Mapless on the Cairn Mairg Round

27 04 2014

October 2009
During our October visit to the Lawers area, Richard & I had two good days in total, weatherwise. On the first of them we had to do the Tarmachans of course – no point in doing those in the clag – on the second we decided to head for the Cairn Mairg round.

(click on photos for full size/resolution)
We set off reasonably early and drove round the corner into Glen Lyon. I’m fairly familiar with the road as I’ve ‘camped’ in my car further down the glen a couple of times – lovely place. Of course the road is a bit narrow and at one point we were stopped by a driver coming the other way who warned us that there was a sheep transporter coming along. I continued driving, wondering why it necessitated a warning when suddenly it appeared – it was huge – almost like one of those Australian road trains and articulated too! I couldn’t see why anyone would want to drive something that size down Glen Lyon… but then people have sent artics up the Hard Knott Pass in the Lakes in winter for fun before now (took over a month to recover the last one!)

We drove up and down the glen past Invervar but couldn’t see where on earth the supposed parking was. We tried a few places, including a huge ‘works’ entrance as it was a Sunday so we assumed they wouldn’t be coming to work that morning. But I still didn’t feel comfortable parking there and had visions of some huge lorry coming and scraping past my poor ol’ Sunny. We decided to have one last pass of Invervar and suddenly Richard saw a vehicle down a track towards the river. I stopped and backed up for a look – yup, there was the parking and there was just one space left…

A guy had just arrived and was setting off at the same time as us and we reached the locked gate together. It had notices on saying we could go through the gate as it was a Sunday but any other day, forget it. The guy was a Scot and told us they were talking rubbish as they couldn’t prevent us going any other day of the week. I just thought that it was a good job it was a Sunday as I couldn’t do with the hassle. On my own, I’d just have sneaked in somehow but I’m sure Richard wouldn’t have! We set off through the forest together and stopped for a route discussion at the exit. The guy said he was going anti-clockwise on the round but that really that was forbidden by the estate – I couldn’t imagine how anyone could or would have a say which direction you did a round of mountains!

Just after we split up, I decided to have a quick check of the map – at which point I realised I didn’t have it. I told Richard and he just told me to ‘Run back and get it then’. I informed him that I didn’t mean it was in the car but that it was back at the lodgings at Lawers! It being a good day visibility wise I decided it wasn’t worth giving up on our objective and that we should continue and hope the weather didn’t change. I had a vague idea of the route plan and directions in my head. The only problem was that I didn’t just want the Munros, I wanted to collect the ‘tops’ too – and I couldn’t remember exactly which they were, just that the second hill was a top, there was one somewhere along the long ‘back ridge’ and another past Carn Mairg. Of course, this meant that we had to visit every bump and pimple along the route – 11 in all – it should just have been 7… Popular, I wasn’t!

Despite the guy we’d just left saying it was a barely noticeable climb to the first Munro of Carn Gorm, we found it a real grind – it seemed to go on forever… We passed a group on the way to the summit but strangely, although they made it to the summit, they didn’t continue on the walk – I thought everyone did the whole thing as a round.

Carn Gorm
Carn Gorm

It had been hot and sunny and sheltered from the wind on the way up and I was down to my t-shirt and feeling very hot. Suddenly we reached the summit and the fierce north wind hit. I couldn’t get my clothes on fast enough, piling every single garment on that I had. We left the summit as quick as we could, after noting there were the first snows on the Cairngorms. As soon as we set off down the back we hit ice and so had to go really slowly and carefully – not what you want when there’s a freezing wind-chill! It was icy all the way to the col.

The next summit, An Sgorr – a beautifully shaped top, I liked best of the day. It was really easy and far too attractive to miss out using the path which contoured behind it. We looked back from a sheltered spot in the sun and out of the wind and could see the other party were still on Carn Gorm summit.

An Sgorr
An Sgorr

Carn Gorm from An Sgorr
Carn Gorm from An Sgorr

We continued onto Meall Garbh – an extremely easy climb once again. We assumed the first top was the summit but I said I had to go onto the other summit as that might be the ‘top’ along the ridge. Richard set off for Meall a Bharr but then suddenly he was coming up the hill towards me just as I was descending again. He said he’d remembered that particular Munro had two summits and that there wasn’t much in it so was worried it might be the Munro. After that we stuck together as I visited everything which looked like it had a summit of any kind. We must have looked like two drunks zig-zagging along the ridge instead of following the path. We noted that the party behind were still on Carn Gorm’s summit – perhaps they’d frozen to the spot?

