The Minigaig in Winter

Retro ride: 17th February 2007

One of the sections of Ralph Storer’s Scottish Hill Tracks that I had spent a particularly large amount of time studying was that which detailed the various ways to cross between Atholl and Speyside. Namely the Gaick, the Minigaig and Comyn’s road. A few years back, I had ticked off the Gaick and for some reason, I decided I was going to tackle the less cycled Minigaig in the throes of winter.

A perfect weather window looked to be appearing, so on a Saturday morning in February, I jumped into the car and headed for the Linn of Dee. The first day to my planned bothy stay looked easy enough, so I had planned to leave Aberdeen earlyish to start riding by 10am. Punctual as ever, I headed out towards White Bridge at 12:30, with a limited amount of daylight to play with.

Afternoon sun leaving Linn of Dee

There was no chance of crossing the Geldie with dry feet so I went for the barefoot option rather than suffer two days of wet shoes. The water was thigh deep and so cold I felt like I was about to pee myself (Hope that’s not just a personal problem).

Drying and thawing in the sun

After nearly ripping my shoulder muscle lifting the bike on another burn crossing near Bynack Lodge, the lovely Glen Tilt singletrack started to stretch out in front of me.

Looking back towards the Geldie
Plenty of this

As I got further along the Glen, the walls steepened and the gap narrowed, leaving little space for error. I was far too busy enjoying the fact it was warm enough for shorts and t-shirt to be that bothered.

Some path maintenance required
Remember to fall to the right

The path continued this way for a while until I spotted the singletrack coming down from Fealar lodge to my left, familiar to anyone who has ridden the Beinn a Ghlo loop.

Through the narrow bit
Track to Fealar Lodge

Shortly after this, I arrived at the beautiful spot below the Falls of Tarf and had a quick lunch, resisting the temptation to just bivvy here for the night and go back the way I came the next day.

Begging to be camped on
Bedford bridge over the Tarf
Cool in the shade

Not much further from the bridge, the land rover track began and my progress speeded considerably all the way to Blair Atholl. Unfortunately, I still had to climb into the hills to the North West and make my way to the Allt Sheicheachan bothy in the gathering darkness.

Climbing out of Glen Banvie
Lady March Cairn above Glen Banvie

It was pretty busy, but everyone seemed to have brought coal, meaning it was nice and toasty inside for dinner. Although, no one else seemed to be wearing shorts? I went to bed thinking that if I felt rubbish the next morning and wasn’t up and ready to go by 6:30am, I’d have to leave the Minigaig and do a road ride back to Braemar.

True to form, I ignored all pledges and set off from the bothy at 9:30 the following morning after a really cold frosty night.

Frozen Allt Sheicheachan bothy

The ride down to Bruar lodge and up the glen seemed to fly by, making me feel better about my inability to get up early. The good mood was quicky killed by the horrendous lugging of my heavily loaded bike up the first steep pitch onto the moors. Eventually though, I reached the first cairn of many leading the way and was able to look back on what I’d conquered so far.

Connecting path over to Bruar Water
Sparkly bridges in Glen Bruar
Beast of a push to come
Above Glen Bruar, pausing for photos, not oxygen

The path stretched out ahead of me invitingly.

Minigaig singletrack

The conditions were perfect as the stretches of path which may have been soggy normally were filled with frozen snow which was perfect for riding on, making progress even faster, except for the odd booby trap!

Barely making a dent
Stay on the path, or float over it
Not everything was frozen
Filling in the dips nicely to keep things speedy
Chunky rear end

After a tough section in a small glen, the summit of the Minigaig was reached, where I paused to have a chat with a group of intrepid young French walkers, who had spent a cold night camped out lower down. I gave them directions to the bothy, as a good place to warm up and turned off the Minigaig to climb up to bag the Corbett, Leathad an Taobhain.

Leathad an Taobhain
Super remote and atmospheric
Rare summit selfie

This would allow me to drop down north east to the bealach and climb Meall an Uilt Chreagaich, at which point I could join a land rover track and motor all the way to Glen Feshie. This drop and reclimb was hard work, but well worth it for the 7km/500m descent I got out of it. As I reached terminal velocity, a mountain hare veered on to the track and sprinted along a few feet in front for a couple of hundred metres. As I watched in wonder, he decided to put on a show and actually accelerated away from me before departing on the other side of the track.

Picking up a track after climbing out of the bealach
Time to let rip on a proper track
7km of downhill goodness

As the track contoured round, progress was interrupted by the biggest snow field yet, which completely engulfed one side of a hill. I was halfway across when I realised it was getting a bit vertical ahead and had to rethink my approach. This involved leaning the bike over and using my pedals as makeshift crampons, to avoid a slide downhill.

Halfway across before I realised a loss of traction would result in looong slide

After my improvised ice climbing I continued on my way, reaching the rickety bridge over the Feshie in no time.

I still miss this bridge
Pretty sure this will last forever

I really didn’t have much time to savour the beauty of Glen Feshie, as I needed to make as much use of the daylight as I could, though I did stop for a chat with some bothy dwellers on my way past Ruigh Aiteachain.

