I haven’t been to the Cairngorms much, and whenever I had in the past it was always to Aviemore, arguably the tourist centre of the Scottish Highlands. Looking at the map, I was excited at the vast areas of remote hard-to-get-to land south of Aviemore and as soon as a Hiking Club trip to Braemar was decided upon, I made sure I was free to go!
We had a late start on the Friday evening drive, and didn’t get to the Linn of Dee car park until half past midnight. Most opted to bivy outside the bus, or pitch a tent, but myself and Lorna couldn’t be bothered doing either and so spent a surprisingly comfortable night bivying on the minibus. I had the driver’s row of seats and Lorna the first row of passenger seats.
Darren had suggested going to the newly-refurbished Hutchinson’s Memorial Hut for the Saturday evening, and Lorna, Imogen and myself opted to as well. Some others went to Corrour bothy and the rest went climbing on Lochnagar. We decided to take tents as the hut is quite often too packed to stay in, and it gave us an excuse to use out our new Hilleberg Jannu which I got a few months ago.
I really do love the Cairngorms. I’m not sure what it is about them that strikes me as being so unique and beautiful – maybe the open forests of Scotts pines, or the vast rolling mountains, or the meandering streams and rivers. Or perhaps it is just because the offer some of the most remote walking available in Britain. I was thinking about this as we walked up past Derry Lodge (where many more sensible people had mountain biking up to and left their bikes) and up Glen Derry – itself a vast flat-bottom valley with a number of new tree plantations.
There was a lot of snow about, and by the altitude of the hut there wasn’t much on the ground but snow. We dumped our camping gear, had some lunch, and headed due south towards the summit of Derry Cairngorm. A steep snow slope scattered with a few rocks offered a bit of entertainment on the way up, before Derry Cairngorm’s north-east broad ridge took us to the summit. A lot of the cloud about earlier in the day had disappeared at this point and we were left with some stunning views and equally as stunning lighting.
I think we were all in two minds as to whether we should carry on to Ben Macdui or not, but seeing as it was a new Munro for me I decided it was worth it, followed suit by the others. This time the clouds didn’t lift and we were left with a pretty good whiteout, but at least it gave us chance to practice our navigation! Back down to the hut, and we pitched our tents on the flattest snow patch we could find, before making tea and hot chocolate for which it took about 30 minutes for the water to boil – then again it was a good deal below zero. Our route turned out to be 24km with 1200m ascent, which isn’t bad considering 13km was with camping gear!
The following day none of us had much motivation to do anything other than walk out, and so that’s what we did, making the most of the beautiful surroundings once more.