Saturday, 17 October 2015

Beinn Mheadhoin and Loch Avon


The first few days of my trip north had been characterised by low cloud and drizzle, the peak of Cairn Gorm lost is a blanket of grey cloud and drizzle. I had passed the time with a good ride through the woods of Rothiemurchus and and run between Loch Ericht and Loch Laggan via the remote Loch Pattack my bike making short work of the landcover tracks now carved deep into the hills. 

Today was different, the forecast wasnfor a high pressure system to settle over the northern Cairngorms giving blue skies and an excellent opportunity for a long walk into one of the more remote Munros Beinn Mheadhoin situated south of Loch Avon in the heart of the Cairngorms.

A winter view of Beinn Mheadhoin (left) and Carn Etchachan (centre) taken from the top of Coire nan Lochan

The hill with its distinctive granite tors is easily visible from the top of the Northern Coire but is well guarded from casual suitors by the deep trough containing Loch Avon which to my knowledge must have a good claim as being the most remote large body of water in the UK.

The air was cold and crisp as I left the ski centre carpark but as the sun continued to rise its rays soon provided a warming glow as a worked my way through the clutter that is Coire Cas in summer as various bits of heavy plant dig and scrape their way about the hill in preparation for the coming ski season. Snow cannons sit forlornly beside a maze of picket fences and lifts incongruous agains the heather.

Looking down the gentle slopes of Coire Raibeirt towards Beinn Mheadhoin its tors clearly visible against the skyline.

Having joined the path up to point 1141 on the shoulder of Cairn Gorm I join a faint path which drops down the gentle slopes of Coire Raibeirt picking up a small stream as it goes. Beinn Mheadhoin dominates the view whilst  Loch Avon remains hidden in a deep trough ahead only becoming visible at the last minute as the path drops very steeply downwards out of the hanging core towards the water. Strenuous efforts have been made to build stairs down for much of the route but they are steep and eventually end up in the stream bed, no doubt a nightmare if verbalised in winter!

Towards the bottom I cross the stream and pick up a rough path which leads after much bolder hopping to the head on Loch Avon, its a wild place steep hills and crags on all side with just the narrow opening to the north west containing the loch itself. The Feith Buidhe cascades down from high on the slopes go Ben Macdui and is crossed on stepping stones where it enters the Loch.

I make a short detour to visit the Shelter Stone one of hundreds of huge boulders that have fallen off the encircling crags and now lies across its neighbours creating a sheltered bivvy cave famous in cairngorm mountaineering history. The shelter is one of many dotted throughout the bolder field no doubt welcome places to rest for those who brave these parts in the depths of winter. 

Loch Avon with the slope of Cairn Gorm behind.

 Loch Etchachan

A path climbs steeply to the col between Carn Etchachan and Beinn Mheadhoin, nestled just beyond it is Loch Etchachan the highest large body of water in the UK at over 900m above sea level it looks a lovely place to camp in good weather surrounded by such awesome scenery. Just before the outflow of the loch I turn up the hillside to the northwest and climb steeply onto the summit plateau of Beinn Mheadhoin. The plateau is flat stony with very little vegetation, testament to the difficult year round conditions plant life faces clinging to the poor soil. 

The expanse is dominated by a series of high granite tors the largest and highest of which proves to be the summit and to me almost justifies inclusion alongside the Inn Pin as a Munro needing some climbing skills (but not ropes), certainly there are a couple of moves which would not be out of place on a v. diff

The three summit tors, the highest point being the central tor.

The view from the top is quite spectacular, for 360 degrees hills stretch out around you, its a place to stop and savour the view before heading for home. I spend about half an hour planing about with my camera taking bracketed exposures to try and compensate for the contract in light conditions, all I need to do know is learn how to combine them in photoshop as as yet the results are not ready. Leaving the summit I retrace my steps, its a tough climb back onto the Cairn Gorm plateau but this and the various building works passes as I depend back towards the car park can detract from a great day in the hills.

The view from just shy of the summit back to Loch Etchachan and Loch Avon, the count back to cairn Gorm is the steep gully about a third of the way in from the left.