Wild Camping in the Cairngorms, 24th & 25th Sept 2016

Our September outing was to take us to the Cairngorms to enjoy a spot of wild camping and the promise of bagging a maximum of 3 munros.

Plan ‘A’ sounded simple enough, meet at Bathgate, travel to the Linn o’ Dee car park and walk in to Loch Etchachan, pitch the tents at Loch Etchachan with perhaps a spot of dinner there, streak up Ben Macdui and down again to the tents for a spot of tea. ( it was the way I was brought up, we had dinner at dinner time - I even had a school Dinner Ticket - and we had our tea at tea time. We never did any of that “lunch” stuff - blame it on the English, we blame everything else on them ). Next day Plan ‘A’ involved a quick scoot up and down Beinn Mheadhoin, pack up the gear and walk back to the car park crossing over Derry Cairngorm on the way. Simples !  Aye, except for the good old Scottish weather.

The signs were there all week, forecasts indicated high winds and antediluvian rainfall. With the prospect of the weather breaking over the weekend we decided to go ahead with the outing anyway. By the time we seven assembled at Bathgate on the Saturday Plan ‘A’ was binned and Plan ‘B’ initiated.

Loch Etchachan, on an exposed plateau, is the highest waterbody of its size in the UK, the surface being 927 metres above sea level so you can imagine how windswept it was with winds forecast at 50mph gusting to 60mph and hence how unrealistic it would have been to attempt Ben Macdui under those weather conditions.

Loch Etchachan

Loch Etchachan

Plan ‘B’ involved camping at the Coire Etchachan Shelter, or as it is commonly known as and shown as on OS maps the Hutchison Memorial Hut, instead of at the lochside. The shelter is at about 747 metres. The revised plan was that on Sunday morning we would ascend to the loch, climb Beinn Mheadhoin and then possibly walk down over Derry Cairngorm.

We set off from Bathgate on schedule and arrived at Linn o’ Dee in good time for the long walk up through Glen Derry to the hut ( 14 km I think it was ).

The weather was still pretty miserable, wet and blowing a hooley, the hut was beginning to sound more enticing by the step. It looked like the weather was going to put the ‘wild’ into wild camping.

On the path we met a couple coming from the direction of the hut who informed us that they had stayed in the hut the previous night and there had only been another 2 guys in the hut with them. That sounded good and our previous research had revealed the presence of a stove in the hut and one blogger had suggested there was room to sleep 9 hikers plus kit in the hut.

When we reached the hut we found it empty of people and there were no signs that it was to be occupied. Time for a bite to eat and the laying down of packs to let them drip in the porch. It was also time to pitch some tents. We each had our own tent but the lure of the shelter inside the hut against the howling wind outside settled it for 3 of us to state our intentions to camp overnight inside the hut whilst the remaining 4 decided to brave the elements outside. During our chow break we discussed the options concluding that we would leave our gear at the hut and take a stroll up to Loch Etchachan to “see what we could have won” !!

It was still pretty wet and windy as we walked up the well defined path to the loch with low cloud on the peaks - a grey day.

On the way up we passed 3 young lads who were on the way down. We didn’t chat to them other than to say hello and wondered if they too were planning to overnight at the hut. Fortunately we left enough signs at the hut to warn them of our intended stay.

Sure enough on the plateau lochside the wind would have blown your Trossachs away never mind your tent. As well as that it was difficult to spot, through the mist, a suitable spot to pitch tents, the ground immediately around the lochside being flat, boggy and bouldery and any slopes away from the loch shrouded in mist. We could see the path towards Beinn Mheadhoin disappear about 50 metres ahead into the mist. Mike informed us that there were some imposing cliffs, Carn Etchachan, on the other side of the loch - maybe we would see them on Sunday!

Loch Etchachan and Carn Etchachan  P1030917.JPG

We had a wee donner round part of the lochside in the wind and rain and mist, yep those 3 were everywhere.

We returned to the hut and sure enough, the 3 lads had availed themselves of the facilities in the hut, spreading their wet gear all over the place and had hung up wet clothing on the indoor lines - this accounted for most of their clothing.

Off with our wet clothing and time for a bit of tea and a hot drink. The 3 lads seemed to be preparing a feast with pasta, chorizo, onion, pasta sauce in a jar, tomatoes, cheese in a bag and everything else I’ve forgotten to mention, two stoves blasting away full pelt. They even brought their own chopping board.

