The road to Ben Nevis Nov 2009

The road to Ben Nevis Nov 2009
The road to Ben Nevis Nov 2009

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Monday, 28 July 2014

Drake's Bothy to Derry Lodge via Glen Einich, Braeriach and Cairn Toul, and Corrour Bothy

The small clearing by Drakes Bothy is a good camp spot and a nice place to start the day. I woke with blue skies which soon turned to grey - the tops, initially clear, became cloaked in cloud.
Tops soon became cloaked in cloud
On the path soon after 7am, I guessed I was around two hours behind my planned start by the shores of Loch Einich. I needed good weather because the way out of the glen was up onto the high Cairngorm plateau. I decided to continue knowing that if the conditions deteriorated I could retrace my steps and head over to my foul weather route from Glenmore Lodge albeit with 4 or more hours delay.
Glen Einich is well signposted
The forest path here is varied and pleasant. Glen Einich is well signposted - and it is from this point that I started to adopt the current spelling (previous using the OS version 'Eanaich'). The majority of walkers head on a little further before swinging right into the Lairig Gru.
It is a long haul to the Loch where the path upwards takes off: 11 or 12 kilometres or around 2 hours walking on a stony landrover track. The only other human was a cyclist who went down to the loch and returned while I walked.
The only human sighting that morning

The map showing the original planned route from Loch Einich. Pull the map around in the box to see surrounding areas including the actual start which is at 3 to 4 km east of Feshie bridge (or see map on previous report)

Loch Einich and the Glen stretching northwards

This was early May and I was uncertain about the amount of snow in the north facing corrie, and nervous that it might block the path to the plateau. Without crampons and ice axe I had limited capability for crossing steep snow. Five or six hundred metres from the end the track heads downwards to the loch. Here a small path winds upwards to the left traversing the west facing slope. A number of streams hurtle down from the ridge above. Crossing was easy but in several cases potentially dangerous because of a softening snow bridge.
Snow blocks the path to the Cairngorm plateau
Eventually I came to a halt as the path disappeared under a wide blanket of snow. With a little scrambling it was possible to skirt around the top of the snow field, to reach the rocky slope up to the high plateau. By now the cloud had lifted and its base seemed certain to remain high above, but winds had increased with gusts at a level where there was a real risk of being blown over. The constant noise and the lack of shelter made for uncomfortable walking.
Braeriach from Einich Cairn
For a Cairngorm newbie like me the landscape is surprisingly rocky, and the distance around the plateau edge is considerable. With the wind from the west and south-west I was pushed up into the far corner where the top of Braeriach looked down over part of the Lairig Gru and across to Ben McDui just a few metres higher. Moving round to Cairn Toul which looked so close at 2-3 kilometres as the crow flies took more than 2 hours following the edge of the escarpment.
Cairn Toul from Braeriach
Lairig Gru looking south
This was a Friday and more and more people appeared at different points from all routes onto this part of the plateau. One of these was TGOer Alistair Whitaker who arrived from Glen Feshie like a well-dressed
Looking northwest from Cairn Toul
marathon runner. We both followed the rim of the plateau until I, battered by hours of noisy wind became seduced by a non-existent low level route I spied on the map and spent an hour or so traversing an uncomfortable slope for my trouble. After this, I decided to skip the last top Devil's Point and headed on down to Corrour Bothy.
Corrour Bothy is down there somewhere!
The route off follows a corrie facing east and north and the start was clogged with snow. With the path buried it was necessary to drop down the steep slope to the side, eventually working the way back to path beyond the snow field a few hundred metres below. Here were TGOers Richard and Alan taking a breather, looking far too tired to reach Derry Lodge which was also my target. A little further on Corrour Bothy was humming. This wild mountain hut is placed on a few square metres of flat ground surrounded by a wet and rocky wilderness. Every part of the ground outside the bothy was taken with tents - maybe 12 or more. In the failing light people were rushing here and there getting their sleeping and eating arrangements organised, with yet more arriving from down below.
Corrour Bothy from Coire Odhar

