Woohoo! I've discovered how to add a few little tick boxes at the bottom of each post, to enable readers to record their reactions. Do please use them. I think I've identified the four most likely responses ...

Saturday, 27 September 2014

An e-mail from Ali and Sue

I have just received an e-mail from Ali and Sue. They have received my entry ... and since I shall be a 10-timer next year (I really can't believe I am typing this!!) my acceptance is guaranteed. I have a route more or less ready to go. Just some finishing touches to add. All being well, I should have completed that and measured all distances, and counted all squiggles, by the time the route card arrive, so I can just fill one in and return it immediately. Now THAT'S what I call being organized.

Cairngorms Expedition (24)

We eventnually met up a little to the North of the junction with the Braeriach path, and we sat to eat our cake. Then we walked back together, down through the Rothiemurchus forest and back to the camp site. Once the worst of the path was over, I switched to sandals to ease the worst of the rubbing on my feet.

For those uncharitable types who might be tempted to ask why Mrs B didn't accompany me for the entire expedition, I would point out that after she broke her ankle in 2006 the doctors said she would never walk without a stick again. It was a bad break. That she was able to walk from Coylumbridge well up into the Lairig Ghru, to a point less than 5km from Pools of Dee, and back in an afternoon is a very creditable achievement. Besides, if she'd come with me for the whole expedition, I wouldn't have got my cake, would I????

Cairngorms Expedition (23)

There are also good and plentiful cairns to mark the way ... and after this one, I had mobile phone reception once more (which I had not had since Sgor an Lochain Uaine). I sent a text to Mrs B, to say that I may be a little later than I had thought; and she texted back to say that she was coming up to meet me with cake. Bless her! Further exchanges followed. She'd found a nice spot to sit and wait ... but when we compared locations (she didn't have a map ... she'd just been following the Lairig Ghru path up ... but she has a GPS app on her phone so she could tell me where she was even if she couldn't relate it to the map for herself) it became apparent that we were still nearly 6 kilometres apart. That would be a long wait for her (I explained about the nature of the ground underfoot) so she decided to continue on up.

Cairngorms Expedition (22)

The Pools of Dee are not quite at the highest point of the Lairig Ghru pass, and there were still masses of rocks to be crossed to reach the bealach. Fortunately, however, the path through them was clear for most of the way.

Cairngorms Expedition (21)

After a steady slog uphill, with the ground getting rockier and rockier as I neared the top of the pass, I eventually reached the Pools of Dee.

Cairngorms Expedition (20)

The Lairig Ghru path rises steadily upwards towards the bealach, and all around on either side are the lofty peaks of Carn a' Mhaim, Ben Macdui (once thought to be the tallest of Scotland's mountains), The Devil's Point (deliberately mistranslated from Gaelic to spare Queen Victoria's blushes), Cairn Toul, Sgor an Lochain Uaine, Braeriach and Sron na Lairige, as well as stunning glacial features - corries and hanging valleys. It is a special place, and I began to look forward to passing this way again, but in the opposite direction, as part of my 2015 Challenge.

Cairngorms Expedition (19)

The Corrour bridge over the river Dee - the farthest upstream of all its bridges - was in good shape, and I crossed without trouble. It was then but a short distance to the path junction, where I turned left. According to the map, I should then after about a kilometre have come to a feature called Clach nan Taillear (stone), but I completely failed to notice this feature ... so no photographs of it, I'm afraid.

Cairngorms Expedition (18)

The Coire Odhar path was a steep but easy descent, and before long we approached Corrour bothy. Due to the level of usage they have installed a composting toilet, and I made use of this facility before pressing on. The bothy book was full, so I didn't write an entry to record my passing. I left the bothy at 1.30 ... I still had 18 kilometres to go, through the Lairig Ghru. I didn't need to push myself hard ... but I couldn't afford to dawdle, either.

Cairngorms Expedition (17)

We took photos of one another at the summit of the Devil's Point, and my companion had his packed lunch. I took a glug and had a couple of my breakfast bars. I was beginning to worry about time ... I still had to get down to Corrour and through the Lairig Ghru. I had said that I should be back at Rothiemurchus by 6 ... but that was beginning to look like a bit of a tall order. Maybe I'd have to pass on that cooked lunch at Corrour bothy ...

Cairngorms Expedition (16)

As I climbed towards The Devil's Point, I spotted a ptarmigan ... and then another. These ones, however, stayed around long enough for me to deploy my camera. As I tried to get into the best position to take my photograph, I saw another walker coming up behind me ... so I gestured to him to tread softly, and mouthed "ptarmigan", pointing to where they were. I took a few photographs, of which this is the best, and then we continued up to The Devil's Point together. As we did we talked of this and that, and it transpired that my new companion (whose name I now forget) had made exactly the same error of thinking he was on Sgor an Lochain Uaine when he was in fact on Cairn Toul ... but he figured out for himself that he couldn't be when he realized he hadn't seen Lochan Uaine. There's a lot of it about, it seems. Just as well he went up on a clear day.

