I took a trip to the Cairngorms last week, it was probably the most driving I’ve ever done for short stay in the hills, but it turned out to be memorable, in more ways than one!
I was rather late starting off, as I decided to visit Mum who is not too well, before heading northwards. Even after a reasonable drive up, it was still mid evening when I pulled on to the vast car park at the Glenshee Ski Station (the last place I can get a mobile signal).
I rang home and the news wasn’t particularly good, so instead of my planned camp by White Bridge, I decided to stealth camp near the entrance to Baddenock, enabling me to call home again the following morning before setting off into the hills.
It was quite a cloudy and overcast evening, and in my in my rush to set up I managed to put the Laser Comp bang on top of a rock, which didn’t bode well for a good nights rest. I was particularly grumpy, as I’d done my usual lie on the tent footptint to check the ground, but obviously not thoroughly enough.
I actually slept better than expected, having found a way of levelling out the rock with my Paramo top and two pairs of socks. It was quite cool as I packed up before driving to the Ski Centre to phone home. Things were looking slightly better on the parental front, so I carried on to the Linn of Dee where I parked in the National Trust Car Park.
As I set off, I met a couple with a dog who were going to climb Ben Macdui. Intrigued by their large rucksacks which must have been at least 70 and 120 litres respectively, I asked where they were intending to camp. They replied “oh were not camping, were just out for a day walk, but like to be equipped for any situation”. The mind boggles as what situation they could meet, which would necessitate such large rucksacks.
Unusually I had no fixed plan of what I might do, in truth, I was still trying to convince myself I should be here at all rather than back at home. Anyway I digress, my first objective today was the White Bridge, and then I would either continue along the west bank of the river Dee towards the Lairig Ghru, or take the track towards Glen Tilt and maybe visit the Tarf Hotel.
The Land Rover track to White Bridge passes through some lovely countryside with views of the river and hints of the mountains to come.
When I arrived at the White Bridge I found it occupied by three Scots mountain bikers who were doing a circular trip, starting at Blair Athol, with overnights at Tomintoul and Braemar SYHA’s. They were in excellent spirits and after a few minutes friendly banter, they set of towards their car at Blair Athol, and I took the Glen Dee track. The landscape was now changing quite quickly, the river which had been wide and shallow was becoming narrower and deeper, and the hills were closing in.
Beinn Bhrotain had been in view for sometime, but as the path followed the river round to the right, Devils Point, Cairn Toul and the peaks beyond started to show themselves.
By now the sky was becoming increasingly cloudy, giving the hills an austere look in the flat light. What a wonderful place this is!
Today I was making hard work of the walk, my thoughts kept drifting home, and my rucksack, at 9.8 Kg including 2 days food and 1 litre of water, was heavier than normal. If I’d been more careful packing, I’m sure I could have reduced the weight by a couple of kilo’s, but hadn’t and now I was suffering for it!
Plan A, was to climb Beinn Bhrotain and Monadh Mor then descend to Loch nan Stuirteag to camp for the night, but as I reached the cairn which marks start of the ascent path, my heart wasn’t in it and I’m not sure my legs were up to it either.
So I ambled onwards up Glen Dee, whilst thinking about Plan B, which was to follow the Geusachan Burn to Loc nan Stuiteag, wild camp tonight, and worry about what to do tomorrow, tomorrow.
I wondered on lost in private thought, drinking in the wild grandeur of the place, if ever I needed proof that the long drive north was worth the effort, this was it!
At the confluence of the Geusachan Burn and the River Dee I stopped for a break. The views here are superb, and as I sat alone, there was an atmosphere that reminded me of the Konkordiaplatz in the Swiss Alps. It must be magical here on a starry winter’s night when the snow is deep on the ground.
Whilst eating lunch I began to review Plan B, did I really feel able to go for two days without checking things back home or should I do something else? Well I know from recent visits to Ben Macdui phone signals are hard to come by around here, so I decided on Plan C. Which was to camp on the east side of the River Dee hopefully with similar views to what I had now, and experience a night in this wonderful location, then make for Glenshee and a good phone signal tomorrow.
As it was only mid afternoon I thought it would be nice to a look at the refurbishments carried out to Corrour Bothy, before looking for a camping spot.
