Stopping off in Aviemore for a couple of days post-marathon, having done very little yesterday, aside from going to Kincraig to see Hamish, the very cute and playful baby polar bear, I decided to stretch my legs today. (The marathon blog will follow later this week – just waiting for the race pics).
The wind was up and the thought of munros didn’t hold any great appeal. There was also the issue of Bruce having completed the Cairngorms meaning driving back towards Fort William for the two he wanted, and the less than favourable forecast in addition to the prospect of a long day knocked this on the head.
So, Meall a’ Bhuachaille it was, an easy corbett we’ve previously done with good paths and decent views. The first stop after parking up near the Glenmore Visitor Centre was the green loch, Lochan Uaine. This beautiful loch is worthy of a visit in itself – local legend says it’s green as the pixies wash their clothes here. I like that better than the other potential explanations.
Carrying on, we continued along a good track which gently pulled us up to the Ryvoan Bothy. The bothy now has a wood burning stove; I’m sure this would be a welcome sight if spending a night here! We stopped off for a snack and enjoyed the shelter.
It was then onwards and up to the summit of Meall a’ Bhuachaille. Having started at a decent height this does not appear particularly daunting and indeed is an easy walk up. The path has been built up well and there are steps on eroded sections, making for good progress. I carried my walking poles in case my legs felt tired but although aware that they’d worked hard (tight calves) the poles stayed on my rucksack for the duration.
The higher we got the windier it got, and on reaching the summit it was blowing quite strongly. Having stopped at the summit cairn / wind shelter for another snack I realised why the folks coming down were wearing jackets and hats! It’s amazing how quickly the wind chills you when you stop at height.
We headed down the back of the hill after a chat at the summit with a few other walkers, deciding against going over the two other tops as we’d only be buffeted by the wind and aside from adding distance would be unlikely to gain much in views.
Dropping down it was fine to have the wind ease and eventually I was able to remove my hood and see! One of the hazards of hair that Bruce is blissfully unaware of is that it’s dangerous when blown across your face unexpectedly, cutting off all visibility!
Back down to the lower paths in Glenmore, we continued along past the very impressive ant hills. Quite how they get so spectacularly large is beyond me – a real feat of nature! They were massive!
Returning to the Glenmore Visitor Centre we picked up the car and headed up to the Cairngorm Mountain Cafe for a relaxing afternoon. That’s what holidays are for!
This was chosen as our first munro of the week as it’s short and a simple up down – allegedly.
A clear parking area was located just after a very clear sign showing the access path to the hill. We donned our boots, fixed ice axes on the rucksacks and headed off – that sounds very swift; in actual time we probably faffed around for 5 minutes. We then quickly realised just how warm it had become and more faffing ensued as layers were shed. In contrast to last time we were out, we were comfortably in base layers until well up the hill.
The path was decent, albeit a little wet and boggy, gaiters on though, we were unperturbed. The snow line was high, around 750 m, and we were fortunate in that even at this level it was quite patchy. It was only towards the final pull that we swapped poles for an ice axe just to be safe, and managed to the top with no need for crampons, the snow being pretty soft.
On reaching the dizzy heights of my 111th munro, Bruce asked, “How many munros have you done now?”
Summit of Meall Ghaordaidh
This is a standing joke as I’ve usually got no idea and he can tell me as he remembers things. On this occasion though, as I replied correctly, a little voice in my head queried whether you’ve done the munro if you’re not yet back down. Hold this thought!
Descent off Meall Ghaordaidh
Heading downwards we retraced our steps (and those of others who had passed through previously), making our way through the snow with relative ease. Off the snow I stopped for a comfort break and Bruce carried on. I couldn’t have been far behind him, but lost sight of him. I blew my whistle and shouted but no response. I lost the boggy path. Meanwhile, he’d gone a little further down and realised he’d lost me, also shouting and getting no response.
