The small clearing by Drakes Bothy is a good camp spot and a nice place to start the day. I woke with blue skies which soon turned to grey – the tops, initially clear, became cloaked in cloud.
On the path soon after 7am, I guessed I was around two hours behind my planned start by the shores of Loch Einich. I needed good weather because the way out of the glen was up onto the high Cairngorm plateau. I decided to continue knowing that if the conditions deteriorated I could retrace my steps and head over to my foul weather route from Glenmore Lodge albeit with 4 or more hours delay.
The forest path here is varied and pleasant. Glen Einich is well signposted – and it is from this point that I started to adopt the current spelling (previous using the OS version ‘Eanaich’). The majority of walkers head on a little further before swinging right into the Lairig Gru.
It is a long haul to the Loch where the path upwards takes off: 11 or 12 kilometres or around 2 hours walking on a stony landrover track. The only other human was a cyclist who went down to the loch and returned while I walked.Download file for GPS
This was early May and I was uncertain about the amount of snow in the north facing corrie, and nervous that it might block the path to the plateau. Without crampons and ice axe I had limited capability for crossing steep snow. Five or six hundred metres from the end the track heads downwards to the loch. Here a small path winds upwards to the left traversing the west facing slope. A number of streams hurtle down from the ridge above. Crossing was easy but in several cases potentially dangerous because of a softening snow bridge.
Eventually I came to a halt as the path disappeared under a wide blanket of snow. With a little scrambling it was possible to skirt around the top of the snow field, to reach the rocky slope up to the high plateau. By now the cloud had lifted and its base seemed certain to remain high above, but winds had increased with gusts at a level where there was a real risk of being blown over. The constant noise and the lack of shelter made for uncomfortable walking.
For a Cairngorm newbie like me the landscape is surprisingly rocky, and the distance around the plateau edge is considerable. With the wind from the west and south-west I was pushed up into the far corner where the top of Braeriach looked down over part of the Lairig Gru and across to Ben McDui just a few metres higher. Moving round to Cairn Toul which looked so close at 2-3 kilometres as the crow flies took more than 2 hours following the edge of the escarpment.
This was a Friday and more and more people appeared at different points from all routes onto this part of the plateau. One of these was TGOer Alistair Whitaker who arrived from Glen Feshie like a well-dressed
marathon runner. We both followed the rim of the plateau until I, battered by hours of noisy wind became seduced by a non-existent low level route I spied on the map and spent an hour or so traversing an uncomfortable slope for my trouble. After this, I decided to skip the last top Devil’s Point and headed on down to Corrour Bothy.
The route off follows a corrie facing east and north and the start was clogged with snow. With the path buried it was necessary to drop down the steep slope to the side, eventually working the way back to path beyond the snow field a few hundred metres below. Here were TGOers Richard and Alan taking a breather, looking far too tired to reach Derry Lodge which was also my target. A little further on Corrour Bothy was humming. This wild mountain hut is placed on a few square metres of flat ground surrounded by a wet and rocky wilderness. Every part of the ground outside the bothy was taken with tents – maybe 12 or more. In the failing light people were rushing here and there getting their sleeping and eating arrangements organised, with yet more arriving from down below.
After a long day it was unlikely I would continue as far as Derry Lodge if I could find a camp spot earlier. As I arrived at Luibeg River some 6 or 7 km further on I found small piece of flat ground in a clearing close to the river. Ideal. A little later, in the dark I had a cheery ‘have a good evening!’ from Richard who continued on to Derry Lodge – while Alan who stayed with friends at Corrour Bothy greeted me in the morning on his way to catch-up his companion.
Tomorrow was Saturday, and the consensus about the weather was that we could expect storms on Sunday, but Saturday would start OK. I decided to take advantage of Saturday’s good weather to enjoy the Cairngorm some more, and to walk without my load of cooking and sleeping gear.
In the morning I moved down to Derry Lodge and put up the Trailstar and left what I did not need for walking in a large dry bag which I had brought for this purpose. There is a direct route to the high Cairngorms from here up the ridge, and I set off with my saggy sack and one walking pole.
The weather was cloudy and dry; the previous days winds had moderated; but the cloud was unhappily low at about 850 metres. Soon after the outlying top of Carn Crom I was walking in mist. This continued over the high point of Derry Caingorm until I reached the end of the ridge above Loch Etchachan.
The high tops here that looked so enticing on the map were anything but with the knowledge that I’d be in mist again as soon as I ascended from the Loch. After a lunch sandwich the weather had not improved so I set my target as the viewpoint along Loch Avon before head back to Derry Lodge. This was interesting because it featured on my original plan as a foul weather route which I was advised against because of the high north facing slope to be negotiated.
Two walkers then three appeared from down below as I arrived there. And it began to rain. As others headed upwards into the mist I started heading southeast down to the intriguingly name Hutchison Memorial Hut.
This turned out to be a small and well-equipped bothy – empty when I passed at 4 or 5 o’clock, but apparently jam-packed when the Dutch crew arrived 4 hours later.
Soon, on the path following the west bank of Derry Burn I join my foul weather alternative (FWA) route which I would have used if the Cairngorm plateau proved out of bounds. This path took a valley routed started from Ryovan Bothy near Glenmore Lodge and was contingent of the Fords of Avon being crossable.
As you get closer to Derry Lodge the landscape changes from brown-grey wild and rocky to verdant green. More and more trees at first incongruously rising from a rocky scree slope, then from the green of grass manicured by many nibbling deer. Now Saturday, my previously lonely tent is now one of several spread over a wide area as families and groups have marched or cycled in for a weekend in the hills.
A full slide show here:-