A wild camping adventure in the Cairngorms

After doing the Lochaber Traverse last year I dreamt up another plan of undertaking a similar trip,  hiking the Munros over 4,000ft in the Cairngorms; “The Cairngorms 4000ers”. Kevin and Stephen liked my plan, however Kevin and I were only on Cairn Gorm itself less than two weeks before and Stephen was in no rush to return either, so our route was altered to miss out Cairn Gorm completely.

We set off from the Sugarbowl Car park immediately crossing the road and onto the path. Within an hour we reached the Chalamain Gap, a boulder strewn ravine, it is like someone took a giant spoon and gently sliced some of the hillside away. A path leads into the ravine and then some care is required as you clamber over a series of granite boulders, some the size of small cars. The ravine is short-lived and in dry weather shouldn’t present any significant problems.  A cairn marks the top and ultimately the end of the Chalamain Gap. From here our plan was to head up to Lurcher’s Crag. From Cairn Gorm, Lurcher’s Crag doesn’t look much more than a bump on the plateau, but when seen from below in the Lairig Ghru, it’s a pointy, steep sided craggy top.

 

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Through the Ghru from Lurcher’s Crag

 

The view south down the Lairig Ghru is impressive, a helicopter whizzed passed us looking tiny against the wall of crags on the opposite side of the Ghru. We had our first bite to eat here before setting off south east to pick up the main path to Ben Macdui. Shortly after we collected some water from Lochan Buidhe where we met some mountain bikers that had come up from Cairn Gorm. They couldn’t manage the boulderfield heading up to Ben Macdui,  so with bikes on their shoulders we soon caught up with a couple of them for a blether.

 

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The summit of Ben Macdui looking across to Cairn Toul.

 

What started off as sunny breezy day, soon turned a bit overcast with high cloud by the time we reached Ben Macdui, the second highest mountain in Britain. We stopped for lunch and watched a snow bunting bobbing around looking for scraps of food left behind by humans.

It was beginning to get a bit cold, we packed up and headed east for a few hundred metres before veering off south following the boundary line marked on our OS map. We negotiated a large snowfield that didn’t require any ironmongery. We began scanning the lie of the land for potential campsites, one or two were spotted but we decided to carry on towards Carn Etchachan.

One of my good friends has a Colin Prior framed photo of Loch Avon in her hall, it always caught my eye whenever I visited her and I decided I would try and locate the spot where he took the photo as it looked a fine location. The viewpoint from Carn Etchachan is superb, the rocks abruptly drop away from your feet to the north and east of the summit down towards shelter stone. The granite tors of Beinn Mheadhoin are easily spotted as we discussed which tor was the true summit.

 

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Loch Avon

 

After some photos and chat we veered west off Carn Etchachan and found a nice pitch to house all 3 shelters by the Garbh Uisge Mor. I always relax once the tarp is up. I usually collect water, make dinner and chill out knowing I have my home sorted for the night. Then go for an explore without being saddled with heavy camping packs.

 

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Our campsite.

 

After dinner we set off to explore the crags around the Feith Buidhe waterfall. This site is also well known for its impressive snow tunnels in the early summer. It was a tad early in the season to enter the tunnel above the Feith Buidhe waterfall as it hadn’t quite formed enough, plus we would have got soaked in the process.

 

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Forming snow tunnel and Loch Avon.

 

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Kevin and Stephen enjoying the last light.

 

 

We loitered as the sun set behind us, taking several photos of the ever changing light and shadows on Beinn Mheadhoin and beyond. We wandered back to our tents and stayed out a while longer waiting to see what the sky would do. It was a bit cloudy so I caved in and called it a night.  Temperatures dropped to 4°C during the night. I woke up cold at one point but managed to drift off again. I’m glad I brought the Long Johns.

In the morning we managed to break camp for 8:30am, to what would prove to be a long but satisfying day. We followed the Garbh Usige Mor, skirted around the north side of Ben Macdui and dropped off down to the Lairig Ghru. We kept to the left just above the stream flowing next to the Allt a Choire Mhoir which took the sting out of the steep descent and within 30 minutes we were down on the valley floor.

 

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Devil’s Point and Cairn Toul.

 

We headed south to Corrour bothy. We met a group of ladies coming in the opposite direction, they were headed for the Angel’s Ridge scramble. They’re members of the Cairngorm Club. One of the ladies asked what the fluffy thing was hanging out from the back of my rucksack, I said it was my microphone for my YouTube channel.

We reached the bothy and stopped for lunch. Some campers were loitering around. Corrour bothy seemed to be a bit of a hub, many walkers turned up from all directions and stopped to chat and swap stories of where we had been or going to.

After lunch we set off on the path behind the bothy up Coire Odhar. The three of us were struggling a bit with heavy legs. We got to the top of the coire and I had already made my mind up I didn’t need a third ascent of the Devil’s Point.  Kevin had been up once before too, so we found a sheltered spot out of the wind to enjoy the sun and remove our boots, refreshing our feet in the stream. Stephen was back in 30 minutes flat, he had a short break while we got our boots back on ready for the pull up Cairn Toul.

