Western Cairngorms, September 2016

The Western Cairngorms (and some Monadhliaths).

Once Upon a Time in the Western Cairngorms.

Day 1 – Kingussie to Lochan nan Cnapnan
Day 2 – The Braeriach Traverse
Day 3 – Beinn Bhrotain to Sgòr Gaoith
Day 4 – Lochan nan Cnapnan to Newtonmore
Day 5 – The Monadhliaths


Day 1 – Kingussie to Lochan nan Cnapnan, 18 miles, 4741ft ascent.

The usual panic to finish what passes for breakfast on the Cally Sleeper these days, and get packed-up as you approach your destination meant the first thing I had to do in Kingussie was find a toilet. At 7.20am. Luckily such a thing was not far away, and I was able to start walking with a weight off my mind.

The first stretch of the walk was along a pavementless road, with a not to entertain except staying out of the way of the traffic and the Ruthven Barracks.
Once off the main road and past the little cluster of rather attractive houses at Drumguish the Inshriach Forest began.

It’s worth noting that on entering the woods, this was the only time all week I was to encounter any midges – a rare Highland treat indeed!

In the distance I could see the path rising, it looked a long way and it looked to be going up a long way. As it turned out it was the way down, and was still a week of as yet.

It was getting warm when I left the woods and arrived on a wide flat opening. This is when I saw the warnings in person of the washed out bridge I’d heard about. But never mind – it’ll be ok… right?! More of the old farmhouse of Baileguish on the way back.

The washed away bridge didn’t seem to pose much of a problem, the Allt Fhearnasdail being conveniently low and I managed to scamper across with no bother. The path then seemed to disappear so a thrash through the long grass past Corarnstilmore was required to get back on track. After some more woods, I hit some harsh tar-mac for a mile or so – it seemed much longer. At our turning-off point towards the Feshie there was another warning of flood-damage, this time of washed away footpaths, and not much alternative info offered. Still, it’d be ok wouldn’t it?!

It was lunch-time when I got down to the Feshie, so the boots came off as the sarnies came out and I sat down viewing the evidence of how high the water gets here when it’s in spate. No wonder bridges and footpaths can’t hack it!

A little further along and the damaged footpath was evident – as was the simple detour into the heather. The next section of missing path was a bit trickier where the Allt Garbhlach meets the Feshie. I was able to scramble down but had the allt been fuller it would’ve have been very hairy indeed.

In the woods of Coille an Torr and I saw a rare woodland haggis! Sadly this one wasn’t very well, with clear signs of bronchial pneumonia or lung-worm – a simple job for a vet, but I doubt there was one nearby. I also think it was blind, which would account why it was out in the daylight. Not much I do to help this prickly little pal, so let’s just hope it’s now big and fat and hibernating nicely as I type.

Just opposite the Carnachuin memorial the path disappeared into the river again, and there was a digger working presumably fixing the flood-damage? Again, new paths had been forged either by walkers or landowners to provide safe passage. But enough hedgehogs and missing paths – what came next was very horrible… the climb up the Coire Chaoil.

Two thousand feet up in just a little over two miles… the track was good and clear but it’s at times like when you realise how heavy your pack is! It must’ve taken well over an hour to slog up, with all the views behind you. The only time I was in the mood for taking a photo was towards the top, looking down to the north or Coire Garbhlach and I think the Fionnar Choire. Just after this I met a chap coming down with his dog and he obviously spotted by exhausted state and said something along  the lines of “Well, I’d say it gets easier… but it doesn’t!” which was a little unfair as I was only about 1/4 mile from the top!

With much internal-fanfare the path leveled off and at the turning for Mullach Clach a’ Bhlair I dumped my pack and feeling as light as a feather almost skipped past some (seemingly abandoned) university experiment and to the top.

Mullach Clach a’ Bhlair selfie. My first Munro of the week.

Now followed a long, undulating and bordering on three boring miles or so over Moine Mhor.

After a panorama taken (I think) looking north over Loch Eanaich, with future summit Sgor Gaoith on the left, it was on to Loch nan Cnapan to scope out a camping pitch. Somebody under just a fly-sheet had already grabbed the best spot at the south of the loch, but after walking pretty much all the way round it my spot to the east of didn’t seem too bad. With the wind coming from the west I pitched up accordingly, and slept very well indeed.