In any event, it turned out that my companion had been in Corrour Bothy last night, and would be heading back down there before walking back out to Linn of Dee, so we decided to stay in company until the bothy. Our paces were well matched, and the attraction for me was that as he had already come up the Coire Odhar path, he'd be able to point me the correct way in the event of any ambiguity as to the path (although, in fact, when it came t it there was none).

Cairngorms Expedition (15)

Cairn Toul has two cairns on the summit plateau, about 100 metres apart. From the first (Northern) one, the second looked marginally lower; and the GPS gave a grid reference which seemed consistent with the spot height on the map. So I counted this the summit - but I could see another walker across at the Southern cairn so I wandered across to see which he felt was the higher. On arrival, I felt that the Norhtern one looked higher from the Southern one as well, but I nevertheless asked him what he thought. When I did, I was rather shocked to find that he thought we were on Sgor an Lochan Uaine.

"This is Cairn Toul", I corrected him.

"No," he insisted, pointing to the unnamed hill 1213, "that's Cairn Toul 1291. This is Sgor an Lochan Uaine, 1258."

"It's not," I said. "I've already been over Sgor an Lochain Uaine today. This is Cairn Toul."

"Are you a geographer?" he asked, somewhat aggressively.

"No," I said, "I'm a navigator. But if you doubt it, we can always ask my yellow box of tricks" and so saying, I fetched out my GPS unit.

"Ah," he sneered. "When all else fails, turn to technology."

"All else hasn't failed," I countered, "and I am not in the least doubt where we are. But since you question it, I thought this the best way to prove it."

There were, in truth, no end of other ways in which I could have proved it. I could have suggested taking bearings (there is a near enough 90 degree deviation between the bearing from Sgor an Lochain Uaine to Cairn Toul and that from Cairn Toul to hill 1213). I could have invited him to contemplate the fact that the top he was calling Cairn Toul was clearly somewhat lower than the top on which we were discussing our location, whereas if we were on Sgor an Lochain Uaine and it was Cairn Toul, it would be visible higher. Or I could have asked him whether he had observed Lochan Uaine below him, and shown him my photograph to prove that I had. However, I was dealing with somebody whose map reading and navigation skills were such that he had completely failed to notice that there was a 1213 metre top to be ascended and descended before he got to Cairn Toul, and I suspect that any of these proofs would have been just a wee bit too sophisticated for him. So I used the GPS, and he did not argue with it when he saw the grid reference (which shows that he did, at least, know how to read a grid reference ... which is something I suppose).

We then went our separate ways, he to Sgor an Lochain Uaine (the real one ... I wonder what he would have called it when he got there if I had not corrected him on his location?) and I to Hill 1213 and then down to the top of Coire Odhar. Shortly before the bottom o fthis slope I came to a spring, and was able to refill my water bottles from the stream just a few metres below it. I drank my fill, and continued with three bottles of lovely fresh, clear spring water in my pack.

Cairngorms Expedition (14)

As I set off for Cairn Toul, the blue water of Lochan Uaine came into view below and to the left. The clouds quickly cleared, and I did not find myself shrouded in mist. At the bottom of the slope between the two peaks, however, I did (somewhat to my surprise) meet another walker who had camped last night "somewhere in the Lairig Ghru" and had already been over Cairn Toul. She was aiming on doing Sgor an Lochain Uaine and Braeriach, and getting back to Rothiemurchus "by mid afternoon". That seemed a tall order to me; but looking at the speed with which she ascended after our parting, I suspect she made it with little trouble - provided her water supply held out, that is, as like me she was nursing a precious and dwindling supply. Then again, after Carn na Criche she would be able to refill at Wells of Dee, so I doubt she had any real problems.

Cairngorms Expedition (13)

I reached the summit cairn at 9 a.m. and took this photograph looking North West, towards the Falls of Dee. I hoped they would be apparent in the photo, but once again there was a haze which obscured my photographic efforts, albeit not to such an extent as yesterday. Soon after I took this photograph, a mist began to envelop Carn na Criche and Braeriach, and looking ahead the way I was intended to go I could see the tops of the clouds bubbling up out of the valley of the Lairig Ghru and threatening to swathe the path to Cairn Toul and possibly the top itself. Walking along such a perilous precipice this was NOT what I wanted at all ...

