Ben Macdui

Retro walk: 21st August 2004

Ben Macdui 21/08/04
Munros: Derry Cairngorm, Ben Macdui
Accomplices: Paul, Yvonne

Having climbed one of the toughest mountains in Scotland, it was time to go for one of the highest. Two previous attempts at Ben Macdui had been aborted – one because of bad weather, the other because of Brian’s bad knees! Yvonne decided to join myself and Paul at the last minute, so off we set early one Saturday morning in what looked to be half decent weather.

We were off and walking from the Linn of Dee by 11am and soon reached Derry Lodge, at which point Paul decided we should climb Derry Cairngorm as well rather than continuing up Glen Derry. There was a short shower as we started climbing up from the edge of the forest to the first crags above, but the sun came out and warmed us immediately. Unfortunately the higher we climbed, the worse the weather got, eventually turning to sleet as we neared the final boulder-hopping climb to the summit of Derry Cairngorm. No-one was feeling too happy at this point, but the rain eased shortly after reaching the summit giving us a chance to get some photos at least.

We dropped down North West from the summit and began heading towards the path up from Loch Etchachan, where we would decide whether to continue on to Ben Macdui or drop down out of the weather and head back along Glen Derry. I wasn’t keen on the idea of letting Ben Macdui thwart me again and my argument to continue was aided by the appearance of two cheerful figures through the mist wearing shorts! This strengthened everyone’s resolve, so we pressed on, chatting to our new companions as we went.

After passing some climbers in the corries to our left, we eventually reached the plateau and made the final gradual ascent to the summit cairn of Ben Macdui under the cover of cloud. Miraculously, shortly after reaching the summit the cloud cleared and we caught glimpses of the view of the Cairngorms all around us – enough to make it all seem worthwhile at least!

Another set of photos lost in the hard drive failure of 2006
Not the driest walk ever
Slightly skewed summit panorama, but it’s one of only three photos I have left from the day

Not wanting to dwell too long whilst the weather was on our side, we headed back the way we had come to the edge of the plateau and left our new friends to take in Carn a Mhaim. Our way down lay along the ridge from Sron Riach, passing Lochan Uaine far below to our left. The weather wasn’t quite done with us yet and we had to endure several stinging showers of hail before we reached the safety of lower ground, where the temperature began to rise. The final descent was tough on tired knees and feet but at least there was no rain!

Once we were down in the glen, it was just a question of a couple of simple river crossings followed by a long slog back to the car. A couple of fell runners we had seen near the summit caught us up and jumped on the bikes they’d left nearby, making the walk ahead seem even longer for us. The clouds of midges chasing us along Glen Luibeg made that stretch particularly unpleasant, but luckily they eased off after Derry Lodge and let us concentrate on putting one foot in front of another.

A little over 7 hours after setting off, we reached the car and rushed home to recuperate and in my case, beg forgiveness from Yvonne for putting her through it! My other concern was the fact I was planning to mountain bike up Mount Keen the following day with Stuart and Ewan. It had been a tough day, but well worth the hardships endured.

An Teallach

Retro walk: 7th August 2004

An Teallach 07/08/04
Munros: Bidein a Glas Thuill, Sgurr Fiona
Accomplices: Paul

Now that our appetites had been whetted, the decision was made to use a weekend to head to the West coast and get a couple more munros under our belt in the shape of An Teallach. Nothing quite like going in at the deep end!

We set off as early as possible on Friday night hoping to get up to Ullapool in time for the chippy before bed. After driving round looking for a decent parking space we got out of the car to get changed and were immediately engulfed in midges which wasted no time in sinking their jaws into my arms. This resulted in us retreating to the nearest pub and spending as much time time there as we could listening to a ropey duo with their hi-tech keyboard tunes before returning to the car and suffering a miserable night being eaten alive by imaginary midges.

A stunning set of hills in low res, after losing the original pictures in a hard drive failure

After rising early and hunting for a shop that was open to stock up on refreshments, we found ourselves ready but not quite raring to go in the layby near Dundonnell House by 8 o’clock. After a brief excurison up the wrong side of the Garbh Allt, we began winding our way up through the rhodedendrons until the trees began to thin out. Eventually, the slopes of Glas Mheall Mor and Glas Mheall Liath revealed themselves, with the last of the morning’s cloud clinging to the side as it was burnt off by the sun.

