Carn Elrig with Imelda

29 02 2016

Feb 2016
I happened to be up at Aviemore for a weekend around the tail-end of Storm Imelda (yes, we’ve started naming them in the UK too for some reason)… As I had an idea it was going to be pretty windy, I ended up picking a lower hill than those originally planned on the high Cairngorm plateau. A further deciding factor was that there was little or no snow on the plateau! That’s pretty unheard of in February…

Cairn Elrig & L Morlich

(Click on photos for full size/resolution – some taken on other days)

I’d arrived in the dark on the Friday night and, when I awoke and looked out at the mountains on the Saturday morning, I was really shocked and disappointed to see the lack of snow on the high plateau – I’d come fully tooled-up and was expecting some proper winter walking. However, before setting off, I’d had three plans in mind for my day’s walking – a low-level route if the weather was too hazardous, a mid-level route and the high plateau itself. Looking at the clouds scudding above, I thought it was probably okay to continue with my mid-level route of Carn Elrig.

Loch Morlich
My walk started off under the right-hand end of the furthest right hill – Carn Elrig is the left-hand hill

The distance involved for my mid-level walk was a bit above what I’m used to in winter – I rarely get above eight miles or so during the winter months and this walk was fifteen. I set off for the apparently lovely and scenic Loch an Eilean – I’d heard the car parking was expensive here!

On arrival at the carpark, I saw a board with prices on. It said an adult was £1.50 but didn’t mention how much it was for the car. The man came out of his little hut and, puzzled, I asked him how much it was. He was equally puzzled as he could see I was reading the board. He informed me it was £1.50 like it said. I paid him and parked up – he’d given me a handful of useful maps and leaflets – I took the maps with me as I find forests quite confusing.

After I’d parked and kitted up, I went to speak to him and told him I’d heard the parking was really expensive but that I couldn’t see how anyone could object to paying £1.50 – he said a lot of people moaned at him about it. I told him how much it is to park around our area – £8 – £10 per car! 😮 He was pretty shocked at that and we ended up chatting for a while. He asked me where I was headed and, as I set off, asked me to let him know when I got back as I was walking alone.

I had a quick look at the loch but it was such a miserable day I didn’t take photos until my return – it wasn’t any brighter then!

Loch an Eilean Castle

Loch an Eilean on a grim day

Loch an Eilean to Carn Elrig

I’d never seen Glen Einich and that was part of the aim of my walk so I set off eagerly through the beautiful Rothiemurchus forest for the start of the glen.

Stark Tree, Rothiemurchus

Rothiemurchus Lochans to A9 hills

Rothiemurchus Forest Dead Tree

Carn Elrig (misty) from Rothiemurchus
Carn Elrig getting nearer

In about four miles I left the forest and entered the open glen. It was more bleak than I’d imagined but I think that was partly due to the weather and the fact that the surrounding hills were pretty much blocked out by cloud. I think it would be more spectacular on a bright and clear day.

As I started up the glen I noticed I was having to struggle against the wind a bit. I soon reached another problem – the path suddenly disappeared and, on searching for it, I found it had disappeared under a largish landslip.

Landslide!

Undaunted, I set off across the wrecked ground trying to stick to grassy tufts. Towards the far side, when I was nearly back at the path, I trod on ground which looked like it was firm and sandy. I suddenly disappeared up to my knees. This wouldn’t have been so bad but I couldn’t drag my right foot out no matter how hard I pulled.

I finally extricated both my feet and got onto the path again but found my leg muscles were feeling quite wrecked after being pulled about – this was my bad leg too. I plodded on gingerly against the gale for another few miles up the glen looking for a river-crossing place as I wanted to ascend Carn Elrig as soon as I could. Nothing transpired and the river looked too lusty to attempt.

In the end I found a bridge but, by then, had passed all the places I’d wanted to ascend the hillside. I decided it would be best to continue up the glen to where a stalker’s path takes off to a col just past the little craggy side peak of Carn a’ Phris-ghuibhais – that way I’d be heading back along the ridge with the wind behind me.

I soon came across the stalker’s path just before a crossing of a side burn. The path was quite icy but, due to its narrowness, it was possible to get most of your boot onto non-slippery ground either side of it – I was soon up on the col but found I was puffing and panting and not feeling very fit.

On reaching the col the wind picked up even more as expected but it was behind me so not a problem. I headed onto the little craggy-sided peak and, before setting off cross-wind to join the main ridge, pulled a shortcake out of my pocket to munch on the way as my energy was flagging.