Carn Mairg&Meall a Bharr fm Meall Garbh
Carn Mairg & Meall a’ Bharr from Meall Garbh

Schiehallion over Meall a Bharr
Schiehallion over Meall a’ Bharr

It made for pretty quick progress with the cooling wind along the ridge and we were soon admiring Schiehallion from Meall a Bharr and looking forward to Cairn Mairg – in my view the joint-most attractive hill on the round.

Meall Garbh fm Meall a Bharr
Meall Garbh from Meall a’ Bharr

Schiehallion fm Meall a Bharr
Schiehallion from Meall a’ Bharr

Cairn Mairg fm Meall a Bharr
Cairn Mairg from Meall a’ Bharr

From the top of Cairn Mairg, we could see a familiar hat below us on a lee slope – it was the guy we’d split up with outside the forest – he was using some kind of radio with a huge aerial (stop with the huge erection jokes! 😉 ) – must have taken some carrying up there.

Carn Gorm fm Cairn Mairg
Looking back – been a long way so far…

Schiehallion fm Cairn Mairg
Schiehallion from Cairn Mairg

It was getting late in the day so we scooted off for the top to the east of Cairn Mairg – at this point I expected a revolt from Richard – I thought he’d refuse to do it and just head across for Meall na Aighean but he plodded up with me.

Cairn Mairg fm east(Meall Liath)
Cairn Mairg from east (Meall Liath)

At the summit we noticed bad weather heading our way quite rapidly so thought we’d better get a shift on, being mapless as we were. We shot off down the plain slope for the col and the path up to Meall na Aighean, stopping for a very quick coffee and a bite out of the wind near the col as it had been too cold to take any breaks before that. We were soon on Meall na Aighean but didn’t linger.

Cairn Mairg fm Meall na Aighean
Cairn Mairg from Meall na Aighean

Meall na Aighean fm SW top
Meall na Aighean from SW top

As we headed off down the steepening ridge, which surprised us by being a lot further to the north than we thought, the weather hit us and it started to rain. Luckily it didn’t cloud right over and we could still see where we were headed. It seemed quite a long and arduous descent and I was pretty glad to get back to the forest as I was starting to feel it was a long day.

Glen Lyon fm Meall na Aighean descent
Weather closing in… Glen Lyon from Meall na Aighean descent




8 responses

19 05 2014

Nice mountains. Not so different from some of our mountains.


19 05 2014

Quite a bit less snow though I think! Although Scotland does get a lot of snow and the winters are getting longer there now…


29 04 2014

I’ve only visited that group once to bag them in thick mist and light drizzle. Never had a view after the first 500 feet and it felt a long, long way. They probably helped form my opinion that I’ve held to this day, 30 odd years later-“stuff your hills if you cant even see them.” A motto I now try to live by. I think my boredom threshold chip burnt out that day and has never been replaced so I’m glad you got them in good weather. On a positive note my group of walkers bumped into another group of walkers on the ridge so we walked along together through the mist over the remaining Munros. One of the new guys, who was very cheeky and fitted right in with our group, introduced himself as Alex and joined the club I was in shortly after. As you know… he’s still around. I’d forgotten all about that until now. Thanks for the memories Carol.


29 04 2014

That’s a great story about how you and Alex met – you’ll have to write that one up 🙂


27 04 2014

Looked a great day 🙂 & great the lack of a map didn’t come round and catch you out. First rule of any mistake is to blame someone else (whenever possible) – so technically was it not Richard’s responsibility to pick the map up 😉

Takes the shine off a days walking when you have to worry about some lackey telling you which way to go up a mountain!

Cheers Simon


29 04 2014

Richard just blamed me for my flask getting left at the Grasmere Hotel – but it’s his job to do flasks not mine! It was also his fault when we went on a Lakes trip (also to Grasmere) and forgot the boots! 😮 I’d put them to go in the car and he decided, while I was getting up, to take them out the back to give them a waxing then forgot all about them.


27 04 2014

H Carol. I parked at Invervar about ten years, and it was during the stalking season and there was a bloody big rude sign up to keep people off the tops. I remember reading somewhere that access is a real problem because the owners are lawless barons who still live in the feudal era. There was a campaign for access in full swing. I don’t know if things have changed since then.
Anyhow, not wanting a bullet up my backside I moved on and climbed something else. Shame because it looks like a great group of mountains. I would prefer to have the security of a map, though!
Cheers, Alen


27 04 2014

Yeah, you really need a map for a full round of mountains! There is still a campaign for full access and I believe the estate get quite a bit of flak from forums, campaigners and so on. If it was shooting season, I wouldn’t have risked a bullet either but, if it wasn’t, I’d have definitely sneaked in!


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