o sooner had I finished the rock climbing course at Glenmore Lodge than I was off up the A95 towards Grantown-on-Spey and then the A939 to Tomintoul and on towards my destination and the start of the trip to climb Ben Avon from Braemar. The start location was a place just on the outskirts of Braemar called Keiloch. For the first time in a week the sun made an appearance and I was reasonably optimistic of some decent weather for the weekends walking. The plan was to meet up with Kev then hike up the wide land rover track and potentially climb Carn Liath and Culardoch before meeting up with Graham on the banks of the River Gairn where we where going to camp for the evening.
Unfortunately, my course had run a little late and the drive from Aviemore took a good 90 minutes so I did not arrive until gone 7pm but Kev was already there so it was just a case of grabbing my rucksack and setting off. We set off along the road towards Invercauld House and chatted about the plans for the weekend. Due to the late hour of the day, the chances of ‘ticking off’ the two Corbetts was looking unlikely but we decided to see how we went on and make a decision later.
Hiking in and wild camping
It was a good 9km to our camping spot from Invercauld House and we did not waste anytime as we headed up the track through the plantation. The path skirts beneath Meall Gorm and across open moorland towards the Allt na Claise Moire where it heads up the shoulder of Culardoch and then drops 250 metres to the River. By the time we emerged from the wooded area, the cloud was drawing in and the tops that were clear in the distance were now shrouded. Oh well, maybe my recent of bad luck with the weather was going to continue. By the time we had climbed the shoulder of Culardoch, it was now practically dark and we decided to leave the Corbetts for another day and head on down to the river and our rendezvous with Graham.
As we started to drop down we could see a torch light in the distance, Graham was already camped up which was good news. We arrived at the camp site, set up the tents, lit the disposable bar-b-que and tucked into a beer that Graham had kindly been cooling in the river. Nothing beats eating outdoors and the burgers cooked on the bar-b-que did not disappoint. After a couple of drams of Highland Park we settled down for the night.
Ben Avon and Beinn a’ Bhuird
I was up at 5am the following morning and the weather had not improved. Kev insisted that it would get better so we packed up and then set off up the path that leads towards Carn Drochaid. Although there was not a path marked on the map a track ran clearly across the hillside and we where happy to follow this. Unfortunately, we assumed that the path would take us west of Carn Drochaid and to the head of the Feith Laoigh but it must have traversed to the east of the peak and before long we where heading along the broad top towards Carn Dearg. Fortunately, we realised our mistake without any serious consequences and we where able to consult the map and get back on course.
We headed up the distinct path and as we got higher the cloud thinned and we could see patches of blue sky and the sun. The last time this had happened to me was on New Years Eve 2008 on An Caisteall when I had an amazing cloud inversion. With renewed optimism of some decent weather we continued the slog up towards the summit plateau and the granite tors. Ben Avon is the most easterly Munro in the Cairngorms and the summit plateau sprawls out in every direction allowing access from Glen Avon to the north, from Beinn a’ Bhùird to the west and from Gleann an t-Slugain in the south. Most guidebooks advocate an ascent via the path between the deep glen that seperates Ben Avon and Beinn a’ Bhuird but the good thing about wild camping was that we where able to access the mountain from south-west and then perform an anti-clockwise loop of the tors before taking in the actual summit point itself, Leabaidh an Dàimh Bhuide.
As we passed 1000 metres the path seemed to disappear so the final push onto the top was a bit of a slog up the grass. The fact we where carrying overnight equipment in our rucksacks probably did not help much and we made slow progress to the top. The cloud was by now swirling in and out and this made for a dramatic scene at the first tor. With renewed invigor we continued to circumnavigate the plateau and head for the summit point. Kev took a more direct route whilst Graham and I stayed high and took a longer route around the top but one that did not involve any descent. We all met up near the summit Tor and scrambled up to the top. The actual Tor itself has two sections and there was a little deliberation as to which was the highest point. To be on the ‘safe side’ I clambered down from the first section and up onto the second part and took in the views. This was my 70th Munro and the views and atmosphere would make it worthy of being saved to the last. The approach to the actual summit may not be that dramatic but once on the top it is untouched by anything I had climbed before.
Like children in a sweet shop we larked about on the rocks before finally chilling out and taking in some food and water. By this time, another couple had approached from the west and we chatted for a few minutes before reluctantly setting off towards our next peak, Beinn a’ Bhuird. From the summit of Ben Avon we would head south west and drop to the bealach named The Sneck at about 970 metres. We would then head up onto the plateau and take in the two tops named north and south. The tops are 2.7 km apart and the north top is the summit. As we approached the Sneck, I looked across to the massive corrie, Slochd Mòr, with its rocky cliff. A truly impressive sight. All good things come to an end and good walking downhill there was another short but steep ascent to tackle. I pushed on up with Lucy trotting at my heels, seemingly oblivious to the efforts of the steep climb. Kev and Graham where a little way back with their huge rucksacks, probably weighing twice as much as mine.
We arrived on the top and headed towards the rim of Coire nan Clach and towards the the North Top. It had clouded over a little by now but the base was high and we still had great views in all directions. With water running low we where relieved to find a stream to refill our bottles although Kev with his public health background decided to decline and instead removed a huge bottle of volvic from his equally large pack. How does he carry all that weight? We arrived at the North top and stopped briefly before continuing around the rim towards the south top. Conversation was kept to a minimum and I suspect that we where all beginning to feel a little weary.
I looked down towards the Coire and Dudh-lochain and Dubh Lochan and marvelled at the amazing cliff faces; Polypoody Groove, Dividing Buttress and Bloodhound Buttress. I suspected there was some amazing climbs in this area although the distance from the road would mean for a tough walk in with all your gear. We arrived at the rocky south top and paused for a while to take in the views and grab some lunch. Time was getting on and we had been on the go for a good seven hours or so and with a decent amount of walking yet to do, I was keen to get a move on.
Wet feet and a long hike out
There was a path marked on the map that skirts around the side of Carn Fialach and drops down into the Glen, fording the Quoich Water and meeting up with the main path that runs alongside the Allt an t-Slugain. There was a good 500 metres of descent to the river and we spread out across the mountainside and made our own way down. As is typical towards the end of a walk, conversation was non existent as we made the ‘knee-busting’ descent down. When we arrived at the river, it became immediately obvious that the traverse was not going to be just a case of hopping from one rock to another to the other side. It was quite deep in places and the water was running pretty quick. We walked up and down the bank but there was no obvious place to cross. After a quick deliberation, we decided the best course of action would be to remove our boots and socks, rolls up our trousers and wade across.
I decided to tie my boots to my rucksack and use my poles for stability but Kev decided to just carry his boots. Sensing a potential mishap I grabbed my camera and with my finger poised over the shutter button, I waited. Within a metre of stepping into the water, the inevitable happened. Kev slipped and dropped his right boot. Fortunately, he had tied the laces together and still had hold of the other one otherwise he may of been chasing it all the way to the Linn of Quoich! Composing himself, he scooped his boot up with one of his walking poles and continued across the river. The water was cold but refreshing and both Graham and I managed the traverse without any mishap.
There was still the matter of a 10km walk back to the car to contend with though with the sun now beating down again, it was a fair slog back to the car. None the less, it had been an amazing trip and although it is tough going carrying all your camping equipment on a long journey it is definitely worth it!