Aviemore – Geal-charn Mòr – River Dulnain
22 January 2011
18.2 km/896 m/06:30 hrs
Corbett: Geal-charn Mòr (No. 26)
The weather had been quite mild over the last couple of weeks and most of the snow had disappeared (at least at low level), so I thought it would be safe to try my first wild camp of the year. Problem was, my last backpacking trip had been in October, a three-dayer in Glen Kingie, so I was a little bit out of practice, to say the least.
Studying the weather forecasts for the different mountain areas, I found that the best weather was expected in the Cairngorms, but that was also the area with the most of snow left. The West and Northwest would have low cloud and showers. The best compromise seemed to be the Monadhliath Mountains, an area I have only visited once before.
Last June I did a backpacking trip with the motto “20 Munros in 9 days”, starting from Newtonmore and doing A’ Chailleach, Carn Sgùlain and Carn Dearg on the first day. That was one of my worst hillwalking days, and to be honest, I hated every minute of it. Soon after the start it began to drizzle, which then turned to rain, the clouds lowered and the rest of the day visibility was down to a few metres. For hours on end I stumbled across this rather featureless plateau which was in fact the biggest boghole I had ever come across, desperately looking for a place to pitch my tent when the light started to fade. No good memories…
I was wondering if a second visit would change my opinion.
After I had parked my car at the train station in Aviemore, I walked along the B 9152 to Lynwilg, and up the glen from there, first following the Allt na Criche, then the Allt Dubh along the Burma Road. Soon a moody Spey Valley came into view.
View back down the Burma Road.
Approaching the highest point of the Burma Road.
A large cairn marks the start of a path leading to the summit of Geal-charn Mòr. From here it is easy going on a soft carpet of Cladonia lichen.
After 2:45 hrs I reached the summit shelter and trig point of Geal-charn Mòr, my Corbett No. 26.
To the South-East, I had good views to the sunny (!) Cairngorms, with the Lairig Ghru to the left, Braeriach in the centre, and Sgor Gaoith on the right.
Looking South across the Spey Valley.
From the summit I walked along the SW ridge to Geal-charn Beag.
From there, I descended in a westerly direction past a frozen Loch a’ Choin Dubh to pick up the Landrover track leading to the River Dulnain. On the way down I followed a line of grouse butts.
Apart from grouse and deer I also saw some white mountain hares, but unfortunately they were too far away (and running too fast!) to be captured in a photo…
Eventually I reached this dodgy looking bridge over the River Feithlinn and made it across safely.
I couldn’t find a good place to cross the Dulnain as well, so I stayed on the South bank and followed the river upstream, where I found the remains of two more bridges.
In some places, the path was blocked by steep cliffs and I had to scramble over the hillside (seemed more pleasant than wading through the river). On my way I came across this interesting looking Scots Pine.
When the daylight began to fade, I started looking for a campsite.
I saw this bothy on the other side of the river and wanted to see if it was unlocked, and if I could possibly spend the night in it. I managed to cross the river on stepping stones without getting too wet.
The interior didn’t look too inviting, the only place to sleep would have been the stone floor, and as the glass in the window frames was missing, it would have been a bit draughty…
I had been worried that the ground could be frozen hard so that I couldn’t get the tent pegs in, but that wasn’t a problem, so I pitched my tent just outside the bothy.
After a dinner consisting of Cup-A-Soup and “Chicken & Noodle Hotpot”, followed by a few cups of tea, I had an early night.
River Dulnain – Kingussie
23 January 2011
17.7 km/409 m/06:30 hrs
It didn’ t feel very cold during the night, my (admittedly very basic and probably not very accurate) thermometer showed 5º C inside my tent. Just after 6:00 I woke up because it had started to rain, but I was able to get back to sleep for another 1.5 hours. After breakfast I reluctantly started to pack my rucksack inside the tent (I had been hoping for the rain to stop so I wouldn’t have to pack away a soaking tent) and eventually emerged into a dull morning.
Then I dragged the tent into the bothy, trying to shake off as much water as possible, and repacked my rucksack. After my usual “morning-faffing about” I finally left at 10:00, about an hour later than I had planned.
Within a few minutes of walking on the North bank of the river, I came to an obstacle blocking my way, which forced me into my first river crossing of the day. Unfortunately, this was going to develop into a pattern… in the end I lost count of how many times I had to wade back and forth.
In other places, I could stay on the path, but had to be very careful because it was covered in icy patches. Although I did carry my microspikes, it wasn’t worth putting them on for just a few metres.
Thankfully, the snow was solid and I could walk across, cutting steps as I went.
As the glen narrows further upstream, it became more and more difficult to avoid the obstacles. There was no way I would have attempted to walk over these steep ice-covered rock slabs, even with microspikes. And so to another river crossing!
Just before another bothy is reached, the glen widens again.
At last I arrived at the second bothy, it had taken me three hours to walk around 6.5 kms.
Inside there is a large table, taking up almost all of the space. It would be difficult to sleep in there, unless one would lie on top of, or under the table!
After a short break in the bothy I waded through the river for the last time (yeeehaaa!), put on my microspikes and set off up the hill on a steep, snow-covered Landrover track.
Looking back to the bothy.
Although there was a lot more snow than down in the glen, the going was much easier. The rain had stopped as well, but the clouds were still low, and I decided against climbing the Corbett Carn an Fhreiceadain which would have been only a short detour. I was also hoping to catch the train at 16:34 back to Aviemore, and I was already running late because of all the detours I had to make in the morning.
Carn an Fhreiceadain covered in clouds.
Looking West towards A’ Chailleach, one of the Munros I had done in June 2010 (without seeing a thing). Ah, so that’s how it looks!
Descending towards Kingussie.
After passing through between the farm buildings at Pitmain Lodge, the path becomes a tarmac road, which crosses the golf course.
I walked into Kingussie at 16:24, exactly ten minutes before my train was due. Now, where’s that train station?? As it wasn’t signposted, I had to unpack my map again, rush across the High Street, around a corner and – yes, I made it to the station with one minute to spare!
Ten minutes later I arrived in Aviemore, got back to my car and drove home. Apart from sore feet (probably more due to the road walking at the end than to the walk itself) I was feeling fine, it had not been cold at all and the camping had been ok. At least I have camped in much colder conditions at other times of year!
Regarding the Monadhliaths, I must admit I am still not convinced… The scenery is very bleak, and compared to areas like Knoydart, Torridon, Skye, Assynt etc. just not very attractive, at least in my opinion. Maybe it also has to do with the fact that I particularly like the combination of mountains and sea, that’s why the West Coast and the Islands will always be high on my list.
I will probably return to do a couple of Corbetts, but I’m afraid this area will never become one of my favourites…