Cairn Toul, Angels, Devils and Clag

2 07 2011

Wed 15 June 2011

I thought I was really going to enjoy this walk but I ended up having a trying time of it. The weather forecast had suggested that the Wednesday would be the best of the rest of the week at Braemar so, despite the fact that I was pretty tired after my long day on Sgarsoch and the Fiddler the day before, I thought I’d best have another long day on Cairn Toul and his neighbours. As so often happens, they were wrong and Thursday was by far the better day with sunshine for most of the day.

The hills on the left are what 2 of my objectives should have looked like!

Knowing this was to be another long day I was again up just after 8 and kitted up with my bike assembled to set off from the Linn O’ Dee at 0925. The weather at this point was quite calm and trying to be sunny. By the time I’d cycled to Derry Lodge and cabled my bike to one of the buildings, the sun was out. I unzipped my trouser bottoms… I don’t know whether it is the luminous whiteness of my legs or what, but getting my legs out always makes the sun go into hiding. By the time I was passing Cairn a’ Mhaim, the sun had gone for good and the cloud had lowered further down my intended peaks. I reached Corrour Bothy just in time to see the cloudbase descending below the col at the head of Coire Odhar – ugh! I got my compass out ready…

After a very quick look into the bothy just in case I didn’t come back that way (I was debating the virtues of descending the back of the hills and coming back via the Geusachan), I headed up the track into the corrie – at this stage going quite well. I was surprised how long the walk in to this point had taken though. The path’s initial climb into the corrie and across to the back wall was steady going but, as I’d been warned by Isabel on my walk the day before, the final climb up the corrie wall was very steep. I started to flag already!

I finally puffed my way up to the col and into the cloud. I saw, just before the exit up the last bit of the burn, that my path branched off left for Devil’s Point. As promised, the walk to this summit was very easy and quite short. It was also full of ptarmigan, including hens with chicks. They had a well-rehearsed routine – she would flutter hopelessly just in front of me along my route while the chicks hid – I felt terrible upsetting them just so that I could bag a summit! I reached the viewless summit, quickly touched the cairn and, unfortunately having no reason to hang around (I’m sure the view is normally stupendous from here) went on my way.

I strode out all the way back to the top of the Coire Odhar path and then peered into the mist to see if I could see another path setting off for Cairn Toul amongst the stones. I found sketchy bits of path and then a good one heading up grass – this path was very apparent as it had been used as a watercourse in wet weather and had eroded into a deep groove. I was going pretty well again as I followed this path uphill until I met the first boulderfield. I find ascending boulders very energy-sapping (descending them is probably even worse) and, with the total lack of visibility, even more discouraging. I took a bearing back down them in the return direction as I had by now lost the path.

After a couple more boulderfields, I miraculously refound the path and it now led up an easing slope to the cairn on the ‘top’ of Stob Coire An’t Saghdeir. My eyesight isn’t really good enough to see the contours on the map so I just hoped there wasn’t much height loss before Cairn Toul. I followed a path along the corrie edge, which is where I expected the path to go, but suddenly it started to descend the back of the hill. I followed it briefly but, when it persisted downhill, abandoned it and headed back towards the escarpment. I then met another path but it did exactly the same so, in the end, I just followed the escarpment edge until the ground started to rise again.

I have to say that, although I thought I would love Cairn Toul, this particular day, I hated it with a vengeance. To begin with, it’s a fairly steep ascent and I was really very tired. The whole route was on awkward boulders and it was by now raining quite heavily and making the boulders slightly slippery. I kept obsessively checking my altimeter hoping the 1295 ‘metres’ was showing on it – progress seemed painfully slow. I knew I should have had a superb view down into the corries from this peak too but of course there was nothing at all. I tapped the two cairns on the way past (one on each corner) and clambered on miserably.

Descending Cairn Toul was even worse due to the boulders – at one point I totally lost my balance and, arms and legs flailing in all directions, fell amongst them. The rain by now had started soaking through my trousers (I only had my very lightweight windproof trousers on) and was going down into my boots quite a bit. I was completely knackered by now and it was awful thinking that I had yet another peak to struggle across to before I could turn back and escape. I was thinking at this stage that Angel’s Peak was probably completely boulder-strewn as well and really wasn’t looking forward to it. I knew I couldn’t turn back though as then I’d have to do the very long walk in again.