Day 2 – The Braeriach Traverse, 15 miles, 3027ft ascent.

What started off as a lovely morning by the loch around 6.30am soon became a bit misty on the climb up Carn na Criche. So misty and barren was the top that I completely lost my bearings, of which I was blissfully unaware until I arrived at the top of a very steep drop and was just able to make out a fine-looking waterfall which I was thought should’ve been somewhere over Loch Eanaich but was clearly the Falls of Dee. I could’ve carried on along this top to get to the first peak, but quite fancied see the Dee a bit further upstream, and perhaps even the remains of Bristol Blenheim Z7356.

Compass out and back on track I saw the Dee a bit further up – at the source in fact, the Wells of Dee. I like seeing sources of rivers, especially when it’s a bit of contrast to where I was brushing my teeth a year earlier
Although only a couple of hours into the day, I was a bit annoyed to notice that my apparently freshly-charged batteries for my GPS were already nearly gone. I like to have my GPS on all the time for data logging and back-tracking when I dropped my hat but as most of today’s route should be pretty obvious I thought I better keep it turned off in case of emergencies – hence the straight lines on the route plot, if you were likely to wonder. Also, the Blenheim would have to wait for another day.

Despite being briefly fooled by one or two other lofty-looking cairns on the way, I was soon at the top of Braeriach, enjoying the views of the Allt a’ Gharbh-choire heading towards the Lairig Ghru.

Looking along the traverse, with Sgor an Lochain Uaine and Cairn Toul in the middle.

Some later summer snow and a view back of the Falls of Dee.

The walk along to the top of Sgor an Lochain Uaine, or the Angel’s peak if you’re that way inclined, was fairly easy-going, with lovely views in pretty much all directions, including down at its eponymous lochan.

A bit of rock-hopping up to the top of Cairn Toul.

The cairn, shelter and blue skies on Cairn Toul.

I have no idea where this is looking… taken shortly after Cairn Toul though, if that helps.

Making good progress and just gone 1pm, but The Devil’s Penis – sorry – Point! was still some way off, and some way below!

A rapid descent down in to, and then up out of Coire Odhar and the Devil’s todger was tamed.

I think the photo above is looking south down Glen Dee, and to the right west from Coire Odhar over the Corrour Bothy.

Job done for the day and we all had to do was get home. I figured the most direct route skirting round the Buidheanach of Cairntoul would be better than heading back the way I came…

… but after an hour or so bashing through lumpy-bumpy clumps of soft mossy grass and seemingly miles of boulder fields I wasn’t too sure, and my feet were ready for a good cooling off at the Allt Clais an t-Sabhail.
On the way back I thought I might as well turn the GPS back and it didn’t really matter if it died on me now as I could see my destination, and blow me – the batteries lasted all the way back!

I’m sure I must have traversed the full width of the boulder field on the left, so when I saw my tent in the distance I was mightily relieved. All that lay between home and me was large flat area so riddled with streams, ponds, rivulets, bogs and the occasional dry peaty tussock I felt like I was island hopping in Lilliput.

It wasn’t much after 5 o’clock-ish by the time I got back, and it was just around then that wind started. And very windy it got too. Annoyingly, and worryingly, it was now coming from the south – side on into the tent.  Also, after a few attempts it was far too windy light a match outside so tea had to be cooked in the porch of tent. Not ideal but there was that much wind blowing through the gap that I figured CO wasn’t going to be a problem.
I’ve also had problems in getting my tent – a Zephyros 1 – pitched properly, one end always being saggy and up until now I’ve never encountered some really bad winds. It had always been quite noisy in even just a briskish breeze, to needless to say it took me a while to get to sleep!
Hopefully the wind would blow itself out overnight…


Day 3 – Beinn Bhrotain to Sgòr Gaoith, 16 miles, 3814ft ascent.

Come the morning the wind had not let up at all, in fact it hardly paused all night.

The choppiness of the loch compared to yesterday morning illustrates this a bit. Hopefully it wouldn’t last much of the day would it? If not it would keep the mist off, wouldn’t it…?
The first hill of the day was Tom Dubh, and the south-pointing shelter looked very tempting to hide from the wind in. I thought I might camp in this if I’m up this way again!