Bridge over River Dee north to Corrour Bothy and Cairn Toul
After a long day it was unlikely I would continue as far as Derry Lodge if I could find a camp spot earlier. As I arrived at Luibeg River some 6 or 7 km further on I found small piece of flat ground in a clearing close to the river. Ideal. A little later, in the dark I had a cheery 'have a good evening!' from Richard who continued on to Derry Lodge - while Alan who stayed with friends at Corrour Bothy greeted me in the morning on his way to catch-up his companion.
Camping by Luibeg burn
Tomorrow was Saturday, and the consensus about the weather was that we could expect storms on Sunday, but Saturday would start OK. I decided to take advantage of Saturday's good weather to enjoy the Cairngorm some more, and to walk without my load of cooking and sleeping gear.
Derry Lodge with camp spot in trees in middle of picture
In the morning I moved down to Derry Lodge and put up the Trailstar and left what I did not need for walking in a large dry bag which I had brought for this purpose. There is a direct route to the high Cairngorms from here up the ridge, and I set off with my saggy sack and one walking pole.

Derry Lodge from approach to Carn Crom
The weather was cloudy and dry; the previous days winds had moderated; but the cloud was unhappily low at about 850 metres. Soon after the outlying top of Carn Crom I was walking in mist. This continued over the high point of Derry Caingorm until I reached the end of the ridge above Loch Etchachan.
The two cairns on top ofDerry Cairngorm
Loch Etchachan
The high tops here that looked so enticing on the map were anything but with the knowledge that I'd be in mist again as soon as I ascended from the Loch. After a lunch sandwich the weather had not improved so I set my target as the viewpoint along Loch Avon before head back to Derry Lodge. This was interesting because it featured on my original plan as a foul weather route which I was advised against because of the high north facing slope to be negotiated.
Looking northeast along Loch Avon
Two walkers then three appeared from down below as I arrived there. And it began to rain. As others headed upwards into the mist I started heading southeast down to the intriguingly name Hutchison Memorial Hut.
Down to Hutchison Memorial Hut
Hutchison Memorial Hut
 This turned out to be a small and well-equipped bothy - empty when I passed at 4 or 5 o'clock, but apparently jam-packed when the Dutch crew arrived 4 hours later.
Soon, on the path following the west bank of Derry Burn I join my foul weather alternative (FWA) route which I would have used if the Cairngorm plateau proved out of bounds. This path took a valley routed started from Ryovan Bothy near Glenmore Lodge and was contingent of the Fords of Avon being crossable.
Trees rise up out of the scree beside Derry Burn
As you get closer to Derry Lodge the landscape changes from brown-grey wild and rocky to verdant green. More and more trees at first incongruously rising from a rocky scree slope, then from the green of grass manicured by many nibbling deer. Now Saturday, my previously lonely tent is now one of several spread over a wide area as families and groups have marched or cycled in for a weekend in the hills.
Wild Anemones dot the grass at Derry Lodge
 A full slide show here:-

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

The Monaliadth from Errogie to Feshie

Errogie dwelling

The Monaliadth is a different style of mountain area. The rounded hills and extensive high moorland give it a remote feel but without the dramatic landscape of the steeper and more rocky West Highlands or Cairngorm.
an entrance to the Monadliadth at Drumnaglas
The area is dissected by landrover tracks, which provide the most popular through routes. My plan took me from Drumnaglas Lodge over Carn Odhar to Coingnascallan and thence to Dulnain Bothy and Feshiebridge via Kincraig.

