Helen Rose Hill Diary May 2003: Cairngorms

Photo: Caingorms. After the success of the Easter weekend at Braemar last year, I consulted with my hill walking chums and we decided to spend this Easter at the Cairngorms. Fifteen enthusiastic hill walkers signed up for the weekend at the Cairngorm Lodge which was formerly known as the Loch Morlich Youth Hostel. A beautiful setting on the shores of Loch Morlich and stunning views over to the Cairngorms with a nice eating area in the conservatory but something really has to be done about the insufficient refrigeration in the kitchen and also the old fashioned 11.30pm curfew which persists in all SYHA Hostels.

The idea was to tackle some of the big Munros in the Cairngorms. We travelled up in fine sunny weather as Scotland had been having a good Spring, possibly the best in living memory with a long spell of settled weather. We spent Saturday on the Cairngorms and Tim managed three Munros but most of us were content with one. Aye, the boy has the Munro bagging fever and went off to do four Munros on the Sunday on his own but we hope he will grow out of it and join the social walkers. As I keep telling everyone, I am doing the Munros at an easy pace and it has taken me eleven years to tick off 176 so only 108 to do! The problem is that I keep walking the same hills over and over again so rarely tick off new Munros.

Photo: Caingorms. Anyway, I rate the walk to Beinn Mheadhoin in the Cairngorms as one of the most enjoyable with perfect weather conditions, superb views and congenial company. It was an enjoyable nine and a half hours out in the open and I loved every minute of it. It was a perfect day and makes me forget the other days I have struggled up hills in rotten weather wondering why I was doing it. The memory of the day lives on in writing this article and reminds me why I like the hills so much.

The day started with lovely warm sunny weather and we drove up to the car park at Coire Cas where the new funicular railway starts leading to the Cairngorm Plateau but we walked from here and did not cheat by taking the railway. The path to the plateau is good and we soon reached the plateau as the car park is at over 400 metres. On the plateau it was cold and windy and most people did a quick change from shorts and tee shirts to winter gear. After traversing the plateau, we descended on a very eroded steep path down Coire Raibert to Loch Avon. This part of the walk was spectacular with granite cliffs around us and a burn rushing down alongside the path. We ended up in in the heart of the Cairngorms at the high Loch Avon ringed by mountains. We lay on the little sandy beach at Loch Avon having lunch and enjoying the sunshine and views. One or two people paddled in the loch but not for long in the freezing water.

Reluctantly, we left the loch behind and started up the path under the Shelter Stone and towards Loch Etchachan. Make no mistake, these mountains are treacherous in bad weather and the Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team are called out regularly in winter. You will recollect from previous articles that I have been on sponsored walks to raise money for CRMT as it is a voluntary organisation. The walk to the summit of Beinn Mheadhoin was on a good path after crossing the Feith Buidhe burn which feeds the loch. Fortunately, the burn had stepping stones and was easy to cross as the water level was low due to a prolonged dry period. On the way to the top we passed large granite rock outcrops known as tors and on the summit is a large tor with views over the Cairngorms to Loch Etchachan. Beinn Mheadhoin has been described as a whaleback studied with granitee tors and certainly looks like that when viewed from Loch Avon.

Photo: Caingorms. The weather just got warmer as the day progressed and we retraced our steps back to the Cairngorm plateau with more 410 metres of ascent up Coire Raibert late in the day but we did not mind in such glorious weather. On the way to the car park we met some tourists from Belgium who could not believe the weather was not always warm and sunny on the Cairngorms or maybe they were only joking! The next day, it was back to normal when we climbed Bynack More in cold and grey conditions but we rolled our chocolate Easter Eggs on the summit cairn watched by a radio ham who had erected a large portable aerial to make contact with other hams on mountain tops in Britain. I can't quite understand why anyone would want to climb a mountain and then litter it with antennae just to say they had contacted other hams. This comment will probably provoke an avalanche of vitriolic replies from radio hams!

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Thanks to Frances Rickus for photographs