Cairngorms Expedition (12)

Before long, I was at the ridge line. Looking to my left, towards Carn na Criche, I could see the last of the winter's snow, still clinging perilously to the north-facing cliffs of the corrie in mid-September. Then I began the final ascent of Sgor an Lochain Uaine.

Cairngorms Expedition (11)

I ascended the South West ridge of Sgor an Lochain Uaine, which is a long, steady progression up rocky ground. Take it steady and there is no problem. Towards the top a Munroists' path becomes evident, with a spur off towards Carn na Criche for those whose target is Braeriach. I took it slowly and steadily, taking care of my water supply. Towards the top I realized that if I was using my orthotics, I needed to lose the footbeds, so I paused on a rock and made necessary footwear adjustments, before pressing on upwards. The weather was crisp and clear, the air absolutely still - a near perfect day for going high (I would have preferred just a little air movement ... but certainly not much given that I was heading up to a string of tops perched above ferocious-looking cliffs on their North faces showing on the map).

Cairngorms Expedition (10)

I woke up early. It had either rained in the night, or there had been a heavy dew. Either way, the outside of the tent was sodden, and leaving it up to dry out would eat deeply into my day. I had a big day planned, and I wasn't sure I could afford it. Indeed, last night, as I contemplated the mountain range from below, I had nearly talked myself into wimping out and just heading back from Sgor an Lochain Uaine over Braeriach, giving Cairn Toul and The Devil's POint a miss, along with the Lairig Ghru, and just settling for three Munros out of this expedition. However, this morning, things felt much better (apart from my feet, which had rubbed badly - particularly the heels: however, a little compeed and a the insertion of my tired old orthotic inserts changed the feel and persuaded me that I could carry on).

I had packed six assorted cereal bars (of the kind that I CAN eat) by way of breakfast, but I only felt like eating two of them. Then I packed, put my sodden tent back into its bag, and set off upstream. As I did so, the sun was just rising ...

Friday, 26 September 2014

Cairngorms Expedition (9)

The Allt Luineag is a lovely little river with grassy banks ... and easily forded. Beyond it were the flanks of the North ridge of Monadh Mor, strewn with boulder fields. I picked my way through these, and soon found myself on a delightful ridge which led me to the summit. At the summit cairn I met another walker who was planning on continuing to Beinn Bhrotain, and who warned me that Loch nan Stuirteag was midge central, and I might not want to camp there. So I descended the way I had come and made my camp for the night on the south bank of the Allt Luineag, pretty much at the location shown in this photograph. I did not feel like getting my stove out and cooking, so I ate the following day's lunch for supper, promising myself that I would cook myself today's supper for lunch tomorrow, at Corrour Bothy. And so I drifted off to sleep.

Cairngorms Expedition (8)

Now, the 1 : 50 000 map shows three small lochans between Carn Ban Mor and Loch nan Cnapan. The 1 : 25000 map shows 27 ... and even this may be an under-estimate. The ground is broken and far from easy to traverse. In clear weather such as I had, I just pointed myself at Loch nan Cnapan and circumnavigated anything I didn't feel like trying to cross, before regaining a course for Loch nan Cnapan. In poor visibility, however, this traverse would be a nightmare. This photo shows one of the larger lochans - which I believe to be the one at NN 914964. I passed it to the North, and then headed East to cross the Allt Loch nan Cnapan a little to the North of the Loch ... then I headed East South East, and looked for a place to cross the Allt Luineag.

Cairngorms Expedition (7)

From Sgor Gaoithe I headed towards Carn Ban Mor, then aimed off to my left. I didn't want to go up Carn Ban Mor ... just find my way to its South East flank and descend towards Loch nan Cnapan, to the North of the Allt Sgairnich. However, I was also keenly aware of the need to stay clear of the cliffs above Coire Odhar. Fortunately it was a clear day and I had plentiful visibility, so this was a thoroughly enjoyable section of my walk. In poor visibility, however, I could well see that it would be a very worrisome one.

On the North East flank of Carn Ban Mor, close to the Fuaran Diotach, I encountered this little sheltered lochan with an old stone shelter. This looked to me like a good wild pitch, and the place to head for if ever caught up on this part of the plateau in deteriorating weather. There is nothing on either the 1 : 50,000 or the 1 : 25 000 map to identify it, although the 1 : 25 000 map does show a little round feature at NN 901977 and I suspect that this may be it. I did not, however, have the 1 : 25 000 map with me at the time. What I did have with me was my GPS unit, however ... so I took a location reading, and copied the grid reference into a text message on my mobile phone. I had no signal to send it, but I didn't need to. I simply saved it to drafts, intending to take a note and mark it off on the map when I got home.

Before I could do this, however, I began encountering difficulties with the functioning of my mobile phone. Suspecting it may be because of the 600 or so old text messages still stored in its poor, overworked memory banks, I told it to delete everything ... and there went my note of the grid reference of this delightful location. Oops!