The track leading into the Monadliadth
Looking north over Drumnaglas and the mountains beyond Loch Ness

Drumnaglas is busy with development. The whole area seems to be under threat from windfarms but here, although the access roads and a new bridge need to be negotiated, the main site to the south remains hidden from my route. There are campaigners promoting protection of this wilderness look here and here.
Shap M powering up the track
 The track goes steadily upwards and I am soon passed by Shap who left the campsite a little after me. He is aiming for the 'lunch hut' at the very top, and we share a table 30 minutes later in the shelter of the prefab. On the skyline a van from Scottish and Southern Electricity is parked - as if to save us from any sense of isolation.
Pathless at the top of the Monadliadth - zoom in to see the Scottish Electricity van

From here I have my cross-country route planned down to the next valley, while Shap heads off along the 'ridge' (more like a wide and rough moor) - both routes pathless. As the skyline disappears behind me I get a glimpse of Sandy arriving at the hut by the SSE van.

My journey will take me across three ranges of hills as I move eastwards. The first two watersheds require some navigation skill as the tops are relatively featureless while the last one is traversed by a track which leads down to Kincraig.

In this territory the landscape underfoot can be difficult to negotiate without a path and often a stream will provide an easier route - although it is never straight.

So the routine is to follow a track to get close as possible to the crossing point, then follow a river or stream to the watershed, navigate by compass over the top, then pick up a recognised stream heading downwards to join a track on the other side. Even in fine weather a compass is useful to ensure you continue to travel in the right direction.
Coingnafearn Lodge
Near Coingnascallan the track turns into a paved road. It was no surprise to find a few bird watchers parked here, but when a small bus appears in this wilderness I was taken a-back. Peering out of the window at the back is a single school boy being delivered to the lodge at the end of the road. I learn later that one benefit of living in Scotland is free school transport for all.

It is now around 5 in the afternoon and I decide to save the ascent out of this central valley for the next day. A field close to a ruined building provides a good camping spot, and an hour later I am joined by Sandy with his distinctive tent, a red Laser Competition. The small wood here hides a large group of dismantled houses which add to the atmospheric setting.
Coingnafeuinternich camp

We set off together in the morning with different destinations in mind. Skirting the small wood we crossed a river to join the track heading east. This is shooting territory and gamekeepers are keen to protect the targets by trapping predators. By the road in quick succession we found 3 different traps.
crow trap
mink trap
? Mystery trap

Many of the landrover tracks appear on the OS map, and you'd expect more detailed information on the 1:25000 than appears on the 1:50000. At this particular location however the tracks are different depending on the scale (you should be able to see this effect by zooming in on the accompanying map). We counted bends and side streams until we thought we reached the right point to head up to the watershed.
Stream bed leading down to Dulnain Bothy

A little later we parted ways - Sandy heading east and slightly north towards Caggan and Red Bothy whereas I faced southeast to reach the Dulnain river further upstream. 3-4 hours into the day I reached Dulnain Bothy, which was my overoptimistic target for the previous night.

bridge above Dulnain Bothy
This looks a comfortable night spot and from the bothy book I could see that someone had camped near the river here the night before (as was my plan). A rickety bridge crossed the stream, and by heading south along the valley without a path I soon reached another small hut and a junction with the track that was to lead me out of the Monadliath to Kincraig.
Bridge over River Dulnain
Hut on River Dulnain

Before long the views to the east are dominated by the Cairngorms and I spend some time with the map trying to identify my target entry point which was to be Glen Einaich.
Cairngorm panorama from Monadliath above Kincraig

The track leaves the Monadliath at Leault Farm which is announced by the barking of many dogs. All around are kennels with dogs chained up shouting at the intruder, but not one person. Most of the dogs are collies and once through the farm yard I see why the people are missing. There is a coach and a crowd of visitors watching a demonstration of dog craft with a few wary sheep in the field ahead. Follow the link above for more information.
Dog show at Leault Farm

Kincraig looks important on the map, but it is a small settlement with just one general store. I was relying on this place for a resupply of gas - I'd heard of others making order with the shop so I was reasonably optimistic about my chances! As it turned out they did have some gas, but completely the wrong fitting except for the two pre-orders. They stock warm food, but that had sold out in the morning.