I’d read about a fair few people having to roll up trouser legs and paddle through the chilly waters of the Allt Luineag, so I approached downwards to it with a little trepidation but after a little pause for thought I was able to totter across the stones with feet booted and dry.
As we then proceeded up the shoulder of Monadh Mor the mist came down – or I went up into it! The wind didn’t stop though. The walk across the top was all down to the compass, and it was just by chance I spotted the cairn away to my right in the foggy near-distance.

After Monadh Mor although the clag didn’t lift the path was clear so it was a pretty straight-forward march on to Beinn Bhrotain, apart from the very steep dip into and up out of the small coire between Leac Ghorm and BB.

Pleased to see the trig point on Beinn Bhrotain – but could see much else! With this wind how much more mist could there be?!

Not much more it turned out… these two photos show how quickly things can change up here. The view is looking north over the coire and were taken literally a minute apart!

Looking down in to the Coire Cath nam Fionn.

I think this is looking west over to Cairn Toul and much of yesterday’s walk.
The walk back along over Monadh Mor was nice and clear now, and the wind behind me. Which is actually just as annoying as it causes much flapping of hoods and straps and laces and the like. Something’s going to have my eye out in a minute I’m sure!

With a clear view I was able to take the direct route back along Monadh Mor missing out Tom Dubh, and was relieved that when nan Cnapan came into view my tent has so survived the winds. So now to concentrate on the second half of the day’s walk, Sgor Gaoith, clearly visible in the distance across the glen of Loch Einich.

Crossing the Allt Sgaimich progress was easy back on the land rover track, and handy cairn after a mile or indicated the turning onto the moor. The path was still quite clear and the climb up to Carn Ban Mor was simply – but very windy! The shelter-cairn offered some welcome relief so a sandwich could be eaten in peace.

The march over the top to Sgor Gaoith was about as straight forward as any windy hill-top walk can be. Although it was very windy. The views down the Coire na Caillich were impressive, and luckily the windy was a constant easterly without a respite so getting the near the edge was not too much of a risk!

A couple of steps up on the smooth granite and Sgor Gaoith was conquered!

A panorama looking north to east to south from the top of Sgor Gaoith.

On the way back, knowing better than to take clever looking shortcuts, the way the path forked off in my direction heading back up Carn Ban Mor was too simple to ignore and it worked out. It even took me past a little quartz cairn where the top stone seemed to be defiantly displaying a St George Cross! Cry God… etc.

The wind had not let up all day but at least my tent was still in place when I got back to camp, but what a funny shape, it looked inside out! What had happened? I thought maybe a couple of pegs had been torn out despite the heavy rocks I had put over them, but nope – the pegs were fine. Two of the elastic bungee tent loops had snapped! I thought they’d be able to withstand a bit of wind, even this wind. How could they snap? It turned out that the movement of the tent being blown back & forth, and therefore that of the bungees, was that great that it had caused the stones to literally saw through two of them. Bugger. I had no spares, but was able to fashion a couple of stop-gaps from a spare boot-lace.

That night the wind did not let up at all, and whilst I wasn’t expecting much sleep because of the noise I was more worried about my tent. I thought long & hard about unpegging it and turning round 90degs to face the wind head-on, but pondered it blowing clean away – possibly with me clinging on to it like an unwilling hang-glider. The tent completely closed-up a few times, sealing me inside like a shrink-wrapped chicken. And for a short while I was desperately clinging on to the underside of the ridge-pole with my finger-tips to try to keep it down. But after a couple of hours of this I figured that if it had withstood 24 hours of this so far, it was probably going to be ok so let’s just try to get some sleep. Which surprisingly I did, and it was. Well done cheap little Zephyros 1, which up until I’d doubted how it would it get on in high winds, but she proved herself today.


Day 4 – Lochan nan Cnapnan to Newtonmore, 21 miles, 2929ft ascent.

The morning came, and thankfully I was still surrounded by tent. And it was a glorious, still, sunny day. Gotta love Highland weather!

