Thursday 26 April 2018

Rivers in spate & wild camps in the Cairngorms

River Feshie

Rivers are one of the delights of wild land, bringing dynamism to forests and hills as they slice through the land, twisting and turning and surging. I love following rivers and streams to see where they go, to see what lies along their banks. They’re particularly wonderful in spate after heavy rain or snowmelt when their power can be both scary and invigorating. One of my favourite Cairngorm rivers is the Eidart, which is remote and little-known though a key watercourse as it drains the Moine Mhor, that vast plateau on the western side of the range. The Eidart almost splits the plateau in two, running from close to the northern edge some ten kilometres down to a confluence with the River Feshie.

I’ve walked a circuit from Glen Feshie to the Eidart then back to the glen across the Moine Mhor a few times. It’s a superb trip. I’d never done it at the height of the snowmelt though so last week as the first really warm weather of the year was stripping the snow almost visibly from the hills I set out. Every stream was rushing furiously and I had several knee deep fords in the first few miles up Glen Feshie. My boots were quickly sodden and stayed that way throughout the trip.

Camp in Glen Feshie

I didn’t go far that first afternoon as I wanted to camp amongst the trees in Glen Feshie for the first time this year. I passed the refurbished bothy at Ruigh-aiteachan thinking it seemed a bit too clean and characterless. I guess the bothy atmosphere will soon return. A couple of miles further up the glen I camped with a view of trees and crags, a lovely wild spot. I had hoped for stars but the sky was overcast. I fell asleep listening to owls hooting.

Packing up in Glen Feshie

The sky cleared overnight and I woke to a deep blue sky. The sun was on the crags across the river but the glen floor was still in shade and the temperature was near freezing. I went and looked at the Feshie, all white water and roaring. The latter sound would be with me all day even when I couldn’t see the water. 

River Feshie

The rough path round to the Eidart leads out of the forest and onto open moorland. There are still trees though, hanging onto the steep banks above the river out of reach of deer. As the forest continues to regenerate and expand in the lower glen hopefully it will start to spread up here.

Eidart Falls

The confluence of the Eidart and Feshie was a clash of white water. Just upstream I could see a cloud of mist rising into the air. As I approached I realised it was spray from the Eidart Falls, crashing down below the Eidart Bridge. I couldn’t remember seeing the waterfall this powerful before.

River Eidart

I thought the same about the Eidart as a whole as I continued past a succession of smaller falls, water slides, and rapids. The river was sparkling, alive, boisterous. I watched dippers skimming the water, the little birds perfectly at home in the white water. 

The Caochan Dubh
In its upper reaches the Eidart splits into three branches. Previously I’d followed the longest of these, the Allt Sgairnich, which rises on the slopes of Carn Ban Mor on the north side of the Moine Mhor. This time I wanted to explore the westernmost branch, the Caochan Dubh, which took a twisting route up a narrow ravine into the heart of the Moine Mhor. 

Caochan Dubh camp

That was for the next day though. I camped beside big snowbanks not far from the mouth of the Caochan Dubh. The sky had clouded over during the day and rain started just as I finished pitching the tent. It continued hard and sharp, its drumming on the nylon waking me during the night.

Early morning, Caochan Dubh camp

The storm had passed by dawn, though the sky still looked angry, with dark clouds racing overhead. The Caochan Dubh ravine was rocky and there were big banks of hard icy snow. Eventually, as it grew steeper, I decided to clamber up the side onto flatter ground. This brought me, unintentionally, to a superb viewpoint, a little knoll at the end of the northern arm of Coire Mharconaich. Here I could look back down the Eidart to the hills on the far side of the Feshie and up the eastern of the three feeder streams, the Allt Luineag to cloud-capped Cairn Toul. Ahead of me lay the gentle undulating Moine Mhor.

The Caochan Dubh
There was less snow remaining than I had hoped for up here but the now shallow course of the Caochan Dubh was still unbroken white and I was finally able to don the snowshoes I was carrying for a few kilometres. As I neared the northern end of the snow and the end of the now hidden Caochan Dubh I saw a figure on the track that runs along the ridge above, the first person I’d seen since setting out the day before. 

The Caochan Dubh on the Moine Mhor
Reaching the path that leads back to Glen Feshie I stopped to remove the snowshoes. The walker came across the snow and I recognised multi-Munroist Hazel Strachan. She’d just done a walk round the seven Munros in the area, with a bivvy on the slopes of one, and was now heading back to Glen Feshie. Standing there in the midst of the huge expanse of the Moine Mhor we talked of the mountains, the weather, the snow, boots, waterproof socks and more then Hazel was off speeding up the path at a faster rate than I could manage while I packed away the snowshoes before following rather more slowly.

The snow covered Caochan Dubh
The clouds had slowly lifted during the day though a bitter wind nullified any warmth from the sun. The light was sharp though and the views west to Ben Alder, Ben Nevis, Creag Meagaidh and more from the descent were excellent. I was also entertained by a glider swooping silently over the slopes. Then it was dry shoes and socks and Aviemore for a late lunch after what had been an excellent trip.

Glider over Glen Feshie

1 comment:

  1. Terrific article...had me reaching for my Cairngorms map.