Thinking I’d come upon him soon I tried using OS Locate to get an exact pinpoint on the map – it didn’t work. I had a compass showing but no grid reference. On return to the B & B, having reinstalled it, I now realise that you need to give it access to location services on your phone. Oops!
Anyway, with no ability to get a proper reference point I vaguely orientated my map in line with where I’d come from. I then made the mistake of following what I thought was the main burn – it was in fact a small tributary but everything’s bigger just now with the snow melt – and ended up back at the road as planned, but a mile or so up from where I should have been!
Despite the unfortunate turn of events this all turned out okay. A minor feeling of panic as I descended wondering where husband was had been reciprocated as he shouted and retraced his steps to find me. As I saw the car coming into view I hollered and blew my whistle, just in time to catch him about to embark on the next ascent. For once, timed to perfection!
Day 2: Stob Coir’an Albannaich & Meall nan Eun
Having debated last night which walk to do with concerns of streams in spate and marshy ground due to yesterday’s rain we settled for the above munros. As we headed up the boggy path we did briefly question our judgement; the marshy grass was slow going and a steady incline meant that although we were gaining height it was neither quick nor easy.
Continuing up we had to cross a series of small waterfalls and streams. The main issue here was snow – although we could hear the water flowing we were in effect walking over it, hoping that the snow was still firm enough to hold our weight. We wouldn’t have come to any real harm as the water would have been shallow but walking with wet feet’s not particularly pleasurable! Thankfully we reached the bealach dry.
The true ascent then started with the top of Stob Coir’an Albannaich in sight. We followed the curve of the slope up and around, and I was grateful to Bruce for taking the lead for much of this. It’s far easier following in someone else’s footsteps rather than having to break trail yourself. The snow was fairly soft and for the most part the walking was fairly easy. The thing that played on my mind was the steep descent to come between the tops, as per the Walk Highlands route guide.
Reaching the summit cairn we stopped to admire the views which were stunning. The cornices along the top of the ridge were very apparent and I really did start to worry about what lay ahead! Having checked the map and route guide the line of descent became clear and it was somewhat steeper than I’d have liked.
Initially we dropped down to a bealach. This proved manageable once started despite looking (to me) quite horrific in the beginning. The next step was to find the rake that lead down to the next bealach: it was steep but the softer snow allowed our feet to sink in. Alongside the comfort of the ice axe it quickly saw me reach the floor of the bealach, although if I’m honest I did have a feeling of panic at the start of the descent from the cairn. The upside of heading for a bealach is knowing that you will stop if you slide. This was the fear higher up – how far down would you go, and what might you hit, before stopping!
Bit of a thought having to descend from the peak above
Have a feeling that perhaps the descent of the rake may be easier in the snow
The walk to the second munro, Meall nan Eun was easy. We ascended a peak between, Beinn Tarsuinn, which was a pleasant walk with gentle incline compared with what we’d done previously, followed by another short descent and the final push up to the munro. It proved stunning as the views around were breathtakingly clear.
During the ascent we’d had a brief spell of gentle rain. This may have added to the chill as prior to this we’d been warm; however it happened, we chose not to linger too long as the cold was noticeably for the first time.
Heading back across the plateau we had another descent to tackle. This was an experience indeed! Essentially we had to drop down the steep crags (snow covered) and lose height quickly. Bruce led the way and I followed in his footsteps again. However, at one particularly steep section he suggested I’d be better going a marginally different route as it may prove easier. I found myself frozen to the spot, terrified, as I became very aware that the soft snow may well give way beneath my feet resulting in a slide downwards! Bruce was somewhat surprised by my polite request for help, and calmly coached me to use my ice axe to hold the position, dig my feet in and go sideways. Having succeeded with this I was then able to get moving more comfortably again, all the while being given gentle encouragement from below – my hero!! (He later told me that he could tell I was scared so figured not to crack jokes or take the mickey!)
Back on the grass, although we still had a good height to descend it felt easier. The ground was much better than the route up with a decent path; despite the boggy wet conditions in places we made good progress. A few small waterfall and stream crossings eventually took us back to a land rover track and after this it was only a short walk back to the car.
