Sunday 26th February – River Gairn wild camp to Corgarff castle
Time: 6 hours
Hills: Carn Ealasaid (Corbett, 792m)
Route: Click to view
The clear skies continued into the morning which unfortunately somewhat muted the sunrise. By the time I got up at around 8am the sky was blue but a dense fog was clinging to all the surrounding summits. In particular I could see that Ben Avon was shrouded in it above about 800m. There was a chill to the air and it would be a bit longer before the sun broke through to my camping spot so I warmed up by getting all my gear sorted and packed up. The tent fly was drenched with dew but there was no sign of ice or even frost: a very mild night for February in the Highlands.
I refilled my water bottle from the river, dropped in a hydration tablet and then headed off. The dense hillfog had put me off making the ascent of Ben Avon so instead I followed my outward track from the day before, heading back through a sleepy Glen Gairn towards Loch Builg. It was delightful once the sun broke above the southern hills and I soon was back down to just baselayer and unzipped jacket. I munched on a cereal bar as I ambled along.
As I approached Loch Builg I took a shortcut across boggy ground to cut out a loop of the vehicle track. I had planned to stop and have a proper breakfast at the Lodge but there was a hint of rain coming off the hills now so instead I pressed on, following the track along the loch edge until I reached the point where I had joined it the previous evening.
It was now new territory and with rainbows dancing across the loch I dropped down through narrow Glen Builg until I emerged into the wider part of the glen close to the grand house at Inchrory and the meeting with the Avon which comes along from the northern side of the range.
Here I stopped to have brunch, using my stove to heat water for coffee and eating some more provisions. Again, taking water from the cold stream meant it was quite a wait for my brew but I was in no rush and chilled out beside the river for a good twenty-five minutes.
The energy and caffeine boost proved quite restorative and with the sun shining down I headed along, passing Inchrory where I had a brief chat with three chaps on mountain bikes who were heading up the Avon to have lunch at Findoran bothy. I bid them good speed, passed through the gates and was soon ascending the track above the house, now on the track which would take me back to the car at Corgarff.
At a point on the hillside I made my final decision of the trip: with good weather I turned aside and rather than following the easy track back to the car, I took to the heathery hillside intent on following the broad line of tops around to Carn Ealasaid which I had seen from Brown Cow Hill the day before.
It was a tough first ascent through thick heather but once I came out onto the rolling ridge it was better. A new fence took something away from the big views and sadly the terrain remained quite waterlogged, but the views all around were excellent. Behind me I could now see just how cloud-covered Ben Avon was – the cloud spilling into its northern corries. Further back a constant stream of showers seemed to be moving down Glen Gairn, validating my early start.
After the first top the ridge turned and I dropped quickly down to a col. Here I had to cross the fence and it was only now I found out it was electrified. Luckily they have at least provided proper crossing points. Once at the other side I made quick progress up to the trig point on the summit of Craig Veann.
I took a breather here as the uphill had been a tough stretch, drank some water and ate some chocolate. I now had a view along the ridge across the intermediary top of Tolm Buirich to the summit Carn Ealasaid, starting to look a little closer.
There were more peat hags to be negotiated but after stopping briefly at Tolm Buirich to admire the view north to Ben Rinnes and across to Gael Charn (which I had been up in November) I was on the final, firmer stretch up to the summit of Carn Ealasaid.
After crossing another fence (this time low and unelectrified) I picked up a faint path which took me upwards and quite suddenly I was on the broad summit plateau. The small cairn marking the summit was very close by, set just off a vehicle track. I gratefully slung down my pack and had a sit down. The wind was starting to get quite fierce but I managed to have some lunch, take a few snaps and send off a text to my girlfriend before I headed off.
Descending from Carn Ealasaid is a simply matter of following the vehicle track. At times faint paths cut off wide loops and in good time the castle of Corgarff and my car came into view. Unfortunately the river Don doesn’t have any bridge crossings until the main road so after descending past the mysterious cairns and picking up another track near the cottages at xx I strode on down to the main road at the Allargue Arms. I was strongly tempted to pop in for a pint but the car was close by and I wanted to get home so I marched on, down the road and then back along the river a short way to reach the parking spot.
All in it had been a great trip. I was a little disappointed not to have got up on to the plateau of Ben Avon or to have explored some more of its tors (I was last up there in May 2008), but the views of low cloud on Sunday validated my choice and the second Corbett - including a less visited ridge - made up for it. Besides the problems pitching the tent and then heating snow-melted stream water everything went smoothly and I am especially pleased to have got my three season gear out in February! Now the first trip of the year is done I’m going to move towards more ambitious routes with the aim of doing my first multi-night trip in the next few weeks.