When I eventually managed to clamber down to the col, I found it was quite a nice place. The boulders abated, the ground was just pleasantly stony and the stones flat, there was a huge bank of snow in the corrie and the rise to Angel’s Peak was boulder-free and at a very easy angle. I knew it was less than half a mile so plodded sightlessly on. I was really upset not to get any view at this point as I think Angel’s Peak is one of the prettiest peaks around and really wanted to see Lochan Uaine but knew I had no chance of that.

What Cairn Toul & Angel’s Peak Should Look Like, admittedly in winter!

Unfortunately the weather was still absolutely dire on the summit of Angel’s Peak so I turned back immediately after reaching the cairn. As I reached the col again, I suddenly saw my first people of the day (well, my first people on any of the area’s peaks – there had been a few Lairig Ghru-ers). There was a huge group of about ten people clambering awkwardly down the boulders of Cairn Toul towards me. I would have stopped and offered them encouragement but had already started a contour around the back of that peak. I was pleased to see that, contouring round the back of Cairn Toul, there were no boulders as such, aside from a few boulder chokes coming down the hill. They were only a few feet wide though and so easy to cross. I was equally pleased that, just using my altimeter to contour the hill, I hit the col before Stob Coire An’t Saghdeir more or less smack on.

I quickly strode up the ridge to the cairn of the top – going much better now I was heading back. At the cairn I headed off down my outward path and was pleased to see that it continued all the way to the top of Coire Odhar without hitting any boulderfields at all. I saw when I was approaching the Coire Odhar col that I’d come up on a different path which must have terminated in the boulderfields. I also saw a delightful sight – the col and the corrie were now completely in view and Devil’s Peak was trying to emerge from its thick cloud layer – and it had stopped raining at last. By now I was pretty hungry and thirsty as I hadn’t had any kind of a break at all – it had been too horrid on the summits. I decided I must reach the bothy before I stopped.

I was quite a bit less delighted when, on my steep descent back into the coire, I looked around and saw that Cairn Toul was completely out of the cloud (as was Devil’s Peak by now). I was absolutely furious that I’d stomped round all the peaks, feeling knackered and demotivated and really not enjoying myself in addition to missing what should have been superb views, and then they had the cheek to emerge from the cloud. I’m afraid I called Cairn Toul, my main persecutor, quite a bad name! I was really upset that I wouldn’t get any kind of view of Angel’s Peak which would now be cloudfree and looking beautiful as ever but would be out of sight for the remainder of my walk.

Still pretty damp I called back at the bothy – there was a guy in residence and just unpacking and making his grub. Luckily he had a paraffin stove on the boil and so the bothy smelled quite strongly of spirits as I had to remove my boots to take my waterproof trousers off. My boots and socks sat and steamed heavily while we chatted! I had a good helping of Richard’s tealoaf and, quite unheard of for me, TWO cups of coffee in a row and a slug of water. He expressed surprise that I’d done the whole walk in bad weather with just a map and compass and no GPS… but then that’s what we always used in my day! I then put my soggy boots back on, bade him farewell and a good journey across the Lairig Ghru the morrow, then set off back for Derry Lodge.

Looking Back…

Devil’s Point

I must have got properly thirsty on my walk as I kept having to have slugs of water all the way back to my bike. But then the sun had come out again, it had got pretty warm and it was looking all set for a lovely evening. Apart from the last mile down the Luibeg seeming quite long (I think last miles always do), and several minutes panic when I couldn’t see the little bike and thought someone had pinched it, the walk back was very pleasant.

Cairn a’ Mhaim

Ben MacDui

The Luibeg and Glen Derry are just about my favourite Scottish scenery and I was making the most of it as I’m not sure how many years it will be before I’m back in that area as I’ve now finished all those Munros. There are some, like Cairn a’ Mhaim and the Sputan Dearg route onto Ben MacDui which I will definitely re-do one day, also the Lairig Ghru, but I have to say that I will never do Cairn Toul again!

Stats: 25.5 miles, 4554 feet of ascent, 9 hours




2 responses

7 07 2011

Carol thats one hell of a long day, does that 25 miles include the biking bit or just walking?..We all have days like that on the hills!! when you can see the car about 100 miles away & all you wish for! is to be back at it taking your boots off & chilling!! good effort…


23 10 2014

It was by no means my longest day, just the clag made it seem so – the Glen Elchaig walk on my last day was the longest. My mileages include biking in so you can deduct about 8 miles from the actual walking.

It really annoys me when I plough round in the clag and then the buggers come out when I’ve just finished them though 😐


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