Monday, 30 July 2012

Cairngorms bike-hike, July 2012

There are fine tracks and paths that lead from Braemar into the heart of the Cairngorms. On this day we intended to bike along one of these tracks to Derry Lodge, then head up some of the higher peaks, possibly including Ben Macdui - the second highest peak in the UK !

After picking up our group (Isobel, Sam and Valerie) from various points around Edinburgh, we drove up to Braemar Mountain Sports, where we had arranged hire of bikes. Bike on the truck, a few more miles and we were at the large car-park by Linn of Dee. Warm and still conditions encouraged the midges to descend upon us - very irritating when you're trying to remove bikes and get gear ready.

We cycled in to Derry Lodge - a gentle incline most of the way. Now on foot, we headed on an obvious path into the forest, stopping occasionally to gaup at the huge ant-hills on the way. Leaving the forest behind, we continued on the path up steep ground, then grass covered plateaus and finally some boulderfield to Derry Cairngorm's summit. Ben Macdui sulked in the mist to our west, but the views were otherwise clear and we munched away on our take-away sandwiches.

Heading north next, we negotiated our way across more boulderfield and onto a fine path which lead us directly down to Loch Etchachan. A worn way through scree took us onto Beinn Mheadhoin's summit plateau and into mist. Volcanic tors appeared spookily from nowhere. After passing three or four tors, we arrived at the base of the main tor, with the response 'Are we going up that ?' from the group. 'Yupp' came the reply, and fortunately there's an easier around the back. A bit of rock-scrambling and the group were on the top of the tor. No views, but I suspect this created more drama !

Nose to the compass to navigate our way back and down to Loch Etchachan - decision time, would we continue onto Macdui or aim down via Lairig an Laoigh ? I knew everyone was capable for the extended route over Macdui, but left it to them to decide....and off we headed uphill. Easy at first, then into the mist and nose back to the compass. Ben Macdui is a vast mountain with a featureless plateau. The path faintly travelled past a few minor cairns and a ruin before finally the trig point was reached. Being in thick mist, we didn't bother stopping for long.

Returning for a fair distance, we then turned to be confronted by the day's main obstacle - the boulderfield off Ben Macdui to Carn a'Mhaim. Some people find this terrain straightforward, others find it testing. It took us an hour to get down, but as we approached the bottom, the sun came out to lift out spirits. Only one last easy slog for the day ! Carn a'Mhaim's summit cairn was reached with some fine views on the way.

A new path has been constructed to minimise the errosion on Carn a'Mhaim's slopes - it also speeded up our descent. Before long we were back at our bikes for the half hour return cycle in fine weather.

Some photos of the day are on
our Flickr site.