Cloud conveniently obscuring the scary bit

The sun was also having an effect on the two Stella-fuelled mountaineers making their way up to the waterfall at the confluence of the Allt Coir a Ghiubhsachan and the Allt a Ghlas Thuill. A lovely site to spend some time in less hungover circumstances. However, the mission at hand and the ever present threat of midges kept us moving as we turned to the west to follow the lesser burn up to the corrie of Glas Thol. My pounding head made this easy going climb up the decent path a lot less pleasant than it should have been and the usual promises never to drink again were made, to be forgotten at a later date.

Sensible people would have just stayed here for a swim

Finally, the corrie opened out in front of us as we looked to our right to see the best place to begin the first real slog of the day. It all looked to be of a similar steepness, so we began zig-zagging our way up to the top of Glas Mheall Mor, giving ourselves plenty of breathers and trying not to fall all the way back to the corrie. I eventually lost my head and ran up the last stretch to get it over with, whereas Paul was a little more pragmatic, opting for the slow and steady approach. One look at the view from the top was enough to make the effort worthwhile, with the beauty of the west coast opening out on one side and the hazy mountains surrounding the others.

Paul frantically scoured the book for an easy way off the hill
This view is worth any amount of pain
All looks pretty straightforward from here…

After having a wee chat with a lady who’d come up the sensible way from near the Dundonnell hotel, we set off to claim our first munro of the day, Bidein a Ghlas Thuill, which lay on the opposite side of the corrie. Upon crossing the col the path took a slightly indirect route to the summit, offset from the ridge’s prow, making the going less steep until turning for a final push to the summit trig point.

Bidein a’ Ghlas Thuill

After a quick stop for a bite to eat and to take some photos of the upcoming pinnacles and the deep green waters of Loch Toll an Lochain, course was set for Sgurr Fiona, the day’s second munro which lay a short distance across next col. Here the ridge began to narrow slightly, not that the goats grazing halfway down the slope seemed to be bothered. Another pull to the summit and we were on another munro in a little under 40 minutes, a wonderfully exposed place, with views of Lord Berkeley’s Seat to set the pulse racing. Dehydration was beginning to take it’s toll, however, and Paul had used the last of his water already. There was only so long that the remains of my water could keep us going.

Sgurr Fiona

A sketchy descent from the summit along the crest of the ridge followed by some hands on scrambling brought us to the narrow connecting ridge before the next ascent, with Lord Berkeley’s Seat towering impossibly above us. A tiny silhouette on the very peak was enough to convince us this was the way to go and we were soon enjoying some real scrambling as we made our way to the best vantage point of the day. The feeling of space on the summit was incredible, especially when standing, which was not too stressful thanks to the complete absence of any wind.

Pondering Lord Berkeley’s Seat
Giving Paul a headstart

After reluctantly descending from our lofty vantage point, the Corrag Bhuidhe pinnacles stretched out ahead of us. As we debated the wisdom of taking the high route over the lower path, a couple flew along the top in shorts and approach shoes, jumped down and carried on over the Seat. This made the decision for us – so up we went. The going along the top of the ridge was easy enough until we came to the end of the Corrag Bhuidhe Buttress and saw the downclimb that was required to regain the broader ridge below. A fall from this side would take you pretty much to the floor of the corrie below and having read about walkers falling to their death at this very spot, it was an easy decision to backtrack slightly and regain the lower path at a less exposed spot.

Corrag Bhuidhe
Mostly took the high road

After a bit of hairy downclimbing, with not much margin for error, we reached the path without careering down the steep mountainside and continued on along the crumbling path. We descended down a loose path towards the col from which we were supposed to make our way down to Toll an Lochain below, as all thoughts of climbing Sail Liath had disappeared along with the last of our water. Even as we approached the ‘path’ we were a bit dubious as to whether we had the right one, but this was it and no amount of nervous looking over the edge was going to make it any less steep. We took the plunge and started slipping our way down what was to all intents and purposes a run-off for snow melt. The going got easier and firmer as the slope eased and eventually we even managed to get some water at a handy burn halfway down. Sigg bottle water never tasted so good!

Recharged and rehydrated, we made light work of the rest of the descent to the lochan and were soon walking along the quartzite slabs at its head and back down the Coir a Ghuibhsachain, with excellent views of the impressive escarpment on the opposite side. Our route took us down from above the waterfall we passed earlier in the day, rejoining the path through the rhodedendrons and returning us safe and sound to the car. This mountain would be a hard one to beat.