Unfortunately the Geusachan Burn barred my route. After sometime spent prowling along the river bank looking for a suitable crossing place, I came to the conclusion it was going to be a boots off job. Now endless hours of enjoyment can be gained from boulder hopping across a river, but wading, through cold water is not my idea of fun. So chin up, boots and socks off, boots back on again, undo rucksack straps, take a deep breath and off we go. Yippee! What seemed like seconds later, I’m sat on the far bank thinking, that wasn’t too bad, water quite warm, current steady and not too deep, what was the fuss all about.
There is an absence of footpaths on this side of the river so I worked my way around the base of Devils Point, before dropping down to the bridge over River Dee to pick up the track across the peat bog to Corrour Bothy. The Bothy refurbishments have really made a difference, when I was last here fifteen years ago the place was very uninviting. It now seems much larger, there is a sleeping platform, internal timber cladding, and even an environmentally friendly loo. The MBA have done a great job.
After a poke around the bothy I walked back to the bridge across River Dee, then began to make my way along the track towards Derry Lodge, whilst keeping an eye open for somewhere to pitch the tent. The ground is not camper friendly here; it’s either, too boggy, too steep, too tussocky or covered in heather. I did find one reasonable pitch on top of an exposed on hummock, but I wasn’t sure the Laser Comp would cope if the wind picked up during the night.
It was beginning to look as if I would have to abandon my plans to camp in my Cairngorm Konkordiaplate and either return along Glen Dee albeit on the other river bank or make for Derry Lodge. In the end I foolishly decided on Derry Lodge.
When the path reaches the Luibeg Burn you have a choice, either straight ahead and cross via the stepping stones or cross the Luibeg Bridge about three hundred metres upstream. I chose the latter because I’d crossed via the stepping stones last year after descending from Cairn a’ Mhaim, and fancied a change this time. The bridge is ok, but I found the track very boggy, so I would only chose the bridge in future if the river was in spate.
It was about now the day started to go downhill, having escaped the bog fest which is the path to Luibeg Bridge, I noticed that the breeze had disappeared completely and there seemed to be the odd midge about. Paying the little blighters no attention I wondered on through the trees enjoying the early evening until I arrived at Derry Lodge.
I was just congratulating myself that I had the place to myself, when the little biters struck, there were millions of them before I could put my rucksack down my hands and shirt were black with the raging hoards. Fortunately (or so I thought) I’d put my head net in my pocket. So it was head net on, tent up, water bottles filled boots off, and inside the tent for the night.
The tent was infested with the midges that had followed me in before I could zip up the door, so I spent the next ten minutes squashing the little blighters, before putting on a brew.
Normally I wouldn’t dream of having the gas stove inside the tent, but tonight the porch was swarming with midges so I wasn’t opening the inner tent door for anything, or any body.
By the time I got the tent organised and had my tea it was getting dark so with nothing to read and no possibility of looking at the view I decided on an early night.
I had an excellent nights sleep, but when I woke there was not a breath of wind and the hoards were still occupying the porch. As I was eating breakfast I realised just how much I missed the not being able to use the porch. Normally in addition to my boots and walking poles, I cook in the porch and store rubbish bag, water bottles, stove and billie, but with the raging hoards of midges this was not possible, so today the tent felt cramped.
The lack of space however was not excuse for the extra clutter, I’m usually very tidy when camping, but this morning I was in a real mess!
I was packed and ready to go by eight o’clock, the only thing left to do was put on my boots, empty my water bottles and take down the tent. Smothered in Avon Skin So Soft and head net on, I was ready to do battle.!
I exited the tent at speed, the midges where everywhere, they covered my hands and windshirt they covered my socks and they even covered the inside of my boots before I could put them on. I empted and packed my water bottles dropped the tent and put it in my rucksack then ran for my life. What made it worse was my Sea to Summit head net, was no use at all. The mesh was too large and even with the net tucked in side my windshirt and the hood up, they were still getting in.
I must have made an very amusing site charging around in circles, trying to avoid the little blighters whilst stuffing the tent in its bag.
I always enjoy the walk back to the car after a night spent at Derry Lodge, it gives me chance to review my trip, and start to think about the journey home.
There was smoke rising from the chimney of Bob Scots Bothy, so I called in and had a very interesting chat with a group from the Czech Republic, a couple of them had lived and worked in Edinburgh for three years, the rest were on holiday.
By now the fine rain had stopped and as I emerged from the trees the steady breeze was blowing banishing the midges from the walk back to the car.
I arrived back at the car just after 11am, had I really only left the car park 26 hours ago?
It seemed a far longer ago than that, time to find a phone signal then make my way home.