I reached the main ridge and headed up what I thought was Carn Elrig – it didn’t look far at all! As I climbed, the wind became quite horrific and was fairly blasting me along the ridge – I had to make sure I stayed in the middle or I’d have been blasted off down the side. I was wondering what it would be like when I had to retrace my steps into the teeth of the gale.

At the summit of that peak I saw there was a dip and Carn Elrig was actually the next peak along and quite a bit narrower. If I’d got my map out I’d have seen that but it was way too windy to get anything out of my pack – I was glad I’d already had my snack.

I headed down into the dip being glad to get out of the gale for a minute. As I ascended to the main peak, the wind started throwing me around a bit and it was quite hard to score a direct hit on the cairn – missing it would have meant an involuntary descent of the steep northern slope as the cairn is right at the edge.

I’d had to pass over a small boulderfield just before the cairn – this was soon to cause me huge problems! As soon as I reached the cairn I turned to retrace my steps along the ridge and found I could barely move. I staggered towards the boulder field and suddenly I was thrown amongst the boulders. I managed to land face-first as I think the wind had caused my foot to catch on a boulder and trip me up.

As I lay sprawled amongst the rocks I found that my flask had been hurled out of my pack pocket by the fall – it was in a plastic bag which was actually clipped to my pack but the wind was doing its best to tear it away and hurl it down the hill. At the same time it was also trying to tear off my headwear. I was lying there with one hand on my hood and my buff and the other trying to sort out the flask from its tangle of plastic bag – it was leaping around all over the place. I finally managed to cram the flask back in the pocket upside down.

It was by now snowing hard and horizontally and the icy crystals were hitting me in the face and eyes. I should have put my goggles on as it was impossible to see but hadn’t and now it would be impossible to get them out of their bag. I lay amongst the rocks struggling and trying to get up but was being pinned down. The wind was battering deafeningly against my hood and I was starting to freeze in the wind-chill despite all my clothing. I knew I had to get out of there and soon, but how?

I tried to crawl one-handedly through the boulderfield while still clinging to my headwear but was making little headway against the wind at all while I was amongst the boulders – it was several yards to the grassy area I needed to reach to make progress. In the end, I managed to drag myself to the grass and stood up.

I hurriedly staggered away into the wind along the ridge wondering which side to descend. I needed to descend the western flank to Glen Einich but it seemed like it would be easier to battle down east to the Lairig Ghru.

Carn Elrig fm Lairig Ghru exit
Carn Elrig from the Lairig Ghru

I wavered from one side to the other but decided I could battle my way to the western flank after all. Going back over the middle peak was out of the question so I decided to contour around the side hoping I could get far enough out of the wind to be able to walk.

I reached the side of the hill and started to contour round – the wind was slightly less here but I still couldn’t see for the icy snow hitting me in the face and I was still being thrown around. Anyone in the glen would have thought I was drunk seeing me staggering and stumbling about.

The left side of my face had started to freeze up badly but there was nothing I could do but plough grimly on. I was trying to descend slightly as I contoured and was heading to the burn which descended between Carn Elrig and Carn a’ Phris-ghuibhais as the high far bank would shelter me.

Eventually I reached the shelter of the burn and descended the hillside until I found a small hollow in the heathery ground. It was still quite windy so I dropped down in the hollow getting out of the wind at last. I decided it was essential to have a break here and get some hot coffee and another biscuit after my freezing and struggling. The feeling of relief that I’d finally got out of there was huge! For a time during my struggles at the summit I thought I wasn’t going to make it off the hill before freezing.

After my break I felt much better and set off across the bogs following the burn. As it bent north-westward, I left it and headed west across peat hags to look for the bridge. As I reached the edge of the banking I found I’d passed the bridge slightly but two very welcome sights hit my eyes. There was the path at last and two people walking peacefully along it – I was really pleased to see both things.

I reached the path and happily strode back along it for the bridge – I noticed there were a couple behind me too – after seeing no-one all day, suddenly people were appearing everywhere.

After the bridge there was a split in the track where you could either continue on the walking path with the landslip or go up the hill on a vehicle track.

Carn Elrig across Lusty River

I couldn’t face the landslip again so set off wearily up the hill on the vehicle track. I was surprised to see that all the others took the walking track and the landslip again on their return. I’m happy to report that, although my path was quite a bit longer, I took much less time than it took them to do the flat path through the landslip.

It was pleasant to reach the shelter of the beautiful forest again. The only thing was that I was by now tiring and my legs were saying they’d had enough, especially my bad hip. I decided a rest might sort things and stopped by the lovely Lochan Deo at the junction leaving the glen for the Loch an Eilean track. I had a good few minutes and another coffee and biscuit – quite a few more people appeared – I was back on the major tourist trails through the forest now.

