Saturday 9 March 2024

Mullach Clach a' Bhlair the long way

Across the Moine Mhor to cloud-capped Sgor Gaoith

Looking at maps is always a pleasure. I can do this for hours. There is so much to see, so many ideas for walks generated, so many places to explore. Even in familiar areas I can find spots or routes that I’ve never visited before.  

Thinking of an overnight trip a week ago I browsed my Cairngorm maps and noticed a track running up the spur between Coire Bhlair and Coire Eindart from Glen Feshie to reach the vast Moine Mhor plateau a kilometre or so east of Mullach Clach a’ Bhlair. On current OS maps this is shown as a track, on Harvey maps as an intermittent path. Nothing is shown on my well-used 2004 OS Explorer map so perhaps a track has been bulldozed since then and perhaps that’s why I’d never noticed it before. I decided to go and have a look.

The cloud-capped crags of Coire Garbhlach

My trip started with the always enjoyable walk down Glen Feshie, which gave me a chance to look at the landslip I’d come across in the upper glen last October, hoping it would now be easier to cross. It was, as I described in my last post.

The day was cloudy with occasional light rain showers. High above I could see snow on the tops and above them fast moving clouds. The wind was meant to drop during the night and not pick up again until the next afternoon. After a run of very windy days I hoped this would be so.

Passing through the dramatic, crag-lined narrowing of the glen between Creag na Gaibhre and Creag na Caillich I came out into more open terrain as the glen turns east and the forest thins and fades away.

A splendid camp

I camped by the Allt Coire Bhlair just above its confluence with the River Feshie. This is a spectacular spot with both streams running through deep gorges and crashing down in waterfalls, though these are hard to see due to the trees.

Waterfall on the Allt Coire Bhlair

The wind dropped to a light breeze overnight, stars appeared, and the temperature dropped, with a low of - 3.3°C. The clouds were still rushing overhead but there were bursts of sunshine and patches of blue sky.

A welcome sight on a frosty morning

Just across the Allt Coire Bhlair an old path left the track in the glen and angled up the slope above, soon joining a vehicle track that continued all the way to the Moine Mhor. The OS maps were correct. It wasn’t a bulldozed track though but one that looked created simply by repeated use, though not regularly. In places there were sections of a path cutting corners on the track. I wondered if there had been an old path up here. Back home I checked my Cairngorms and Munros books. There was no mention of this route at all. The track isn’t as ugly or prominent as some but it would still be good if it was allowed to fade back into the landscape.

The River Feshie running towards a cloudy Carn an Fhidleir

This is an empty and spacious part of the Cairngorms. Boggy moorland stretches out in every direction, with great sweeping views south over the Feshie to the remote Munros of An Sgarsoch and  Carn an Fhidleir.

View to Meall Chuaich

Gradually the open moor becomes a more defined spur as the track climbs. I reached the first snow patches and then almost complete cover. In places the snow was light and unconsolidated, filling the spaces between clumps of vegetation and hollows in the track. Although the snow wasn’t deep this didn’t make for easy walking as I kept breaking through and lurching from side to side. In other places the snow had drifted. Here it was deep and I was plunging in, sometimes to my knees. The ascent isn’t steep though and the sense of wild space was tremendous.

Reaching the snow

A long line of paw prints showed that a fox, or maybe two, had been following the track too. High up there were mountain hare tracks too. I saw neither creature, just red grouse lower down and ravens circling the tops. There were no boot prints and I saw no-one until near the summit of Mullach Clach a’ Bhlair.

The wind was becoming wild too and my dark glasses, donned against the glare of sunshine off the snow, were kept on when the sky clouded over to protect my eyes from the increasing blasts of spindrift.

The summit

Reaching the Moine Mhor the track joined another, bulldozed one, and I followed this to just below Mullach Clach a’ Bhlair and then made a last short arduous ascent in soft snow to the summit. Here the ground was scoured of snow and icy. The wind was increasing in strength and there’s no shelter, just a tiny cairn, so I didn’t linger.

Across the Moine Mhor to Braeriach, Sgor and Lochain Uaine, & Cairn Toul

The views across the snowy Moint Mhor were tremendous. Summits came and went in the streaming clouds. This is a vast landscape.

Sgor Gaoith

Given the wind, the spindrift, and the difficult walking I abandoned my plan of crossing the Moine Mhor to the path down from Carn Ban Mor and instead descended the track down Choire Chaoil, as I had done with Tony Hobbs in late January when coming from the opposite direction (see this post). There was far more snow now than there had been then. 

The effects of sun and wind

Lower down, though, some areas had been stripped of it by the sun and the wind on south and west facing slopes. This was particularly noticeable on Meall nan Sleac, which rises just above the path.

As close to a cornice as I dared go

Clouds of spindrift were blowing down the corrie in great waves. Most passed me by but one enveloped me and for a few seconds I could see nothing but whirling whiteness. Cornices were building on the edge of Coire Garbhlach.

Cornices building above Coire Garbhlach

Down in the glen I wandered through the pines back to the car satisfied with my excursion. I doubt many people take this long way to Mullach Clach a’ Bhlair but it is worthwhile. I plan on returning in the summer to see what it’s like then.

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