Monday 6 June 2022

Glorious Days In The Cairngorms

Early morning light on Carn Etchachan & the Shelter Stone Crag

Early June has seen glorious weather in the Cairngorms with bright sunshine, clear skies and sharp views, a north-east breeze keeping away the haze that often bedevils fine summer weather. With four days on trains and in exhibition halls coming up I decided a few days of high camps and high summits was called for, not that I ever need an excuse to head for the hills.

Evening view over the Allt a 'Choire Dheirg gorge

I crossed the long north ridge of Cairn Gorm early in the evening as the sun started to turn the rocks red and gold. Strath Nethy was wet and boggy, as usual. On the ascent of Bynack Beg the ravine of the Allt a ’Choire Dheirg looked wild and rugged, its details picked out by the low sun. The north side of Cairn Gorm was already in shadow.

After sunset

Higher up I camped near the stream where the land flattened out. Bynack More rose above, a black wedge against the darkening sky. Later in the evening I wandered outside, lured from my sleeping bag by searing red after-sunset colour in the sky to the north. A crescent moon hung in the sky. At 11pm it wasn’t fully dark and I had no need of a headtorch. The long days of summer in the Highlands. I never tire of them. Every year it’s magical.

A sliver of moon

The night was chilly with a frost. My summer sleeping bag was barely adequate and I was soon sleeping fully clothed. The late night and waking several times to add clothing meant I missed the dawn. I was in the shadow of Bynack More too and it was some time before the sun started to dry the tent and warm up camp. By then I was up and had climbed Bynack More to gaze at the Cairngorms coming to life in the sunshine. 

Loch Avon

Heading into the heart of the hills I crossed the rounded mossy bump of A’ Choinneach, a Munro in the original Tables but long since demoted to a Top of Bynack More, then descended its rockier south-west ridge, which gives superb views along Loch Avon to the great cliffs at its head, to The Saddle, the col between Strath Nethy and Loch Avon. I descended to the loch and followed the path along the north side, a path that always seems rougher, rockier, and muddier than I remember. The magnificent cliffs rising ahead pulled me on. I was tired though, the broken sleep of the previous night along with the hot sun having a lethargic effect.

Finding the area beyond the head of the loch deserted – surprising on a bank holiday with superb weather – I decided to camp. This is one of my favourite places in the Cairngorms. Passing by in such glorious weather was not to be considered, especially in such glorious weather.

View from the tent

The rising sun woke me, shining straight down the glen and into the tent. The huge cliffs of Carn Etchachan and the Shelter Stone Crag were magnificently golden. A dawn of brilliance and intensity.

I lingered long watching the mountains and the roaring white waters of the streams crashing down broken slabs and rocks from the Cairngorm Plateau high above. As the sun rose rapidly into the sky and the light turned less intense, though the sharp views were still superb, I finally left on the path up to Loch Etchachan and onto Ben Macdui. Many streams were rushing with snowmelt from the remnant snow patches high above and the ground was sodden around the loch. Buttercups lined the many overflow streams and springs, glowing yellow.

Loch Etchachan

Higher up the ground was stony and pale with the almost desert-like look the Cairngorm Plateau has under a hot summer sun. Coarse granite gravel rolled under my trail shoes. A few people were about. I had expected far more. Ben Macdui came and went, the views across the Lairig Ghru as splendid as ever, and it was across the Plateau to Cairn Gorm. The shallow corries above the hidden Loch Avon basin were alive with countless shimmering streams. 

Coire Domhain

A long descent down Coire na Ciste and I was back at the car. The weather had been wonderful, the trip had been wonderful. Familiar hills, familiar places, but always different, always with something to offer.


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