A truly joyful day in the hills again: felt like I was pushing my limits at times but looking back I’d do it again.
Day 3: Ben Challum
Opting for a shorter day, we decided to try Ben Challum. Despite being short this hill was a hard slog, climbing steadily after crossing the railway line across boggy ground. The snow, as we progressed, took care of the bogs and again we were able to walk across covered streams and areas that would otherwise have been unpleasant.
The views further up are said to be quite spectacular but sadly we didn’t get to appreciate them. The cloud was low and it became very foggy as we approached the top. The snow line was higher than it has been (around 900 m) and again the snow was slightly wet allowing the feet to sink in making progress easier, particularly on the descents. A familiar story, ice axes provided security for self belaying, but crampons were just extra weight in the rucksack, along with the Microspikes, spare gloves, down jacket, base layer, hat and 2 buffs!
As the snow got deeper I had a fleeting moment of thinking maybe this is as far as I go. However, Bruce assured me that we were within a few hundred metres of the summit. Problem was that you couldn’t see the summit, and with the route guide describing a cleft on the ridge I was worried we’d fall down it! It transpired the cleft wasn’t too big, we didn’t fall down it and we did get to the top safely. On this occasion the return leg was far easier, retracing our steps back down.
As we descended the sun attempted to break through and the route opened up to show views back down. It’s amazing how much less steep and scary something is when you can actually see it!
2018, a new year and some new resolutions. Like most people, last year I made the usual resolutions to ‘improve’ myself. This year is all about self-acceptance and remembering that I am enough.
My resolutions therefore have a different slant:
1. Be strong – looking to be physically strong through a daily yoga practise (at least for the next 30 days – Yoga with Adriene, True, free online 30 day course), and mentally by taking time for me and nourishing myself as well as others.
2. Reclaim my life – focus on the things that are important to me, ditch the stuff that isn’t (and stopping feeling guilty and beating myself up if I can’t do everything all of the time!)
In light of this, I took it as a sign when I received an e-mail from the organisers of the Lumphanan Detox 10k offering an exchange of places, offloading my place to a clubmate. I do love this race but haven’t trained as much as I’d like during December due to a combination of feeling a little under the weather / dark nights / icy pavements, and decided there was no point in racing and then beating myself up for doing ‘badly’.
Cue an ideal opportunity to head for the hills. A perfect forecast window for Lochnagar on 1st January made it a complete no brainer. So, husband and I headed out and had the most amazing day! The day was truly spectacular. Hard packed paths from the car park …
Had it not been for the awesome spectacular presented on the approach to Ballater you’d have had no idea what fun lay ahead!
Our Kahtoola Microspikes came in handy as we progressed up and out of the tree line and I thanked my lucky stars for having a husband with foresight who gifts me these things (along with the ice axe and crampons for Christmas which thankfully remain as ‘cool’ accessories on my rucksack)!
There were a surprising number of people out on the hill and, as always, it was lovely to pass the time of day with them as we walked.
Onwards and upwards, we thoroughly enjoyed the views and were delighted to see the view open up temporarily for us as we approached the summit. Temperatures dropped and I resorted to adding another pair of gloves (taking the total to three pairs) and my down jacket to keep truly cosy!
Coming off the summit we enjoyed our lunch – tomato soup never tastes quite as good as when it’s out of a flask on a cold winter’s day!
Then the long descent back down to the car park via the beautiful frozen waterfall.
Finally, on arrival back at the landrover track we hot footed it back towards the car park aware of the sun setting behind us and the moon rising ahead.
We chased the light for as long as we could before succumbing to the darkness and digging out the head torches, if for no other reason than to ensure we didn’t slip on one of the small icy patches on the path. We met a number of people at this point headed for the bothy, recently refurbished (but not quite with en-suite facilities sadly), two of whom were pulling a trolley!
A brilliant day out and hopefully the first of many great days in the hills.