After much route planning and then the last minute email discussion on whether to even venture forth due to weather conditions, the intrepid 4 comprising Chris, Ali, Ruth and Susan decided to “give it a go” and set off on the 3 day expedition from Kingussie to Braemar. The idea had been to do a round trip from Banchory using only public transport (if you include taxi to Inverurie station in that) incorporating a 3 day camping expedition from Kingussie through to Braemar, tackling 4 remote corbetts en route. (Note for Ali this was just a wam-up before her 13 day trip across Scotland)
The Plan A route is shown below. We had lots of potential back-up routes (B, C, D) but fortunately none of those were needed and we more or less stuck to the planned route, apart from a few minor navigational errors and detours!
On Friday afternoon we caught the train from Inverurie to Kingussie, changing at Inverness, which was a very relaxing and scenic trip. After checking in at the Tipsy Laird bunkhouse, sampling the hostelry’s steak & ale pie with of course extra ale, we all had an early night.
Saturday morning was a cool but sunny morning as we set off from Kingussie with fully loaded packs.
It was about 15km and 750m of total ascent to get to the summit of Meallach Mhor, barely a corbett at 769m, which we reached at around 1:30pm. A slower than usual rate of ascent was noted due to the heavy packs but we made pretty good time.
The weather stayed kind and a couple of hours later as we started the relatively gentle snow covered ascent of 2nd corbett Carn Dearg Mor (857m) we spotted a lone, dark figure in the distance just coming off the summit. Having seen no other hill walkers out that day we knew this could only be one person and sure enough the familiar figure of Jane altered her route and descended into view towards us. Having made only fairly loose arrangements to meet Jane sometime that day/night at camp 1 perhaps, it was a bit of a relief to meet up with her. Jane continued her descent to check-out the suitability of the proposed campsite, where we all joined her about an hour later after summiting Carn Dearg Mor.
To my surprise, and slight relief, the camp location turned out to be not a bad choice with little snow, good shelter from a forest, suitably grassy, soft ground for tents and adjacent running water from a burn.
The forest also offered a good supply of dryish dead wood and since it was a long, cold evening all enjoyed the campfire.
Day 2 started off cloudy and damp as the 5 of us set off to climb corbett no.3 Leathad an Taobhain (912m). We reached the summit around 11:30am in damp, cloudy and cold conditions after only around 5km and 420m ascent from the campsite.
This was where we parted company with Jane who was heading back to her car (containing bike with puncture……another story) parked at Glen Feshie lodge.
Shortly after heading off directly south from the summit of Leathad an Taobhain the cloud fortunately lifted, and we were able to see that we were entering a gently undulating plateau that was covered with a mixture of patchy soft snow, bog and peat hags. So the next few hours proved to be extremely tough as we traversed east along the ridge in the general direction of Carn an Fhidleir. There was a mixture of hard and soft snow patches to cross, into which on occasion one’s foot would descend into the bog below, filling your boot with water. Ali likened this to crossing a minefield and I think I got the job as the minesweeper, encountering many mines along the way! We eventually reached the bealach below corbett no.4 Beinn Bhreac (912m) and left our packs there to do the 1 hour detour to bag this peak. Strangely this peak was devoid of snow even though it was only just short of munro height.
After collecting our packs we felt as if we were finally on the way down and the going should get easier. This soon proved to be very far from the case as there was a further tough ascent needed to cross the hump of Cairn Meall Tionail and then a largely pathless descent down to the Feshie valley across the western flank of Carn an Fhidleir. We were all extremely grateful that there was no need for us to climb this particular munro!
The route had been planned not only to take in corbetts but also to avoid any major river crossings. So as we slowly descended towards the U-bend in the river Feshie to pass between the raging torrent of the Feshie on our left and the start of the Geldie Burn we thought it had been a successful strategy. We only discovered the next day how wrong we turned out to be.
After passing by the Feshie there was about 800m of rough, boggy terrain to cross before to our immense relief we finally got onto the W-E path that runs just north of the Geldie. Our planned Camp 2 location was another 4 km away, just by the ford crossing to Geldie Lodge, but as time was getting on and we were all pretty exhausted we agreed to stop at the next suitable camp location. Fortunately (for me anyway as I was absolutely shattered) this came pretty quickly and after less than 1 km we found a suitable campsite on what appeared to be dry ground next to a burn at around 7:30pm.
After a wet and very windy night we struck camp in the pouring rain and left the camp location around 8:15am. During the torrential rain in the night a large puddle had developed under Susan’s tent but she somehow managed to get some sleep anyway. We had a 24km pretty flat walk ahead of us to Braemar via White Bridge and Linn of Dee in familiar territory so no navigational issues today. Fortunately the rain soon cleared and the sun came out to reveal all rivers and burns in severe spate. On reaching the Allt Dhaidh Mor burn it was immediately obvious that it was completely uncrossable at the track, so we struck off upstream in the hope of finding a suitable crossing point. The burn was not getting noticeably smaller the higher we went, so after a tiring 1 km detour we finally decided to risk a crossing, resigned to the fact that we would get wet feet (I’d been walking in damp socks for most of the last 2 days anyway). Fortunately there were no mishaps and all crossed safely apart from suffering from squelchy boots which required wringing out of socks.
On reaching Linn of Dee after many miles on hard tracks my feet were now extremely sore and I wasn’t looking forward to the last 10km on roads and tracks.
After passing by Mar Lodge….
…then crossing Victoria Bridge we fortunately were able to follow an alternative softer surfaced off-road route through Morrone Birkwood which brought us down into Braemar via the duck pond. We arrived in Braemar with half an hour to spare before the 16:20 Banchory 201 bus and were very glad to be able to get those boots off!
So after a total distance of over 70km and ascent of 2200m our adventure was nearly over. It felt good to be able get that pack off our backs and relax on the bus ride back to Banchory to complete our journey.