Walking in Cairngorm means walking in sub – Arctic tundra, but it is a much richer, more beautiful tundra than anything I have seen in Greenland or Svalbard.Heather, dwarf juniper, bearberry, crowberry and a myriad other tiny wild flowers and plants make this a joy of an area to explore.Good, dry paths just add to the experience.Red and black grouse, Ptarmigan, Capercaillie (though rarely seen) , snow buntings, red and roe deer, ospreys in summer, golden eagle, red squirrels, mountain hare are all part of the National Park’s attraction. It may not have the sharp, dramatic peaks of the west but the sheer scale and great whaleback plateaux and colours of Cairngorm offer a deep connection with nature and grand empty lands.
With our focus on upping our measly Munro count(bagging mountains over 3,000 feet or 914m) , summiting Bynack Mor was our objective.It’s an outlier of the Cairngorm Massif with a beautiful path all the way to the top. It’s longish though – 14 miles or 22.5km return, if done as a day’s outing. As we are basically lazy gits, Chris had the much better idea of walking a few miles in the night before, wild camp, then next day carry on to the summit and back. In this way, it became a 10 mile day walk, perhaps not a huge difference but we enjoy a wild camp in a beautiful area and it took a bit of the sting out of the tail.
We drove from the family home on Skye – 3.5 hours away – on a sunny July day to find the Cairngorms looking fantastically clear. It was late afternoon before we set off from Glenmore Lodge’s car park, fully laden, doing a double check to make sure we hadn’t left anything vital behind like matches or the tent or food. The excellent path is a popular one and leads initially to Lochan Uaine, a gorgeous turquoise loch about 30 mins stroll away. Almost immediately on this walk, the scenery is classic Cairngorm – heather covered hills, Caledonian Pine forest; sweetly fresh Highland air; it is so beautiful.
My rucksack didn’t feel too heavy, but I knew Chris’s did as I could barely lift it! He always carries more of our stuff; tent, trangia stove, fuel, saying that he’s built for it and it’s good for him.Thankfully, there is usually plenty of good clean water when wild camping in Scotland so no need to lug that in with us too.
The path splits near Ryvoan Bothy, where we took the right hand fork. Once we’d reached about 4 miles in from the car, we would look out for a good pitch beside the river.
A lovely flat grassy area presented itself beside the Allt a’ Gharbh Choire in Gaelic – translated as the River of the Rough Corrie. It was whisky coloured, stained golden by the peaty moorland it gurgles through. A light breeze kept the midges at bay, thankfully. To the south, we could just make out part of the ridge we would take to Bynack Mor and it was looking very inviting and deceptively close. In fact, we toyed with the idea of pitching the tent and making a go for it NOW! But checking the map and distance, it would be after 10pm before we got back (still light) but overall, it seemed daft to rush the hill. Plus, we hadn’t had a thing to eat since some toast for breakfast (another bad habit: not eating during the day which tends to leave me ‘hangry’ and having a sugar crisis if I then try to climb a hill or such like.) Better to stick to the plan and enjoy the hike properly tomorrow.
It was a really lovely camping spot and once the tent was pitched, we celebrated with a glass of fizzy wine (for me) while Chris opened a bottle of Chardonnay (another weight to carry!) and we snacked on crisps; then we pan fried some chicken with curry spices and enjoyed it with some shop bought potato salad. Nectarines for dessert, then gallons of tea and some chocolate for me. We wandered up the river for a bit then just sat down beside it, enjoying the surroundings of mountain , moorland and silence.
Next day dawned brighter than the forecast though VERY windy but we were soon up and about early and ready to set off around 7am.That’s sleeping in a tent for you! We always tend to fall asleep early and wake up around 5.30am.All that fresh air!
The path was great, very dry and took us up at a nice easy angle onto the higher ground, through rich heather moorland.The air was gorgeous and it was a joy as ever to be on the hill.Sometimes I just can’t help but from constantly stopping to look around me, drinking it all in, the views, the beauty of the mountains, the scent of wildflowers and grasses. It’s like nectar, absolutely heavenly.it always make me think too of time – how our time on this beautiful planet is so short, of the privilege it is to know the mountains and connect with wild land in this simplest but most effective of ways – by walking.There is an ancient Greek saying – Solvitor Ambulando – it is solved by walking. Although the meaning these days has slightly changed, it holds true.A good walk seems to put many of life’s daily small challenges and problems into perspective.
What was also now more clearly in perspective was just how strong the wind was! Once we climbed out of the glen, it hit us full force.In fact, by the time we began the hike up the little rib of the hill’s shoulder, it was difficult to stay upright and the effect on my face was much like the pummelling it takes when you lean out of the window of a fast moving car. It had all looked so benign from lower down.I really began to wonder if we would have to turn back.However we were so close to the summit, I decided that even if I had to crawl on my knees over the final few hundred metres I was ‘bagging’ this hill!
The path wound in and around boulders and little rock outcrops but they were at leat giving us a bit of occasional shelter. Stopping at a gap in the rock, the noise of the howling wind beyond was frightening.Photos rarely capture wind so it all looks quite pleasant at the top – not so!
But the wind was also lifting some of the heavier cloud which had come in, giving us glimpses of the Cairngorm massif in the mid distance.It was wonderful country, empty and huge, quite unspoiled and I just wished we could go on.
Two hours from leaving the tent, we were at the top.Some water, crisps and chocolate as we huddled in amongst the rocks at the summit, then we began to cool down too much to be comfortable.The wind is very, very chilling in Scotland, especially this high.
It was a relief to drop down sufficiently to get out of the worst of the buffeting and enjoy the easy trek back to the tent.We passed some other walkers, glad of our early start and that we were going dowb while they still had the hard work to do.Actually it is quite an easy hill apart from the overal distance.Beautiful country.
Back at base, we got the Trangia going for a quick cuppa, then got the tent down and the gear packed away.Just under 90 minutes later we were back at the car, another Munro under our belts and as ever, a great sense of satisfaction at having been at one with the mountains.It really is a high that can last for days.