Lochnagar via The Stuic

Retro walk: 19th May 2004

Lochnagar 19/07/04
Munros: Cac Carn Beag
Accomplices: Brian, Paul

This was retrospectively my first Munro, since a few days later, myself and Paul decided to take up munro-bagging. It wasn’t the first time I’d climbed it, but we took a more interesting route than usual (courtesy of Ralph Storer) by starting from Invercauld bridge near Braemar. The weather was fair, so Brian was sporting a rather fetching outfit of faded green Speedo shorts, brand new boots and shiny grey hiking socks which he pulled up as high as they would go. The look was completed with a black t-shirt bearing a large picture of Strongbad (Long story). Needless to say, he made Paul and myself look like a couple of rank amateurs.

Brian shows us how style is done

After a quick photo shoot, we set off down the road from Keiloch and across the A93, crossing the old Invercauld Bridge into Ballochbuie Forest. So began the long slog up out of the forest, made much more pleasant by the fact it is a beautiful place to be. With a wee stop for photos on a wooden observation platform below the Falls of Garbh Allt and a couple more for Brian to take on oxygen we eventually emerged at the deer fence that marks the edge of the forest. The occasion was marked by squirting my platypus hose at Brian’s groin in the hope of a passer-by spotting his wet patch.

He didn’t put up much of a fight

We continued up the path for a short distance, before dropping down to our left to cross the Feindallacher Burn and climb the rise of Druim Odhar. This was followed by the usual off-piste heather bashing, peat hag-skirting antics until we reached the banks of the Allt Lochan nan Eun where we picked up a stalker’s path to make the going slightly easier up towards Sandy Loch. All the while, the Stuic began to reveal itself to our right, with Cac Carn Beag of Lochnagar our eventual target ahead.

Looking highly impressed with the complete lack of a path
The Stuic

Brian and Paul wanted to peel away early to get to the base of the Stuic directly so we began the slightly-longer-than-you-think haul up to Loch nan Eun. Upon reaching the loch, the rain came in, putting our scrambling ambitions in jeopardy. We settled down out of the wind behind some rocks to eat a bit of lunch and the rain soon tailed off, leaving us free to begin our ascent.

Paul, the sun and Loch nan Eun

The Stuic looks quite imposing from the base, but Ralph’s book had assured us it was only a grade 1 scramble so up we went, the rock drying quickly under the reappearing sun. After the initial grassy/stony climb, this was a great scramble and we were soon stripping off our wet weather gear and stopping to admire the breathtaking views across to Ben Avon and the rest of the Cairngorms. Despite the narrow profile of the Stuic it is an easy climb to the top with lots of hands-on moments, but no major exposure, making for an ideal introduction to the world of scrambling. Brian, who had been flagging at the base, suddenly got his eighth wind once the going got vertical and used his non-existent sense of self-preservation to find the more eccentric routes of ascent.

Brian’s energy always returns when a path goes vertical
Cliffhanger it ain’t
Majestic conqueror of about 1/4 of the climb
Paul on camera duties
Leading the way
This joke never gets old. Never
Across to Ben Avon and Beinn a Bhuird

To reach the top of lochnagar was simply a case of following the path round the top of Corrie Lochan nan Eun, striking for the top of Cac Carn Mor, then onwards to Cac Carn Beag. Unfortunately, Paul and myself neglected to tick off Carn a’ Choire Bhoideach on the way, not yet realising that were going to be munroists. After dragging Brian up the hundred metre climb, we diverted to walk along the cliff tops above Corrie of Lochnagar and posed for the obligatory photos atop either side of Black Spout (Easily amused) before continuing to the summit.

Ruining the view
Luckily not too gusty
Cac Carn Beag summit trig over to The Stuic
More food

After another wee lunch break, with views across to the Stuic and the striking green waters of Loch nan Eun, we began our descent of the north west ridge of Lochnagar, which was mostly boulder field – making hard going for Brian’s rapidly failing knees!

The way down
Another Stuic viewy
Dodging showers all the way
Still sunny at Loch nan Eun

Eventually, the banks of Sandy Loch were reached allowing us to retrace our steps back down to Ballochbuie forest and Keiloch car park. This is definitely the best way to experience Lochnagar, short of getting into proper rock climbing and gave us all the scrambling bug for future escapades.

Slightly more direct return involved some improvisation