Lochan Deo (teabreak lochan)

When I set off again my legs felt much better and I only had a couple of miles back to the carpark. On arrival I went to the hut to report myself safely returned and the nice man asked how my day had gone. I told him it had been horrific due to the gale. He said that the rangers had come back from up that way and advised him to tell people to keep off the hill as it was too dangerous up there! I couldn’t help but agree…

I notice he packed up and left just after that – he’d obviously just been making sure I got back – after the day I’d had, I was grateful for that.

I actually found a post-wind forecast back at work on Google to see what the wind speed had been – apparently, instead of the 50mph advertised, it was up to 82mph! 😮

Loch Morlich(framed)
Carn Elrig across Loch Morlich

Stats: 15 miles, 2323 feet of ascent, 6 hours

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19 responses

10 03 2016
surfnslide

Like Chrissie I quite enjoy a windy day but only if I win the battle, not fun when the wind takes charge and starts depositing in places you hadn’t planned to be. Rothiemurchus should be a World Heritage Site, fabulous place

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10 03 2016
mountaincoward

Rothiemurchus should indeed – a wonderful place. I’m not bothered about walking in forests normally but that one is just so open and beautiful – and you can still see the surrounding hills.

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10 03 2016
surfnslide

Glen Feshie is also pretty special if you’ve never been that far over

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10 03 2016
mountaincoward

Yep love Glen Feshie and, even more so, Glen Derry

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2 03 2016
fedup

Nothing like a ‘bit’ of wind to hinder walking! Nice looking place 🙂

I’m pretty sure it has been a constant storm – despite the names there hasn’t been a break in between!

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2 03 2016
mountaincoward

I’d agree with you there – I was in a discussion about that and we were all wondering how they managed to separate them as we couldn’t see any gaps! 😦

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2 03 2016
chrissiedixie

Wind is one of those things that I generally like – even when it is quite strong – but, there is always a point beyond which it certainly ceases to be fun!

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2 03 2016
mountaincoward

I find it terrifying to be honest!

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2 03 2016
underswansea

Really like those first two pictures and the one of the snag. Isn’t it fun to put your foot in muck, fight to pull it out, only to put it back down in even deeper muck (could be a metaphor for my life 🙂 ). Good thing you had ’em laced up so you didn’t lose a boot! You will have to try hiking in good weather, it’s much more enjoyable! 🙂 Take care Carol! Always enjoy your reports. Bob

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2 03 2016
mountaincoward

Yeah I would have lost my boot if it hadn’t been laced tightly – I was worrying about that for a while when I was pulling away!

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2 03 2016
Blue Sky Scotland

I think they started giving them names because they knew there would be a conveyor belt of storms this year due to a warmer Atlantic. It’s been the warmest and wettest winter in the UK since records began in 1910. It’s the wildlife I feel sorry for as I’m sure numbers will crash further.
You had a lucky escape by the sound of it as I’ve been out in conditions like that up there but never on my own all day. One slip that makes you inert and you wouldn’t last very long, even during a milder winter.
Great photos.

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2 03 2016
mountaincoward

But it’s every year now 😦

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1 03 2016
smackedpentax

It does look a great hike – glad you can still do 15 miles on your bad limb. BTW, that place I am going to in Scotland in a couple of weeks in Alva nr. Sterling. Going hunting rock art and megaliths 🙂

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1 03 2016
mountaincoward

I keep reading your mate’s antiquities blog – he’s been around that area a lot hasn’t he? Is it him you’re joining?

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1 03 2016
smackedpentax

Yes, he has been living there a few years now. He invited us up because he doesnt know if he will be coming to Blighty this year…and he keeps telling me how good it is…can’t wait 😊

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1 03 2016
Gaslight Crime

I’m sure storms have got much worse since they gave them names?

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1 03 2016
mountaincoward

They’ve definitely got a bit worse and they’ve certainly got a lot, lot more frequent 😦

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29 02 2016
McEff

Blimey, that was a day of adventures and lucky escapes. Glad you got down in one piece.
Cheers, Alen

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29 02 2016
mountaincoward

I was super-relieved. I don’t remember ever feeling such relief on leaving a mountain, except perhaps Liathach and Sgurr Mhic Choinnich which were just scary in themselves. If I’d known the windspeed was 80mph, I’d never have gone up the hill, I’d just have done my low-level alternative up Glen Einich to the loch and glenhead!

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