Tuesday 26 July 2022

My First Backpacking Trip In The Cairngorms - 45 Years Ago

In the Lairig Ghru, 14th July 1977

“This country impressive and v. wild. I am overawed”

Journal entry, 13th July 1977.

Two months after my first walk in the Cairngorms I was back for my first backpacking trip, five days during which I climbed Ben Macdui (twice!), Cairn Gorm, Braeriach, Sgor an Lochain Uaine, and Cairn Toul, walked through the Lairig Ghru, and stayed at my first Cairngorm bothies. I also had my first taste of Cairngorm storms.  

I had little money and no car back then, so I hitch-hiked from Manchester, where I was living, to Aviemore. It took me a day and a half, and I arrived with a damp sleeping bag after spending a wet misty night in a plastic bivi bag somewhere outside Perth. I was not impressed with Aviemore. My journal just says “a dump”. I did note that Nevisport was a good shop.

From Aviemore I walked with two friends through Rothiemurchus Forest, which I described as beautiful, to the Lairig Ghru, which impressed me greatly. “Wild, desolate, impressive & big – a scale I kept misjudging” I wrote that evening in Corrour Bothy, which I described as “quite good”. Outside the wind howled.

Corrour Bothy, 14 July 1977

From Corrour we walked round to Glen Derry – “a herd of red deer stags at Derry Lodge & enormous blue, green and brown dragonflies” – and up to the Hutchinson Memorial Hut – “smaller but cleaner than Corrour”.  As with Corrour no-one else was there.

In the evening I went alone up Ben Macdui via Loch Etchachan – “magnificent!”. It was exactly two months since my first ascent. Seeing the trig point atop its huge cairn I realised the snow had been very deep back in May when only the very top had been visible. Again I was impressed – “view of range after range of mountains enthralling”. On the way back down I encountered a white reindeer, its antlers in velvet. 

Loch Etchachan, 15th July 1977

A host of sensations – overwhelming at times”. The intensity was to grow. From the Hutchinson Hut we went to Loch Etchachan and then Loch Avon where we camped by the stream feeding the loch. “This place incredible”.  There was one person in the Shelter Stone and a few other tents not far away, the first other people we’d seen. From camp we went up Cairn Gorm “by a gully along the loch shore” – Coire Raibert I guess – and back via The Saddle. 

Camp below the Shelter Stone, July 15, 1977

The hitherto dry though cold and windy weather ended that evening, and the night was very wet and stormy. “Torrential waterfalls pouring down mountain sides & torrential rain pouring out of the sky!”  With full waterproofs on we had a wet scramble beside the Garbh Uisge Mor – “had to remove packs and pass them up to negotiate one tricky bit.”  By the time we reached Ben Macdui the rain had stopped, and the cloud had lifted though the NW wind was bitter.

We descended to the Lairig Ghru then up An Garbh Coire to the tiny refuge where we stayed as it was shelter from the wind. Battered by the weather my companions decided to walk back to Aviemore via the Lairig Ghru. I wanted more hills! I got them but didn’t see much.

“Went up Braeriach, wandered about in the storm getting slightly lost but eventually finding Cairn Toul from where I took a compass bearing on the Loch Einich path and walked directly at it - & came out only 100 yards away.” Descending the steep path to the loch involved sliding down a snow slope at one point then it was the long walk out to Aviemore.  My first backpacking trip in the Cairngorms was over. I was hooked. There would be many, many more.

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