Glorious Glen Feshie

I negotiated the various landslides as quickly as possible and pushed hard to reach Glen Geldie before nightfall.

Glen Feshie landslip
Taking the high road in the days before it filled up with trees

Finally, I reached the river Eidart, which marked the beginning of a tough slog, once the elevated bridge had been dispatched.

Heading to the Eidart bridge as night descends

Glen Geldie passed by in a darkened blur, with me having to use my instinct to follow the slight changes in contrast to see the intermittent path in front of me. I began to regret not having a proper look for my headtorch in the morning, which had mysteriously vanished form the bothy sleeping area overnight. Just as it got dark enough for me to have to use the feel of the path below my feet to guide me, I reached the blessed land rover track opposite ruined Geldie Lodge, meaning I could literally ride the rest of the route with my eyes closed. However, I thought I might do it quicker if I turned my bike light on instead, so I happily squeezed the last life out of my knees, pedalling hard through the freezing cold night back to the Linn of Dee.

BAM 2019 – October

October was another chance to get in a bivy somewhere more exotic than Aberdeen’s surroundings, as we were in Nethybridge for the week for Kerr’s half term. I hatched a plan to either bivy up high for a sunrise view, or the easier option of down low with the hammock somewhere in the forest. After watching the weather all week for an overnight that fit the bill, I headed out around 10pm with the aim of getting the bike up to the summit of Bynack More and finding a sheltered spot among the rock tors.

As i was leaving the village, I saw a set of lanterns in the trees along the road to Dell Lodge which I wanted to get a long exposure shot of. On getting the camera out, it instantly died with a low battery warning. I figured it was just a bit too cold, as the temperature was really low already but it never came back, even after warming it up. I was going to have to slum it with my iPhone pictures instead.

Mmmm, grainy

I didn’t hang about once I hit the forest proper and started up the long gradual climb to Forest Lodge, where I took the turn for Ryvoan. More gradual climbing ensued and I exited Abernethy Forest into an icy headwind. I rolled down past the bothy and doubled-back on the Bynack More track, slowly climbing round the hillside before dropping down to the slightly too narrow bridge.

Even my old skool bars don’t quite fit the whole way across

Next it was a case of grinding and hopping my way up towards the plateau. I kept going until I messed up on a steep section, which gave me the excuse to start pushing. At this point I also realised that the moon was bright enough for lights to be superfluous, so I switched off the Joystick and enjoyed finishing off the climb under natural light.

No need for lights when there’s a giant torch in the sky

I reached the fork and left the Cairngrms Loop route to take the walker’s path towards Bynack More. Last time I was here was on a run nearly 10 years ago, so I couldn’t remember how much would be awkward to ride. Turns out the whole initial stretch was lovely to ride, so much so that I was considering just bivying where I was, as I seemed to be completely out of the wind at times. However, I was consumed with the idea of a summit bivy, so on I went regardless of the late hour. I soon reached the bottom of the ridge proper and hopped off quite quickly, rather than making a pretence of riding anything.

I slogged my way up, feeling like I was really making a meal of the steep bits, whilst being painfully aware of the fact I wouldn’t be riding down any of this in the morning. I managed to lose my planned path on the right side of the ridge, so ended up doing a bit of clambering over rocks I didn’t need to, but at least I was moving up! The gradient eased further up and I was able to hop back on the bike for the odd section before reaching the rocky summit area. After a quick recce, I found a good spot to hoist the bike up to the summit cairn.

Bynack More just before 1am

The wind was pretty cutting up here, so I identified a nice hollow in the lee to bed down in. I’d wisely brought my warmer bag ( Mountain Hardwear Phantom Flame, rated at -9), so was pretty cosy once inside and I got myself a good night’s sleep without the dreaded frozen foot syndrome. I woke around dawn and took a peek to see if I needed to drag myself out and take some pictures.

Rise and shine

I noticed the bike was coated in a layer of frost and the foot area of my bivy looked like it was coated in a massive bird poo, which also turned out to be frost. I didn’t rush to get up, as it was too pleasant just lying there drinking tea and watching the light improve.

Moon was still pretty bright
Icy On One
Looking East

After getting up, I wandered around trying to take some decent pictures and mostly failing. The phone also kept shutting down with the cold and had to be dropped into my bib shorts to revive with some body heat.

Last night’s bed
Rushed to complete panorama before phone froze
After it warmed up a bit
The old workhorse packed and ready to go

I lifted the bike back over the rocks and dropped to the main path, where I could finally do some riding, taking care not to test my grip too far on the ice-covered rocks. The daylight made keeping to the best line a lot more straightforward.

Make sure to take the left fork
Beautiful Cairngorms morning light

I jumped off to roll/carry the bike down the steep final switchbacks before returning the way I’d come across the plateau.

Easy riding on the plateau
Love it up here
Pointed back towards Abernethy

The descent passed without incident – it was nice to actually come down this way for a change. I had been thinking of extending my return with a loop through Rothiemurchus, but thought better of it and headed back past Ryvoan to get me home at a decent time, so we could take the kids to the wildlife park on what looked like it was going to be a lovely sunny day.

Lochan a Chait
Forest roads back home