The Mountain's Silhouette

Hiking and backpacking in the mountains of Scotland

Glen Dee Overnighter

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A planned big route in the Cairngorms cut short by high winds above 900m. After a night on the Corbett of Sgor Mor I wandered around Glen Dee in a mixture of sunshine and showers.

Cairngorms sunset

Date: 2nd-3rd August 2013
Distance: 32.71km
Ascent: 1,160m
Hills: Sgor Mor [Corbett]
Weather: High winds, cloud and sunny showers
Route: Click to view on Social Hiking

Traffic. It’s Friday afternoon, just before five, and I’m in a line of cars and trucks and motorcycles, engines thrumming amidst a pall of fumes and dust as we crawl ever closer to the roundabout at the Bridge of Dee. I look around and wonder: how many of these people are here every week, every day, sitting in the same line? Are they going home, to the gym, to visit friends and family? How many are escaping the city and its nightmare of gridlock?

Linn of Dee

Light. Two hours later I’m looking at beautiful evening sunshine spilling through the archway of the stone bridge crossing the deep gorge at the Linn of Dee. The river whirls and eddies in slow motion between the towering walls of rock. Crowned with harebells the Linn holds my attention for only a short time before the track through the woods beckons me towards the open country.

Glen Dee

Hillside. Above the river the heather clad hillside stretches above me. The going is hard but my feet pick out a wandering way up between moss-covered boulders and along narrow deer runs. A new electric fence diverts me briefly into the pines that cling to the southern slopes but above them is nothing but heather and the evening sky.

Evening light

Plateau. From the cairn on the summit of Carn an ‘lc Duibhe a swell of short-cropped heather rises up to the jumbled summit of Sgor Dubh. The electric fence parallels me on my left but I defocus it out of sight as the sunlight catches the high rounded hills to the south of the Geldie. To the right beyond Luibeag are the central Cairngorms green and grey, sombre beneath a dark veil of cloud.

Sunburst

Burst. The rain starts as I pitch the tent. I’m in a hollow on the ridge just before the final rise to the summit of Sgor Mor. It offers a small degree of protection from the gusting wind which made even standing still difficult on Sgor Dubh. As I’m getting soaked by the rain, the tent bucking as I thread the pole, a sudden burst of sunlight spills out from behind the low cloud in the northwest. The notched gap of Glen Geusachan behind the Devil’s Point is filled with light. It silhouettes the hills and brings some final warmth to the day. The show is brief but spectacular.

Cairngorms Wild Camp

As the light fades the wind and rain renew their attack and so I retire to the tent for tea, a hot chocolate and a podcast or two as the tent shakes in the gusting wind.

Punch bowls on Sgor Mor

Summit. The next morning the cloud has dropped another few hundred feet or so, the mountains cut off at chest rather than neck height. Occasional bursts of rain patter on the tent as I have a coffee and breakfast. The summit of Sgor Mor is just a short distance away and I reach it before 9, a little disappointed that the views up the Lairig Ghru are largely obscured by cloud. The wind is incredibly strong up here on this exposed summit and flecks of rain from showers passing along Glen Geldie splash across my camera lens.

River Dee at Whitebridge

River. It’s an easy descent down heathery slopes to the River Dee where I join a narrow footpath. This leads me down to Whitebridge passing the falls and pools at the Chest of Dee. It’s appreciably calmer down in the glen but the dark clouds scudding above are signs that there is no relenting higher up on more exposed ground. By the river below the bridge I have a snack and watch the Dee roll by.

Cairn Geldie

Attack. From Whitebridge I clamber up more heathery slopes to the modest summit of Cairn Geldie which sits between the Dee and the Geldie and leads to a stretch of bog and pools that guard this southern approach to Beinn Bhrotain, the most southerly of the Munros on this western side of Glen Dee. It’s not until I reach the eastern shoulder of Carn Cloich-mhuilinn that I join a narrow track winding its way up the hill. On this exposed slope the wind once again strengthens and by the time I’m on the final pull up to the summit it is hindering my progress. I struggle up, being knocked off my feet a couple of times as I negotiate otherwise easy ground. It’s a little scary and I’m glad to reach the summit where the tiny cairn offers the smallest of respites.

Allt Garbh

Retreat. Sat on the summit of Carn Cloich-mhuilinn with the wind raging around me I weigh up my options. The route I had in mind involves several more miles of rough ground above 900m walking directly into the fierce wind. There are boulder fields to negotiate as well as further exposed slopes and I’m not confident of avoiding an ankle-snapping stumble given the wind conditions. It doesn’t feel like a good idea and from the col before Beinn Bhrotain I decide to leave the high route for another day. The Allt Garbh offers an easy way off the hillside and I take it, following the stream down and eventually picking up a good path that drops me back down to Glen Dee.

Lairig Ghru

Solace. As always happens the conditions once down in the shelter of the glen are benign. The sun comes out from behind the clouds and it is warm, summery, idyllic. I look back up at the dark slopes of Beinn Bhrotain, doubting my own decision. A cuppa made from the tumbling allt clears my head and I look to the fabulous views of upper Glen Dee and the Lairig Ghru as the sunlight plays across the hillsides. It rains again just as I’m packing away the stove and the flickering shadows prove that the wind is still untenable up high.

Dark clouds above the Dee

The walk back to the Linn of Dee provides an ever changing landscape of sky and hills as the light changes and showers pass through. The waterproofs stay on as a few errant splashes of rain catch up with me but more times than not it is sunny and warm. The Dee is my handrail as I leave behind the Devil’s Point and Beinn Bhrotain and the gentler hills close to the Linn unfold before me. It always feels like a long road, the road from Whitebridge, but the miles pass and the car is there, and then there is just the drive back to the Aberdeen. I’m back a full day earlier than planned but it was still a wonderful trip.

I deliberately kept photos and words to a minimum with this report. If you would like to see more of the trip then please take a look at the full set over on Flickr.

River Dee and Cairn Liath

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