Cairngorms Expedition (6)

And far below me ... Locah Eanaich and Coire Odhar.

Cairngorms Expedition (5)

And then ... the summit cairn of Sgor Gaoith ... what a delightful mountain this is!

Cairngorms Expedition (4)

As I ascended Sgoran Dubh Mor, I looked back the way I came and took this photograph looking towards Creag Dubh and Lochan Beanaidh. This really is a truly wonderful ridge walk, and well worth the horrible heathery hillside that you have to traverse to get up here.

Cairngorms Expedition (3)

The map shows a little feature on the South flank of Creag Dubh called Clach Mhic Cailein or The Argyll Stone. This is what it looks like.

Cairngorms Expedition (2)

As I gained height, I could look down on Loch an Eilein. The haze made it less than ideal photography weather, but I took a photograph anyway. It'll do.

Cairngorms Expedition (1)

Now, when planning our holiday, I gave careful consideration to the fact that neither of us had been on an overnight ferry crossing before, and we did not know how well we would sleep. It was possible that we wouldn't sleep all that well, and that we might arrive back in Aberdeen dog tired and not fit to undertake the 500 mile drive home right away. So I thought it as well to finish with a few days at Rothiemurchus, just in case. Well, that's my excuse, and I'm sticking to it.

I'd brought all my expedition gear with me just in case the weather was fair, and as it was more than fair Mrs B sent me off into the Cairngorms by myself for a two day expedition to test my new trail shoes, while she set about enjoying the delights (such as they are) of Aviemore. I mentioned the cake shop which does gluten-free cakes, and advised her where to find it, in the hope that some cake might have found its way into the van by the time I returned, and then I set off. My plan was a simple one ... knock off Sgor Gaoith and Monadh Mor on day 1, camp by Loch nan Stuirteag, head up Sgor and Lochain Uaine, Cairn Toul and The Devil's Point on the morning of day 2, then head down to Corrour Bothy for lunch and return through the Lairig Ghru.

So off I went ... following the track into Gleann Eanaich. The Am Beanaidh (pictured) is a beautiful river, and I followed it as far as the Allt Ruigh na Sroine, where I had a good glug and refilled my water bottles, before back-tracking to the path junction and heading up the open hillside which is the Cadha Mor. This is a bit of a horrible heathery hillside; but it doesn't last for long, and soon I was on the ridge line and heading on up Greag Dhubh.

A Munro for Mrs B (3)

OK, so it's a summit trig point, not a Cairn ... but Mrs B was happy to have reached it. We had originally been intending to continue to Creag Leacach, but a number of considerations were telling against this. First, Mrs B's mountain fitness falls somewhat short of mine, and this was supposed to be a pleasant walk to settle her in to the holiday NOT a major, strenuous effort. Secondly, it looked as though there was some rain happening in and around the Spittal, and some more back in the direction of Glas Tulaichean which might be coming our way. We didn't want to be rained upon if we could avoid it. And thirdly, the sole of my right boot was starting to come away. All things considered, we thought it best to turn back for the van ... which we did. Then we motored down to Braemar, and bought me some new trail shoes in Braemar Mountain Sports. Creag Leacach can wait. I'll be coming this way again on the 2015 Challenge, and if it's a nice day I might just leave my pack at the summit of Glas Maol and do a light out-and-back to claim that one. We'll see ...

A Munro for Mrs B (2)

It didn't take us long to reach the summit plateau, and soon we were striding towards the summit cairn. It was a lovely bright day. We only needed one small day sack between us, and guess who got to play Sherpa ...

A Munro for Mrs B (1)

We took two holidays this summer - the first to the Isles of Scilly, and the second to the Shetlands. How stylish is that?? Both extremities in a single summer. OK, I'll settle for sad, rather than stylish ... but the point is, WE DID IT!! Now, to get to Shetland, you must either go via Orkney, or sail from Aberdeen. We opted for Aberdeen. The ship sails at 7 at night, and we were taking the camper van. I booked us on the ferry on Tuesday 2 September (as the fares are cheaper from 1 September) and we drove North on Sunday 31 August. We had our evening meal in Dunkeld and parked up for the night at Cally car park ... which left us needing something to occupy ourselves on Monday 1 September. I wanted to spend the night at Ballater so that we only had an easy trundle down Royal Deeside and no worries about missing the ferry ... but Dunkeld to Ballater is nothing like a full day's drive. So we stopped at the Glenshee ski centre, and headed off up the path over Meall Odhar to Glas Maol. This would be my 42nd Munro ... and Mrs B's 5th. This is the view looking towards Spittal of Glenshee from just above the path junction at NO 149774