Weekend in Braemar May 2004 - No photos this weekend
Woke up to heavy rain in Braemar, not a promising start to what was going to be a long day. By the time we got to the car park at Linn of Dee for an 8:30 start it had stopped raining but the mist made sure we couldn't see any mountains. There is a footpath starting from the car park going through the woods to meet a good track, it was warm enough to walk without jackets. At the track you turn left to follow Lui Water up the Glen Lui to Derry Lodge, three miles walked already.
Cross a footbridge and follow the path directly ahead, initially rising easily through the woods, the gradient increases quickly and once you get past the trees there is a long slog upwards. Now we are in the mist, something we were going to have to get used to, some consolation for leaving my camera at the hostel as I wouldn't have taken any photos today.
It looks and feels like you are climbing steeply until you pass a craggy outcrop, Creag Bad an t-Seabhaig, and then it just feels steeper than it looks. We passed a group of teenage walkers, well equipped and prepared but lacking in navigation skills as they should have taken the Glen Derry valley route not the Derry Cairngorm path. Being young and fit they passed us but we caught up to them again at Carn Crom at 890 metres high, they thought they were at Derry Cairngorm summit but there is still a long way to go before that. It had cooled down enough to make jackets a necessity again as well as occasional gloves for those of us who suffer from cold hands.
We passed the younger walkers one more time and didn't see them again, hopefully common sense prevailed and they went back down to find their planned route. I think Derry Cairngorm is a big hill rather than an exhilarating one, it seemed a long haul to get to the summit and there was no view of anything further than 50 metres away. The most we saw were the grouse and ptarmigan shouting at us in their different ways for disturbing them and making them take off and have to make an awkward short flight. The large rocky crown of the hill was a welcome relief after the heather and grass, the occasional patches of snow were a reminder to take care. By all accounts we should have had some terrific views but even the cameras that were present stayed tucked away.
The next mile or so took quite a bit longer than we had expected, in the mist with no landmarks it was a difficult navigation even for the experienced Scottish walkers. I don't think there was ever any real danger of getting lost it was more a question of reassuring ourselves we were in more or less the right place. It would be a bad place to be lost in mist, the map shows steep crags to left and right. We walked towards Creagan a Choire Etchachan before turning left past the crags of Choire Sputan Dearg and eventually found the path we were looking for.
The navigating was easy for a while, just follow the path towards Ben Macdui through the mist until you reach another broad rocky summit crown. Easy navigating until you reach the snow fields, not extensive or deep but a reminder of how high we were. Easy navigating until you are almost at the summit, how long would it have taken us to find the summit twenty metres away if we hadn't met another couple of walkers who had just been there.
Scotland's second highest mountain has a cairn of Scafell Pike proportions on which sits the triangulation column but we couldn't see it until we were almost falling over it. This summit is marked as a viewpoint on the map, I'm sure it must be sometimes.
Getting down required some real navigating, in a south westerly direction to a small col at the head of a stream. Still in thick mist we trusted the compass across icy snow fields until we crossed the burn and we knew where we were. The contours are very close together and in this visibility there was a risk that in walking alongside the burn we would go too far downwards in the wrong direction. We attempted to follow what could probably be described as a ridge but were off the crest of the ridge, boulder hopping on a forty five degree slope. I am usually quite confident hopping across boulders but some of them moved as you stood on them or held on to them. You wouldn't want these rocks to fall on your leg or give way under you on this steep slope with a long way down to the burn, out of sight but the rushing water still audible.
Eventually we got past the exciting traverse of the boulders on to quite an obvious path, eroded and slippery in place, until vegetation took over again. We were trying to recognise a point at which to get on to the ridge to Carn a'Mhaim but featureless flat ground is a hard landmark to spot. After some further discussion it was more experience and instinct rather than the GPS reading that got us to the start of the ridge.
This was the most obvious ridge of the day, on a clear day it would have been quite exhilarating, the map shows steep sides and crags either side. It is a teasing ridge too, especially in the mist, you would see what looked like the final climb to the summit only to find the same thing happening again. After half a dozen false summits the real one arrived, downhill all the way but what sort of a downhill was it going to be?
The reasonable path seemed to fizzle out and there was a steep green descent in prospect, could tired legs cope with it? At last we seemed to be out of the mist and after walking half right across the steep green slope we found the real path. It was a relief to find the path neither too steep nor too eroded but it was a long way down to the valley.
At the valley some of us forded the stream dry shod, those of us without walking poles did not, some of us went on ahead and had to climb a fence as well as getting across the stream. It was a two mile walk back to Derry Lodge before the three mile walk back to the car park, was that an eagle we saw gliding overhead? My pedometer showed fifteen miles for the day, I think it understated what we did in almost twelve hours.
The combination of a long day, a late night and whisky meant a late start on Sunday morning for the smallest of wee Corbetts. It was on the way home and would have been ideal except for have to go back to the hostel twice to pick up forgotten gear. It was a lovely morning, sunny and warm, just the sort of weather you need for yesterday's walk.
Twenty miles down the A93 take the B951, past the hamlet of Cray there is a track marked on the map starting at almost 362 metres straight to the summit of Mount Blair, not quite Corbett height at 744 metres. The pleasant not too steep walk was accompanied by the sound of many birds, not singing but the alarm calls of Curlews as we got too close to their ground nests.
The reason for the good track all the way the summit becomes obvious when you see the mobile phone mast at the summit, you would have thought it could be made more discreet.
Good walking and good company, well worth the 600 mile round trip.
Andy Wallace 29th & 30th May 2004