ack in August 2012 I undertook a pretty big trip in the Cairngorms. The plan was to tick off the four Munro’s situated either side of Glen Derry; Beinn Bhreac, Beinn a’Chaorainn, Beinn Mheadhoin and Derry Cairngorm. Additionally I would also tick off the six subsidiary peaks (Munro tops) of these mountains. As usual, I had printed off the OS map from Memory Map. I had memorised the map (or so I thought) and with amazing weather conditions it was unlikely I would need to consult it. Well that was the case up until I was on my way up past Loch Etchachan towards my fourth Munro, Derry Cairngorm.
Something was not right, I seemed to be getting really. Ok, Derry Cairngorm is a decent size peak, 1155 metres in total but I felt higher than that. Hold on a minute, that summit cairn looks very distinctive. It also looks really familiar. Wow, it looks like Ben Macdui. It is bloody Ben Macdui! The amazing weather had made me complacent, I had made a huge school boy error. I had inadvertently taken the incorrect path pretty much all the way to the summit of Ben Macdui. To make matters worse, I had missed the Munro Top Stacan Dubha when descending from Beinn Mheadhoin.
Time was getting on and I still had Derry Cairngorm and its subsidiary peaks (Creagan a’Choire Etchachan and Sgurr an Lochan Uaine) to climb yet. Not to mention the trip back to the car at Linn of Dee. I decided to cut my losses and just nail Derry Cairngorm, there was no way I was going to hump it back around the loch for Stacan Dubha and Creagan a’Choire Etchachan and Sgurr an Lochan Uaine looked like a diversion too far. The three Munro Tops would have to wait until another time. Oh well at least I had nailed four Munro’s included Beinn Bhreac and Beinn a’Chaorainn which had been a bit of a slog. I would not be going back to visit them in a rush so all was not lost.
Looking at the map later on at home my eye was drawn to Beinn Bhreac. Hmmmm that is a little puzzling. It has a top and I do not remember ticking that off. So that means I missed four tops. What the hell was going on out there today? Not ideal but the main thing is that the Munro’s were in the bag.
Hold on a minute. What if I had not missed the Munro Top but had climbed that instead of the Munro? What if I had just blazed past the Munro? Come to think about it, the summit cairn had been a little uninspiring. Surely I could not be that dumb? I downloaded the GPX file from my watch and imported it into Memory Map. I waited for it to load but I already knew the answer. Like a total dick, I had missed the Munro and nailed just the Top. Total nightmare! I really need to get a grip, total poor form out there today.
For a second I contemplated just putting it down as complete. I had after been in the ‘vicinity’. But how could I claim something I had not done?
“How many Munro’s have you climbed Daz?”
“All of them – honest!”
Hmmm that was just not going to float. There was only one thing for it. I would have to return and climb it again. Of course, this was no exciting peak like Slioch or one of the magnificent peaks in the Grey Corries. Nope, this bad boy was probably ranked top five in the ‘dullest Munro’ chart.
I had a prior engagement at noon so did not get on the road until gone 1pm and it took me about two hours to get to the Linn of Dee car park. By just after 3pm I was kitted up and with Milo our Giant Schnauzer on the running harness, I was ready for the off. We followed the path up through the plantation and onto the wide track that leads to Derry Lodge. It is only about 5km or so but it was baking hot. Even Milo who normally pulls like a stallion at the beginning of a run was feeling it. We just took our time and walked some of the inclines and ran slowly towards the disused lodge. From here we headed up through Glen Derry for a couple of kilometres until we found the small cairn at the side of the path that signifies the route up to Beinn Bhreac.
I remembered from my last visit that it was a rough slog up onto the summit plateau and initially it was. But after about 50 metres or so I managed to pick up a pretty decent ‘trod’ that lead upwards. I am sure I was humping it across tussocks last. As I gain height the path improved and it was clearly visible across the hillside. I now realised what had happened last time. Somehow I had managed to miss the path and instead I had headed west a little and took a line directly through Beinne Brice which subsequently had me on a direct line to the Top which is situated to the west of the Munro. With the Top having a cairn I just assumed this was the Munro. Obviously, if I had consulted the map correctly then I would have realised that I was not on the highest point of the plateau.