 

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Kevin and Stephen heading up the minor top before Cairn Toul.

 

The wind was beginning to strengthen as we reached the summit of Cairn Toul.  We huddled in the shelter cairn and had something to eat. Then headed off towards our next objective, Sgor an Lochain Uaine, also known as the Angel’s Peak. On the ascent I met a chap who was telling me his wife was compleating on the Angel’s Peak and she was waiting on his arrival, he added that there may be a dram on offer at the summit. Good enough reason to join in I say.

 

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A Pokémon on the summit of the Angel’s Peak. Gotta get them all.

 

We met the same ladies who we met in the Lairig Ghru, they were all part of the same group, we chatted away and Marge who I spoke to before agreed to do a mini interview for my vlog. I discovered I wasn’t recording so had to ask her to do it all over again. Thankfully she didn’t mind.

With the biting wind and some of their party still to start the scramble up the Angel’s Ridge we wished them well and said our goodbyes and headed off towards Braeriach.

The first time I walked these Munros in 2011 we spent most the day in clag and I didn’t appreciate the grand scale of the plateau on Braeriach, in fact I was quite taken a back by the vastness. I hadn’t done any research but whilst walking on the plateau I was convinced Braeriach would be a contender for largest British mountain by area covered. With the map open in front of me just now, I think there might be other contenders within the Cairngorms… Answers on a postcard?

 

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the Falls of Dee

 

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The vast plateau of Braeriach

 

 

The wind was beginning to buffet us so we made the decision to get off the summit as soon as possible, of course it’s not the easiest of mountains to get off, as the long descent down to the Lairig Ghru begun.

Fed up of the wind, I marched on. I was aware of Kevin shouting something, although I couldn’t quite hear him. I found out later he was telling me that I missed out on the Munro top of Sron na Lairige. Oh well, I may have wandered over the top of it in 2011.

We spotted a prominent grassy patch at the path junction that looked like a tennis court from high up, we considered this as a potential camp spot. With its exposed position at the start of the Lairig Ghru we knew it may a bit windy. On reaching the potential pitch our fears were confirmed, a bit too windy for our liking. The grassy patch we could see was in fact the site of the old Sinclair Hut which was demolished c1991.

We found another pitch a bit further down, next to the stream. It wasn’t overly appealing and lots of signs of irresponsible camping could be seen, fire pits and discarded toilet paper. We pushed on towards Rothiemurchus Forest, the fine forest carpeted in Scots pine trees. With tired legs we didn’t want to go off the path in hunt of pitches. we finally came across an ideal pitch a kilometre before the Cairngorm Club footbridge. 11 hours had lapsed since we broke camp in the morning. Decision made,  we’re stopping here for the night. This site was about as close as you could get to that bowling green lawn, nice clipped grass on level ground next to the river, ideal.

 

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Our pitch.

 

Tents up in no time at all, we all set about getting ourselves fed and watered. By 11 o’clock we retired to our tents and zonked out. Well at least I did, Kevin and Stephen were a bit unsettled with the windy night.

The next again day we set off towards Loch Morlich and enjoyed the last few kilometres amongst the pines. A large patch of trees had been felled, but it looked as though it  might have been a commercial plantation and hopefully made way for native trees to be planted.

We reached Loch Morlich.  I got Stephen and Kevin to walk ahead on the opposite side of the road, I walked behind with my thumb out and on the fifth attempt a car pulled over to pick me up, a friendly chap from Sheffield who was more than happy to run me up to the Sugarbowl car park. If you happen to find my blog, then thanks again. I drove back down and picked up Kevin and Stephen. We stopped off in Ballinluig for a bacon roll at the excellent Nae Limits café.

This article also includes a film documentary, which can be watched below.

Cheers

Robin

robinavatar

 

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5 thoughts on “A wild camping adventure in the Cairngorms

  1. I’d love to do the Angel’s Peak ridge scramble – maybe one day… How come that chap wasn’t on Angel’s Peak’s summit with his missus if it was her compleation? and why did you go through the Chalamain Gap before going up Lurcher’s from the Sugarbowl? spot of masochism?

    I’d say Ben Avon for the contender for the largest actual mountain area-wise…

    1. Her hubby walked in from Linn of Dee and she came from the Aviemore side and agreed to meet at 3pm. I like the Chalamain Gap, interesting geological feature. Plus it made it easier for retrieving the car if I couldn’t thumb a list.

      I thought about Ben Avon, I camped up there and never had the same feeling of vastness. Would be interesting to find out which mountain was the largest by area.

      1. What I meant about the Chalamain Gap is that it’s easiest to go up to Lurchers before going through the gap – staying above the gorge – there’s sketchy paths up there…

      2. Ah right. As soon as you exit the Gap, we struck up hill towards Lurcher’s Crag. Didn’t really need a path as the heather was short and clipped and once we picked up the ridge it was the typical stoney tundra.

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