This is the crossing point for the river Spey, and working around to Feshiebridge bypassing the road found some pleasant way-marked paths with an intriguing sculpture park.
Feshie Sculpture Park

After Feshiebridge the route heads into the forest and follows several kilometres of wide track with any potential view obscured by the tall conifers. Eventually a path breaks away from the service track and emerges out of the plantation. Now I'd been walking for over 11 hours and it was clear that I could not comfortable reach my target at the top of Glen Eanaich so I was looking for somewhere to camp.

Feshie Forest track
The first place which looked comfortable was a clearing next to the path where also, tucked partly out of sight, was the small bothy known as Drake's Bothy. I pitched my tent on the flat grass nearby and as I searched for water I bumped into another TGOer, Humphrey W. racing onwards to meet some companions at the Cairngorm Footbridge 5 or 6 km further on. A little later Louise and Laura appeared on the same late mission.
Drake's Bothy

As it turned out I had the site to myself. The bothy had a small supply of gas which helped me eke out my remaining supply.

Campsite by Drake's Bothy
For a full set of views see here:-

Friday, 18 July 2014

Glen Affric & Cannich to Drumnadrochit and Errogie

Breaking camp by river Affric looking west
Despite a less than early start, a few minutes walking brought me level with a small encampment of Trailstars across the valley below. One was bright yellow so I knew this was Lee, with fellow walkers Peter, and Gareth from the bothy the night before.
3 Trailstars by river Affric
A little further on a figure jumped up onto the track in front of me, another Trailstar man just breaking camp Paul Atkinson told me of the challenges following the muddy low-level route over from Maol-Bhuidhe bothy.
'6 or 7 hours of marching down the track'

Affric Lodge and Sgurr na Lapaich

The small town of Cannich is the gateway to 'the beautiful Glen Affric'. For me the campsite provide a welcome respite from the 6 or 7 hours slog marching down the track from the upper reaches of the Glen. A store provides some essentials, there is a pub with a variable reputation, and a wreck of a hotel which at this time is available for sale. The campsite has an attractive cafe - unfortunately the 9-5 opening hours did not match my schedule.

Cannich campsite

The hills above Cannich looking towards the Affric Mountains
Moving on the next morning, roads were avoided by taking a cross country route to Corrimony. The open fell above Cannich provides vistas across to the mountains bordering Glen Affric and although partly pathless the way is not too hard underfoot and the route finding not difficult.
Corrimony - chambered cairn

The small community of Corrimony is attractive in the spring sunlight, the enclosed graveyard suggesting a more auspicious past. A little to the east beside the road is a fine example of a pre-historic chambered burial cairn. The minor road leads to a signed path just before White Bridge.

The chambered cairn at Corrimony

The woodland tracks which makes up the route to Drumnadrochit is easy and pleasant walking with only a little confusion on the outskirts of the destination where the path signs get mixed in with some for local circular walks.
on the woodland path from Corrimony to Drum
From the Corrimony to Drumnadrochit path

On the map Drum seemed a major town after the wild West Highlands. On the ground, however, it is small and spread out - with the supermarket at one end of town with a garage some half a kilometer further which sells gas. In the other direction a visitors centre and a few shops and cafes.
Gordon Menzies' TGO Loch Ness ferry

Walking on the TGO Challenge we had an arrangement with local boat owner Gordon Menzies to ferry us across Loch Ness which presents a bit of a barrier to our path eastwards. Gordon has been doing this since the early days of the TGOC and, in between time, he probably has a good business Nessie hunting with tourists. His most recent boat is equipped with sonar and video system for showing useful tourist information. This is one of the 'pinch-points' on the walk where individuals on their different routes meet briefly for a shared experience before heading off on their separate ways again.
Disembarking at Inverfarigaig on Loch Ness

Here was Sandy, Shap, Nigel & Michael, and Chris Peart.

One local couple have become good friends of the TGOC and welcome campers to their field. On some evenings, for those that book in advance, an evening meal can be had in their living room overlooking the hills of the Monoliadth.
Lemon Drizzle cake and tea welcomes weary walkers

camping in the back field

mod cons provided for campers in the field

For the full set of two days' pictures look here:-