Well the good news was that there was no humping through tussocks, we just followed the path and headed up onto the plateau and then east to the summit of Beinn Bhreac – the missing Munro. We stopped to refuel and then headed over towards the Munro Top. There was no need to take this in again but I wanted to use this as a reference point for a compass bearing to the footbridge that crosses the Coire Etchachan Burn and the descent and ascent was no major so it was no big deal. In fact the drop between the two peaks is only 24 metres.
By the time we reached the Munro Top, the cloud was beginning to draw in. The summit cairn on Derry Cairngorm which had been visible moments earlier was now shrouded and as I looked behind, you could no longer see the summit of Beinn Bhreac. I took the compass bearing and headed north westerly, avoiding the steep section but travelling further north until the contours on the map widened. By the time I dropped to 800 metres, I was back out of the cloud so it was pretty straightforward to take a line down into the Glen and pick the path back up. It was good to be back on the path and it did not take us long to run through Coire Etchachan to the Hutchinson Memorial Lodge.
From here it is another couple of hundred metres or so to Loch Etchachan. My next destination was Creagan a’Choire Etchachan, the first of the two Munro Tops of Derry Cairngorm that I had not summited last time. The cloud that had been drifting in and out whilst I had been climbing had decided to fully engulf everything above 900 metres. This was a shame because these two Tops would have afforded epic views down the Glen. I was tempted to leave them for another day and if they had been Munro’s I probably would have done but I was here now so I may as will tick them off. On a more serious note both these tops are surrounded by steep cliffs to the east so I would have to make sure my navigation was spot on. On a clear day it would have been easy but in the clag this would not be the case. I had also failed to load my iPhone with the map for this area but I did have an OS map, a compass and my altimeter on my Garmin. If I was going to nail these peaks it would have to be map, compass, bearings and pacing.
I examined the map. The Ben Macdui path (the one I had failed to come off last time) cuts diagonally across the contours. I decided to follow the path until I reached an altitude of 1020 metres. I knew exactly where that was on the map and from there I could take a bearing directly to the summit, a distance of 300 metres or 408 paces (204 if you only count one leg). The last time I navigated like this was on my Mountain Leader Assessment but it is good to know that you can still do this kind of stuff and by breaking things down into sections I hit the summit spot on. Happy Days!
The next summit, Sgurr an Lochan Uaine would be a slightly tricker proposition. It was further away and close to steep cliffs on three sides. I decided the best course of action would be to take a bearing to the col then head up 20 metres. From here I could take a bearing which would have me heading directly down the shoulder to the col at 939 metres then up the forty or so metres to the summit. It was incredibly rocky but although we were weaving in and out to avoid the big rocks, we managed to keep on the bearing, hit the col and reach the summit.
With the summit shrouded in mist there was nothing much else to do but turn around and head back. The procedure was the same. Take a bearing, calculate the distance and then walk on the bearing and repeat. Once I was back on the main path, I could relax and just keep on climbing until I reached the top of Derry Cairngorm. It was a shame that I had not managed to get any views from these Tops but one upside was the fact that the navigation skills I learned for Mountain Leader were still there, albeit a little rusty.
Time was ticking and I was getting hungry. I snaffled a couple of energy bars and set off from the summit. Derry Cairngorm is really rocky but I remembered from last time that once you get towards Carn Crom, the path is really runnable. Milo must have been hungry as well because he was on fire as we headed down from the top. I did not bother taking in Carn Crom and instead just took the path that skirts around the side. From here it was plain sailing to Creag Bad an t-Seabhaig then a swift drop through the plantation and back to Derry Lodge. All that remained now was an easy 5km back to the car. Beinn Bhreac – The missing Munro conquered!