Footprints Across Scotland
Why not make a few of your own!
6th November 2011
A grand tour of three fine peaks in the heart of the Cairngorms
There had been a noticeable chill in the air as I enjoyed the fireworks on the 5th of November, winter seemed to have arrived. Sunday morning brought a sharp frost and my first job after loading my pushbike into the van was to de-ice the windows. It was to be my first walk since my trip out to Corsica back in September and I was really looking forward to it. The forecast was good and the day certainly started brightly as I headed for Braemar and the Linn of Dee. After enjoying a brew while preparing my kit it was a short ride through the trees onto the land rover track leading to Derry lodge. The temperature had obviously dropped a few degrees below overnight and the tents near the lodge were still covered in frost.
Carn a'Mhaim from Glen Luibeg
After dismounting I took the footbridge which fords the Derry burn before heading across a stretch of open moor toward Glen Luibeg. Ice crackled under tyre as I tried my best to avoid the boggier sections but some parts still required negotiation on foot. Back on firmer track I cycled until I left the edge of the pines below the slopes of Carn Crom. Leaving my bike next to the gnarled trunk of a dead tree it was time to enjoy the scenery on foot. There is a bridge over the Luibeg burn but it can usually be crossed without too much difficulty using some stepping stones downstream. Some of the stones proved rather slippery and the soles of my boots proved no match as a foot dipped briefly into the cold water. Socks still dry but with wet trouser leg I managed to make the bank on the far side without further drama. I was soon on an excellent path that now leads up the lower south east slopes of Carn a' Mhaim, the way steepens mid-section before easing again higher up. The path then weaves through a section of boulders before a thin grassy path leads onto an exposed shoulder of the mountain.
The Devils Point
I passed a couple who had camped overnight at Derry lodge before meeting another couple at the summit whose boots had frozen outside their tent near the pools of Dee. They had just brewed up and hands were cupped around mugs to ward off the chill breeze. After a few minutes talking I decided to move on before I cooled down too much; and just as I did a couple of runners passed by, dressed lightly in shorts and t-shirt. Carn a'Mhaim provides one of the few true ridges in the Cairngorms and its situation offers up a panorama of wonderful views.
The Devils Point & Cairn Toul
The magnificent volcano-esk Cairn Toul dominates the skyline across the Lairig Ghru while the conically shaped Devils point sits quietly below it to the south. Behind the Devils point a bank of mist threatened to spill through a col between Beinn Bhrotain and Monadh Mor.
Cairn Toul & Braeriach
Further north numerous corries eat into the tremendous bulk of Braeriach on one side of the Lairig Ghru while the other is occupied by the Ben Macdui massif.
Ben Macdui from Carn a'Mhaim
A narrow crest runs north from the summit of Carn a'Mhaim and leads gently down to a wide col below Ben Macdui. Steep boulder strewn slopes do their best to guard access to the Ben Macdui plateau from the Lairig Ghru side, but there is an opening in its defences alongside Allt Clach nan Tàillear (The Tailor's Burn).
The path runs across the col before turning upward along the east side of the burn. This is the start of a long climb up, over and around the massive jumble of granite rocks that adorn these slopes. Many of the boulders are large enough to provide a good rocky stairway but there are always a few that wobble as weight is applied, providing a gentle reminder to tread with care. The waters at the top of Tailors burn were iced and provided dazzling contrast to the dark earthen sides of this steep water way.
Cairn Toul & Braeriach from the bouldary Slopes of Ben Macdui
The boulder hopping continued as I worked my way over the summit plateau toward the elevated trig point. I joined another walker at the top and we settled down for lunch. He was very much a local man living over in Carrbridge, he mentioned that it had been a chilly -4’C there overnight. He had been involved in the outdoors on and off and been a warden locally and also over on the Isle of Rum. A steady stream of walkers appeared as we had our lunch all soaking up the views and magnificent weather.
Braeriach from Ben Macdui
I now had a choice to make, which way back? Deciding that I had time I settled on the more circuitous route over Derry Cairngorm, swayed by thoughts of enjoying the walk along the cliff edge above Coire Sputan Dearg on the way down to Loch Etchachan.
It was about 2pm but already the shadows were starting to lengthen and it seemed the day was already starting to close.
Cairngorm & Loch Etchachan
Turning at the col below Creagan a’ Choire Etchachan I made my way over to the stony slopes of Derry Cairngorm.
Cairngorm & Beinn Mheadhoin from Derry Cairngorm
I arrived at the top of the hill just after a young lady out on a camping trip. We chatted for a while at the top before heading down toward Glen Luibeg, it turned out that she was working at the Reindeer centre at Glenmore. She re-enforced my understanding that these are very friendly animals and are quite likely to approach walkers out of curiosity but also in the hope of some food! We parted comapny as I continued onto Carn Crom while she headed for the bridge over the Luibeg burn and then a place to camp. An outward bound group greeted me as I made the summit cairn and we talked briefly before I followed the rocky ridgeline south. It was a steep descent down deepening heather slopes before I picked out my marker tree and my bike. It was now about 4.30 and the light was fading fast but I managed to negotiate the boggy moor and reach Derry Lodge with still reasonable visibility. The sun reddened some of the few clouds in the sky to provide a nice sunset before the final few kilometres back to the car park were quickly eaten up on my bike.
Glen Luibeg Sunset
After loading the van I took time to enjoy another brew and croissant before making a steady journey home, reflecting on the day and another fine walk in the Cairngorms.
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