Monday, 21 December 2009

Highlands: Devil's Point, Cairn Toul and Angel's Peak - Day 1

We left the Duke of Gordon in the Highlands of Scotland after a hearty breakfast to drive right around the Cairngorm National Park to Braemar to get on with the Easter Munro Bagging session. It rained all the way over there - not the best prospects for three days in the hills and at times it felt that Noah's Ark would have been a more suitable vehicle than the Wells-Mobile. The rain did stop however before we arrived at the Linn of Dee (062897) and looked promising for our jaunt deep into the Cairngorm National Park and up the Devils Point, Cairn Toul and Angels Peak.

We saddled up with far more kit then we needed, in fact it was all that we needed but as usual more weight than was comfortable. The thing is at this time of year and in this location the weather can be very changeable so taking enough kit can be the difference between a pleasurable meander in those there hills or enduring the elements constantly looking forward to getting back to the car.

We followed the river along the hiking trail on the northern bank. After around 1.5 miles (033893) we took a discreet and smokey breather in the woods, the legs hadn't quite woken up yet so they needed a break, as did the mind.

We carried on along the riverside when the clouds went a paler shade of black and sure as anything it started spitting, this was no surprise to anyone especially after the apocalyptic deluge we drove through on the way over. The weather did turn from average to bad but was of no consequence once you're waterproofed.

When we reached the bridge (019884) and the southern end of the Glen Dee and the Lairig Ghru one of the guys recalled seeing a make-shift sign somewhere near the car park stating that the eastern path of the Lairig Ghru was unpassable due to errosion. Now this really buggered our plan as if we ascended into the Lairig Ghru via the western path of the River Dee it meant we had to contend with and Chest of Dee Waterfall - Cairngormssomehow cross a reasonable river prior to reaching the foot of the Devils Point. Fortunately at that moment a game keeper blazed up in a Landrover. We asked which path was intact and to our relief he advised the eastern path was the only way through the Lairig Ghru. Bonus, we would have entered ourselves into a world of pain by taking the western path.

The Lairig Ghru makes is a stunning hiking trail and has to be one of the most impressive walks in Scotland with it's steep valley walls it's ridges consist of some of the highest mountains in the UK. Benn Macdui is the second highest, Braeriach is the third, Carn Toul the fourth and Angels Peak the fifth, a stunning area to find yourself (although, I will add at this juncture that it is highly unlikely that you will just accidentally just stumble into this neck of the woods).

Before long the unmistakable sheerness of Devils Point rears it's head in the distance. It is a great guage as to the location of Corrour Bothy as the bothy sits right in the shadow of Devils Point. We came across one chap and quized him over the distance to Corrour Bothy and what it was like. He was full of praise for the bothy but did add that it was a shade boggy ahead. That was to be seen first hand and up close (very close) by the majority of our party - by rolling around in it. Boggy was not the word, the torrential rain had been, well err torrential, and was now making it's way down the valley sides and into the marshland in the valley bottom continuing into our boots. This made the walk real slow going and Devils Point and Lairig Ghruexhausting at the same time with the ground chewing your foot up to the ankle.

Sadly with the downpour we got low cloud and the visibility really wasn't the best and most of the tops were up in the clouds even Devils Point was at times. There had been concerns about the freezing altitude and whether it would be safe to walk along the ridge due to the amounts of snow up there, we couldn't make any decisions today as the cloud prevented us from taking in the full WOW factor of the Lairig Ghru and of course to weighing up the conditions up there, a bit dissapointing but the weather forecast was that this was to be the worst day - so fingers crossed the best was yet to come.

As we came over the last ridge we could just Corrour Bothymake out through the mist and haze of Highland precipitation the speck that was Courrour bothy and our home for the night which had other brightly coloured specks for tents dotted around it. The speck took some time to get any larger but in boggy time it did and as we crossed the footbridge it was only yards away.

We arrived at around 6:30 and there were a couple of guys already sleeping in the bothy so we left them too it and put up our basher. Sleeping under a tarp or basher gives you the feeling of sleeping in the heart of nature and under the stars as it were although you're kept dry when it rains - which did look inevitable at this point. Me, Dave and Lee concocted a construction that we thought and hoped would see us through the night. Wellsy and Ana did the same with the rest of the guys all putting tents up. Geoffrey did well not carrying tent equipment lest the weightless poles - his bag isn't big enough to carry any of those essentials so someone else had to carry it - he appeared gutted by this. In doing this we got a visit from a very tame and seemingly rather peckish local who wasn't afraid at all. So much so that our four legged friend almost went into the basher so snaffle our dinner.
deer by Corrour Bothy
We got into the bothy and got the fire going with the wood that we'd carried in, there really is no wood for miles around so if you don't carry it in you don't have a fire here. Our boots were all sodden after effectively walking through an ankle deep stream of sludge rather than along a hiking trail for the last mile of the day. Boy were we glad for the fire, after I poured the water out that had collected near the toes of my boots I started to dry them out. It was reasonably successful and with Scotched hazy eyes I climbed into my bivvy for an uneven nights doze.

Sleep was short lived as a gust of wind ripped open the poppers on the bashers and the rain started pelting in. Like a man possessed, with fire in his eyes and whisky in his head, Dave seemed to get out of his bivvy by osmosisising himself through his sleeping bag and bivvy and within seconds was resealing the basher. Soaked he returned seconds later to climb back into his bag. I don't remember going back to sleep after that, but I did as I didn't remember any more wind or rain.


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