Camp was struck and I was away by about 8am, and the way up & over & down Carn Ban Mor towards Glen Feshie lovely and easy-going with sun behind me and the views in front, which must have stretched well into the Grampians.
A few people were already making their way up, and stopping to chat they made me envious with such talk of things like “We just live in Inverness, and we saw what a lovely day this morning it was so just through a bag in the car and set off…”. Grrrrr!

The Badan Mosach Falls are well worth a look.

Thankfully I wasn’t looking for a bothy when I reached the Feshie estate again, although fording the Allt Fhearnagan took a bit of planning – and luck! Phew – dry feet again!

But the feet weren’t to stay dry for long. After crossing back over the Feshie and in the wide flat glen on the other side of the woods, I thought I’d follow the track back and investigate the old house at Baileguish a bit. But while in a vehicle the ford across the Allt Fhearnasdail would have been a doddle on foot it wasn’t going to be. After some investigation, the boots and socks came off for a quick but bracing paddle!

The house at Baileguish was eerie to say the least, seemingly abandoned in 1977 it was like a Highland Marie Celeste.

Although it does look like it might still be used… at least an estate agent wouldn’t have any trouble describing the views from the front door!

Re-crossing the Allt Chomhraig presented more problems – this time sleeping cyclists on the bridge! As they didn’t stir has I approached I decided to try to step over them without interrupting their bicycling dreams. But obviously they woke up as I was mid-stride over them, resulting in two very startled cyclists. Haha.

Back in civilisation now, I dropped down to take a look at the bridge over the River Tromie at Drumguish. Much impressive granite carving, by man and by nature, was to be seen.

A walk into Kingussie, was followed by a few pints, then a bus to the Newtonmore campsite and tea in the very tasty Newtonmore Bar & Grill.


Day 5 – The Monadhliaths, 21 miles, 3814ft ascent.

Time for some non-Cairngormian hills today. Three of the Monadhliaths are apparently within a day’s bag, so let’s have a go.

Most people drive up to the car-park above Newtonmore but I of course had to walk up, which was pretty boring. But once past Glenballoch it all started feeling much nicer. The broad path leading gradually up hill, which is what it should be doing so far.

But once I’d skirted round the lower bits of Creah Liath and I could see today’s first target Carn Dearg above me it started get a bit more interesting. The ground was very boggy and path became increasingly intermittent and then disappeared completely – or possibly I just nowhere near it. The iPod came out again to distract me through this rather tedious slog as I picked what seemed like the best route through the watery-cart-sponge that passed for ground up towards the peak way above me.  After a while glance at the GPS showed I was way off course, well the planned course. The course I was taking was more direct but much steeper, and I was on it now so just kept on going, aiming for the top the ridge above me.

Eventually after a couple of episodes of Gardeners’ Question Time I was up on the ridge, and looking down you can see what a boggy mess it was down there.

But at least now the hard bit was out of the way, and four or so hours after setting off Carn Dearg was claimed. Phew, that was pretty tough! So much easier in the Cairn Gorms where your starting point is already half way up!

The view, looking NWish I think, from Carn Dearg.

Although when I said the hard bit was over, I was of course wrong. Now on the top the wind and side-ways rain found me an easy target, and terrain over the vast barren flat top of Carn Ballach was very tough going, considering it all almost completely flat. The terrain was either rocky and slippy, or boggy and slippy. Or slippy and slippy. At least the old fence posts meant it was hard to get lost. Eventually though after another couple of hours I made it to  Carn Sgulain, and you can see how thrilled I am!

At least the hard bit is done now… surely!?

Well, yes the hard bits were done – just plain old muddy bogs to work round / scamper through, and a rather steep dip & up to cross the Allt Cuil na Caillich, and I was up on A’ Chailleach, the wind and rain having never left me.

Munro number 28! So now feeling rather pleased with myself, all that stood between me and many pints was a long walk back down into town.

The bothy that everyone takes a photo of was pretty much the only interesting thing on the way down. Is it even a bothy?

Feeling a heavenly relief when the marsh turned back to track and the wind and rain relented an hour or so after being on the tops, and an hour or so later I was in the pub, toasting myself for the week going pretty much exactly as I’d planned it. I was in the pub for sometime, grinning at the bar, thinking to myself  “Only 90% to go….” :-)




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