Saturday 25 August 2012

Cairngorms Backpack August 2012 - Day 1

Distance: 23.5km; Ascent: 1460m; Mostly dry; with Gwilym

It had been a while since my last visit to the Cairngorms, and with the Met Office forecasting that there would only be a low risk of strong sunlight today I decided that it would be safe to visit!!  And so late yesterday afternoon I took a train up to Edinburgh to meet Gwilym before heading north to find a reasonable spot to camp for the night in Glen Clunie.  The sky was clear and the stars were excellent :-)

First glimpses of the some of the Cairngorms from Glen Lui
We set off this morning from Linn of Dee soon after half nine surrounded by a large swarm of evil midges.  However it soon became apparent that if we walked fast enough they didn't seem to be able to keep up; so that's what we did!  Soon it began to rain, which it continued doing until around Derry Lodge.  We dared not take a break as the midges would soon find us, so we pressed on over the boggy ground in improving weather to reach a better path a few hundred metres away.  It is somewhat perplexing that this path was so well maintained yet the previous section wasn't.

After passing what looked to be a DofE group out on expedition, a breeze soon appeared and we felt it was safe for a break!  And it was :-)  The rivers didn't seem too high so we decided to take the shorter option of fording the Luibeg Burn, which didn't prove too tricky today.

Looking back down Glen Lui from lower slopes of Carn a' Mhaim
Fungi on way up Carn a' Mhaim
We refilled our water bottles and begin the ascent of our first hill in earnest, on a surprising good path, with a strengthening wind.  The low cloud seemed to be gradually lifting, with good views towards the hills south of the Dee and also back towards Derry Lodge.  After much steep ascent, the ground gradually began to ease and we found a reasonably sheltered spot to have lunch a few hundred metres short of the summit of Carn a' Mhaim.

Summit slopes of Carn a' Mhaim
On the summit of Carn a' Mhaim
After feeling suitably refreshed for the daunting climb ahead, we ambled over to the summit cairn of Carn a' Mhaim (Munro, Marilyn) to admire the fantastic views, although they were a bit intermittent!  Strangely it didn't seem to be particularly windy here despite the exposed location.  We descended the pleasant north ridge of the hill, which seemed to be acting as a barrier for the cloud, as there was loads of low cloud to the west but little to the east.

Looking down the north ridge of Carn a' Mhaim
The ridge became quite narrow and the stronger winds returned, although they weren't strong enough to pose a problem.  The cloud to the west began to lift, and soon we had good views down towards Corrour bothy and the Devil's Point.  The cloud lifted further as we ascended the steep slopes of Ben Macdui, and soon it was clear of Braeriach, Sgor an Lochain Uaine and Carn Toul, which meant we had excellent views across the Lairig Ghru towards them :-)

The Devil's Point and Beinn Bhrotain
Cairn Toul and Braeriach
The scree and bouldery ground was unpleasant to ascend, but eventually we reached the Cairngorm plateau at around 1200m.  A kilometre or so of more gentle ascent brought us to the summit trig point on Ben Macdui (Munro, Marilyn), the second highest hill in the UK.  There was a handy viewpoint indicator that told us all the far off hills we would be able to see from here on a clear day, including the Pentland Hills and Ben More Assant!  Due to the cloud not having completed cleared Ben Macdui, our only view today was across the Lairig Ghru.

Ben Macdui summit trig point
After a bit of a rest, we descended west, then north west, on an improving path.  Soon we dropped back out of the cloud and there were good views down to Loch Etchachan, our planned camping spot for the evening.  However we still had another hill to climb today: Derry Cairngorm.  Therefore we left the path and headed south.  Shortly before the bealach we left our sacks to avoid lugging them unnecessarily up the hill.

First views of Loch Etchachan
There were two summit cairns on Derry Cairngorm (Munro, HuMP), which appeared to be of near equal height so we visited them both just to be sure!  There were good views from here over to Lochan Uaine and the impressive looking crags on the south east side of Ben Macdui.  Over to the north east the sky was turning darker indicating rain was on it's way; would we get the tent up before its arrival?

Summit cairns on Derry Cairngorm
After returning to our bags, we began the sort ascent to the summit of Creagan a' Choire Etchachan (Munro Top).  Soon it began to rain, and it soon turned heavy and persistent.  We descended north west to pick up some water near the head of Loch Etchachan, before trying to find a flat area to camp that wasn't boggy and/or covered in stones.  Eventually we found somewhere near the spit of land which almost separates the Loch in two.

Approaching rain clouds over Beinn Mheadhoin
Soon we had the tent up and retreated inside from the incessant rain at around 7pm.  Dinner was couscous followed by a choice of single malt :-)  It was still raining when I went to bed at 10 ish; I hoped tomorrow would be drier than this evening!

More photos and a route map will follow once I'm back home.   

Post updated on 01/09/12 to include route map, photos and links to hills; post date also altered to actual date of walk (from 26/08/12 due to lack of signal).


  1. Nice one Alistair, you seem to be on target for a successful trip...

    1. Thanks Martin. It was indeed a successful trip, and got even better on the Sunday when the sun came out :)

  2. Hi there Alistair
    Sorry about contacting you this way but there's no email link. Don't know if your interested but a few of us have set up a new walkers forum, it's only two months old but one of the areas which is lacking content is the Cairngorms. Would be great if you could add imput or put a link to your blog etc.
    Many thanks

  3. Photos and route map added today