Beinn a’ Chaorainn

Thursday 12 July 2012

22.6 km/1697 m/11:00 hrs

Munro: Beinn a’ Chaorainn (No. 243)

As I had only two Munros in the Cairngorms left to do (the other one being Beinn Mheadhoin), my original plan had been a leisurely two day trip with a camp at Loch Etchachan. But the weather wasn’t very favourable, so I decided against a backpacking trip and planned to climb both hills in one day instead.

Dark grey clouds were at a low level when I started my walk from the Cairngorm Ski Centre Carpark. But it was dry, and there was even a bit of sunshine in the Spey Valley.

Spey Valley

I climbed up the signposted “Windy Ridge” to the Ptarmigan Restaurant and soon entered the clouds. The OS Explorer Map shows a path leaving the track to Cairn Gorm and heading E towards Ciste Mhearad, but on previous visits I had never managed to find the start of this path.

So I just walked on a compass bearing towards the stream that flows E into the Garbh Allt, that’s where the path becomes visible on the S bank of the stream.

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From here, the path is easy to follow, it leads diagonally along Cairn Gorm’s E flank to the Saddle. When I was below the cloud level, I got the first faint views of the Saddle and Loch Avon.

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The path leading from the Saddle to the loch is a mixture of boulders and deep bog, and in the meantime it had also started to rain…

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… but at least the views were nice.

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Even my first target Beinn a’ Chaorainn was (almost) cloud free!

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After a short break in the Fords of Avon shelter I crossed the river by the stepping stones. They were mostly under water, but I could still use them to get across.

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After crossing some very boggy ground and another stream, I reached the foot of Beinn a’ Chaorainn’s N ridge and ascended the heather covered hillside.

Looking back to the Fords of Avon.

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The clouds seemed to be lifting from Beinn Mheadhoin as well.

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The upper part of Beinn a’ Chaorainn’s ridge is covered in boulders, but higher up on the ridge I came across a faint path that made the going a bit easier.

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In the meantime the clouds had lowered again, and I got no views from the summit cairn.

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From the summit, I headed in a SW direction towards the Lairig an Laoigh.

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Barns Corrie on Beinn Mheadhoin’s E flank.

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On the last part of the descent the terrain becomes steeper, but I came across traces of an eroded path zigzagging down the hillside.

View towards Coire Etchachan.

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I reached the path into Glen Derry near the summit of the Lairig an Laoigh.

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At the next junction I turned right and crossed the bridge over the Coire Etchachan Burn soon after.

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Hutchison Memorial Hut.

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To get some shelter from the rain, I had another break in the hut and contemplated what to do.

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I had planned to climb Beinn Mheadhoin as well, but the clouds were coming and going, and I really wanted to see some views from the top.

But the main problem was the rain – I had been at the top of Beinn Mheadhoin a few years ago, in heavy rain and wind, but didn’t manage to get up the summit tor. There is an awkward move on the way up, and the water was running down the rocks, making the granite too slippery for my liking. On my second attempt I wanted to be sure to get to the summit, and in today’s conditions it didn’t look as if this was going to happen.

So the decision was made, I would give Beinn Mheadhoin a miss this time and come back another day, although that would mean a very long walk for just one summit.

Looking back down Coire Etchachan.

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The ascent path to Beinn Mheadhoin.

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Loch Etchachan.

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Right beside the path I saw a small stone shelter that I must have passed many times before, but I had never noticed it.

Stone shelter

Unnamed lochan below Carn Etchachan.

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Soon after I got the first view of Loch Avon’s W end with its sandy beaches.

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Loch Avon.

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Shelter Stone Crag.

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The Shelter Stone, zoomed (the large boulder with the cairn on top).

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The W end of the loch, with the stepping stones just visible.

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There was a small collection of portacabins in the corrie below Hell’s Lum Crag, presumably accommodation for workers repairing the paths in the area.

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Shelter Stone Crag.

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Although the stepping stones were partly under water, I could use them to get across the two sections of the river flowing into Loch Avon.

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On the other side, I followed the higher one of the two paths along the shore of the loch and climbed up into Coire Raibeirt. When I turned round, I could see the sun lighting up the crags of Stacan Dubha.

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The steep path actually leads along the stream bed in some places, but it is currently being improved, and especially the steeper sections will be a bit safer in the future.

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By now, Beinn Mheadhoin was completely in cloud.

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When I looked back from the top of Coire Raibeirt, I caught a glimpse of Loch Etchachan through the clouds.

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The path towards Fiacaill a’ Choire Chais (Cairn Gorm must be somewhere in the clouds on the right).

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The distinct cairn at the start of Fiacaill a’ Choire Chais.

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Loch Morlich from the descent path.

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In spite of the mixed weather, the day wasn’t too bad. It would have been nice to climb Beinn Mheadhoin as well, but I enjoy walking in the Cairngorms and don’t mind coming back for my last Cairngorm Munro!

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2 thoughts on “Beinn a’ Chaorainn

  1. As you say, it was a long walk for just one summit – but in spite of this, this is magnificent country and you’re right in the heart of the Cairngorms with different views at every turn (and behind every cloud !). I think your walk pretty well summed up the damp, cloudy weather this summer.

    I camped at Derry Lodge in September and climbed Beinn Bhreac and Beinn Chaorainn on a similarly windy/cloudy day. I wondered whether to extend it and climb up past the Hutchison Memorial Hut to Beinn Mheadoin / Derry Cairngorm / Ben Macdui. With an early start and clear weather this would be a great, though long day so I left them until my last day.

    • Quote: “I think your walk pretty well summed up the damp, cloudy weather this summer.”

      Actually, I think this summer was the best we had in years – it was exceptionally dry, warm and sunny (in the Highlands, at least)! Ok, there were a few short periods of “not so great” weather, but compared to the summers in 2010 and 2011 it was really good 🙂

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