, carrying heavy loads over steep grounds and it could certainly be felt.
“Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go”, T.S. Elliot.