Braemar bike-hike

Ben Avon and neighbours by bike and foot, 10-11 October'20

A blog post from one of our mountain adventures in the Scottish hills and mountains. Weekend of guided biking and hillwalking up Ben Avon and the neighbouring Munros. John King was leading.

Ben Avon and neighbours by bike and foot

Day 1 Ben Avon and Beinn a'Bhuiridh

Ben Avon and Beinn a' Bhuird are the two highest summits of the Eastern Cairngorm plateau, both vast and remote hills, a long way from any given approach. For our weekend's adventures we chose to approach from Invercauld near Braemar where good tracks allow easy access on bike far into the hills. I met our group for the day - Lynn, Johnstone, Mark, Mark, Brian and David - in the big walker's car park on Saturday morning and we headed off on the bikes a little after 8.30am.

It was a nice cycle up towards Gleann an t-Slugain and the southerly approach to the hills meant that we were mainly sheltered from the brisk northerly wind that was forecast for the day. We left the bikes just before the Fairy Glen and set off up this scenic little glen where the autumn colours were in full swing. Emerging from the top of the glen, there is usually a fine view ahead to Beinn a' Bhuird, but not today unfortunately! A wall of different shades of grey lay ahead and it was a pretty unwelcoming sight. Fortunately there is a good path and this allowed us to keep a brisk pace up towards our peaks.

The climb up the path is pretty gradual but you gain height all the way until reaching 'The Sneck', a high bealach situated between the two summits. At 970m above sea level, we were already higher than quite a lot of Munros! From here we first went east to Ben Avon, opting to take the shortest route to the summit to see how unpleasant the weather actually was on the tops - the forecast was for heavy sleet and wind gusts up to 50mph. I had thought of switching our days around because of this weather but The Sneck offers a chance to get high and sample the conditions without being too committed, something that our weekend's other walk didn't offer with many miles on high, exposed plateau.

After some violent gusts just above the bealach we seemed to benefit from the topography of the hill, with the wind hitting the north side of Ben Avon and bouncing up and over our heads. As a result it didn't feel too severe heading over to Ben Avon's vast summit tor, although some care was demanded scrambling up the final meters on all fours to touch the highest point of the hill. Not a day for a summit photo!

We descended back to Sneck for a well-earned lunch and then set off up Beinn a'Bhuird about 1pm. The wet weather actually made the loose path above the bealach a lot easier to walk than in drier conditions and we were soon on the eastern top, Cnap a' Chleirich. By now we had a bit of slushy snow underfoot but the winds still didn't seem too bad, so off we set across the vast plateau towards the summit of the North Top. This section is mostly pathless and any faint trail was under snow so it was time for a compass bearing. This was a good, involved bit of navigation and it was immensely satisfying, having put full trust in the compass needle, to come over a slight rise and see the cairn dead ahead!

Mission accomplished and thoroughly soaked it was now time to make a hasty retreat. We reversed our bearing, picked up the path back to The Sneck and then got down to ford over the Glas Allt Mor before stopping for a refuel. Once again the fine path provided a smooth walk back to the Slugain and the bikes. Back at the bikes it was a blast all the way down the tracks to Invercauld, reaching the cars around 5.30pm. An excellent 9-hour effort by the team in less than ideal conditions!

Day 2 Beinn a'Chaorainn and Beinn Bhreac

Our Sunday objective was the two other Munros on the eastern plateau of the Cairngorms, Beinn a' Chaorainn and Beinn Bhreac. These are two hills largely left to the Munroists and are relatively unfrequented. With a much better forecast compared to yesterday we set off from Linn of Dee full of optimism and it was a fine cycle in with the two Marks and Johnstone to Derry Lodge in some nice early morning light. It only took 25 minutes to reach the lodge showing the benefit of the bikes.

Leaving our bikes we headed off up Glen Derry. This is one of my favourite glens in the Cairngorms. It is an area where the deer numbers have been controlled such that the old pine forest is visibly regaining ground up hill and the young pine trees amongst the gnarly old ‘granny pines' makes for a lovely start to a day in the hills. Gradually the trees thin and we moved out into the more open upper glen. Here the showers started to come through and we had a bit of walking into horizontal drizzle with the path resembling a river but at least we were rewarded with some impressive rainbows in between times.

We decided to walk the circuit the opposite way round to the norm and so kept with Glen Derry all the way up towards the pass of the Lairig an Laoigh, one of the old drovers routes through the hills. This route would give us a tailwind on the tops and also allowed us to face the crossing of the Glas Allt Mor at the start of the day. This can sometimes be a problematic river crossing and after yesterday's rain I wanted to make sure we could cross now rather than leave it to chance on our descent. As it was, the crossing required a bit of care but wasn't too bad.

After a short break near the head of the glen we struck away from the path and headed steeply uphill. It is a brutal pull for about 100m through the heather but eventually the angle eases and the vegetation thins until a final boulder field leads to the big summit cairn. Here we saw a couple of ptarmigan half-way into their winter plumage and had a few glimpses of blue sky but there wasn't much to encourage hanging around so after the obligatory summit photo (and congratulating Mark on his half-way Munro!) we descended into some shelter for lunch.

As we headed south things started to clear and by the time we'd finished our lunch we had good views over the vast expanse of the Moine Bhealaidh to our next Munro, Beinn Bhreac. We stuck to the high ground as much as possible while crossing this plateau to avoid as much of the bog as possible and eventually picked up a nice path for the final stretch to the summit of Beinn Bhreac. The sun was now out and there were more nice views particularly to the hills around Glen Shee and the neighbouring high Cairngorms. Ben Macdui and Beinn Mheadhoin even had a good dusting of snow on top.

From the Beinn Bhreac we descended south to the bealach with Meall an Lundain then turned west to drop back into Glen Derry. This was a proper bog in places but was at least an efficient descent route. After yesterday's weather it was certainly enjoyable to be waking in the sunshine and we got great views across to Derry Cairngorm with the dark green of the pine trees contrasting nicely with the autumnal colours of the surrounding hills. That said, it was a relief to reach a solid path in the glen and this allowed us to cruise back to Derry Lodge and the bikes.

The ride out was great on good track all the way to the road and it was quite busy on the path with lots people out enjoying the good autumnal weather. We were back at the cars around 3.30pm, a good 7-hour day complete. Cheers to all in the group for a pair of good walks and for the high levels of determination to bag Saturday's hills !

Photos are by Johnston Orr and more are here on Flickr.

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