Now it was our turn and whilst most of the boil in a bag cooking was being done in the porch area of the hut Mike pulled the rabbits out of the hat with a slow burning log and some kindling for the stove. Once that lot got going there was no chance of “the hut 3” reversing their decisions to camp indoors, toasty!

 

Post tea we settled into traditional bothy entertainment and a small libation was had. The lads had brought with them a bottle of Ardmore which the lad who didn’t really like whisky had received as a gift. The bothy etiquette of helping fellow travellers was extended by us to the lads as we reluctantly but dutifully helped them severely deplete the contents of the bottle. We in turn reciprocated, offering the lads a sip from our hip flasks and at that time you’d be hard pushed to identify the lad who didn’t really like whisky.

Then it was time for bed. Now I mentioned above a blog which stated that the hut could sleep 9, well we can only assume those 9 were very good friends because with only 6 in the hut the sleeping arrangements could be described as cozy. Fingers crossed for better weather on Sunday although having slept with ear plugs in I could still hear the wind howling around the rooftop.

 

By Sunday morning the wind had eased a wee bit and the mist had cleared substantially. We discussed the options. Ben Macdui was out as it was still windy up top and we had a long walk out again. There was the option to leave our heavy stuff at the hut and head up the path to the loch and then up and down Beinn Mheadhoin collecting our heavy stuff on the way out. The third option was to bring the packs up to the loch, climb up and down Beinn Mheadhoin and then proceed back to the car park over Derry Cairngorm. In the end only Colin opted for the Derry Cairngorm route.

 

After breakfast we all headed up to Loch Etchachan and overnight the mountain fairies had deposited some imposing cliffs on the other side of the loch and called them Carn Etchachan and the bad fairies had stolen almost all the mist.

No fairies, neither good nor bad, had removed the wind blowing a hooley across the flat summit plain of Beinn Mheadhoin. There were some big rocks to hide behind right enough.

Flat top at the summit of Beinn Mheadhoin

Flat top at the summit of Beinn Mheadhoin

The effort was worth it as we had some great views over Loch Etchachan and then Loch Avon. Reaching the summit of Beinn Mheadhoin involved clambering sorry scrambling up a big stone away at the far end of the flat top. Scrambling up was no problem but popping your head above the top presented its own problems and I tucked my hat inside my jacket lest it got to the top of Ben Macdui on its own. On the way back across the flat top, through a break in the cloud, we did get a glimpse of the summits of Ben Macdui and Cairngorm - catch you guys later.

Beinn Mheadhoin summit stone

Beinn Mheadhoin summit stone

Beinn Mheadhoin dismounting from summit stone

Beinn Mheadhoin dismounting from summit stone

Loch Avon

Loch Avon

Despite the strong winds on the summit of Beinn Mheadhoin, Colin reaffirmed his intention to return over Derry Cairngorm, so we wished him good luck and the remaining 6 headed down to the hut for dinner.

Before we left the hut we gave it a clean sweep. So far the rain had kept off. For the return journey the 6 of us agreed to split into 2 groups of 3 and in that formation we travelled back towards the Linn o’ Dee car park with one of the groups collecting Colin as we went.

 

There was not much to report about the return journey to Linn o’ Dee other than to note that the route was a lot busier than Saturday - no surprise there- with hikers, bikelists and family groups.

 

We had reached Derry lodge and had stopped to refill water bottles just as Colin came down off Derry Cairngorm. We surprised each other by the speed of our respective journeys.

He did confirm that it was still blowing a hooley on top and we were able to confirm that it was still blowing a wee hooley all the way down Glen Derry.

Looking down Glen Derry

Looking down Glen Derry

We moved on as Colin stopped for a bite of lunch ( his words - maybe it’s an Irish expression and not English, nahh let’s still blame the English ). Colin caught up with us again at the Linn o’ Dee car park but elected to wait for the next taxi driver as he had left his house keys etc. in a different car to the one he arrived in.

At the end of the weekend we each got at least one munro bagged.

Now the oscar winners acceptance speech bit.

I’d like to thank all my travelling companions for, well, their companionship, good humour, enjoyable company, guidance and contributing some photos for the blog.

Particular mention to Mike for providing the log and kindling and for coordinating all the plans, cyber cap duly doffed sir.

 

Lastly the disclaimer bit.

All the events are strictly true and do represent real persons of character.

Any references to the English were meant to be humorous, by way of banter, and in no way are to be taken as anti-English sentiment nor any endorsement of any Scottish Independence political party’s policy.