The Mountain's Silhouette

Hiking and backpacking in the mountains of Scotland

Atholl Forest and Western Cairngorms Traverse (Day 2)

Date: 24th March 2012
Distance: 25.05km
Ascent: 1,192m
Time: 8hrs 39min
Hills: Beinn Dearg (Munro, 1,008m), Beinn Bhreach (Corbett, 912m), Carn an Fhidhleir (Munro, 994m), An Sgarsoch (Munro, 1,006m)
Weather: Very mild, cool wind on the tops, earlier low cloud rising to form a general haze beneath sunshine and blue skies
Route: From camp on Beinn Mheadhonach to camp besides the River Feshie

If you came straight here then you might like to start with Part 1 of this report.

Camped above the clouds

The earlier starry skies had disappeared by dawn and I awoke to find a thick fog swirling around the tent. Visiblitiy was almost zero which was a little worrying as these hills aren’t the sort to really enjoy in thick mist. I dozed for another half an hour or so and then got up to make coffee and porridge. Amazingly as I sat eating breakfast the conditions dramatically changed; the thick cloud was swept away to reveal all the surrounding mountain peaks standing clear of cloud-covered glens.

Watery Sunlight

Beinn Dearg

Towards Beinn a' Ghlo

This change in circumstances got me moving and I was soon packed up and ready to move on. My first hill for the day was to be Beinn Dearg, the Munro immediately to my west which is often accessed by the long walk up Glen Bruar from Blair Atholl, or by crossing over from Glen Tilt. I however was already at 850m and so after briefly going over the top of Carn a’ Chiaraidh, below which I had camped, I contoured around on very boggy ground to a point where I could access the southern slopes of Beinn Dearg. The ground was rough, waterlogged and crossed by many infant streams which gave me ample opportunity to refill my water and thoroughly wash my kitchen things. In this area I came across a large number of snow-white hares, careening through the tussocks. The weather was improving with every step and soon a watery sun was lighting up the landscape.

Beinn Dearg

Contouring below Beinn Dearg

Mist over Beinn Mheadhonach

On reaching the slopes of Beinn Dearg I joined the baggers path and soon found my way to the top of this 1,008m high Munro which commands superb views in all directions. Although the views were hazy I could see north to the Cairngorms, west over Rannoch towards Glen Coe and south across a wide sweep of the Highlands. The mountains were patch with snow and rose above fog drifting through the lowlands. East of me was my Corbett of the previous day as well as Carn a’ Chlamain and beyond that the long sinuous ridge of the Beinn a’ Ghlo range.

The southern slopes of Beinn Dearg

East from Beinn Dearg

Mist in the glens

South from Beinn Dearg

Looking north from the summit of Beinn Dearg

The summit was empty, as befits 10am on a Saturday morning, and after a snack, some photos and a sit down I was on my way, now moving northward towards the Tarf. The summit ridge of Beinn Dearg is delightfully springy and soon I was over the northern top and dropping down the slope to Beinn Ghabhar. After taking in the views across to Beinn Bhreac and the winding line of the Tarf I dropped down towards the river, crossing a snow-choked stream and enjoying the supreme sense of remoteness that this area brings. At this point you are about as far from a road as it is possible to get in the UK and I was the only figure in a huge landscape. What a wonderful feeling!

Beinn a' Ghlo from Beinn Dearg

Upper slopes of Beinn Dearg

Looking east down the Tarf

Beinn Bhreac

The Tarf Water was easily crossed and again is another perfect location for wild camping. I however now made my way up the heathery slopes of Beinn Bhreac, initially following a stream but then climbing steep ground to reach the Corbett’s south-west ridge. Here I found firmer footing and was soon at the summit of this 912m Corbett.

The upper Tarf

Beinn Dearg from Beinn Bhreac

Looking over the Tarf

As it was approaching midday, lunch was declared and I sat munching on oatcakes, cheese and salami as I admired the hazy views of the Cairngorms across the Feshie, as well as back towards the mountains I had already been over. The earlier cloud in the valleys had by now started to rise into a thick haze with the sun partially veiled by a thin layer of clouds. There was a breeze blowing and overall the conditions were just about perfect for walking.

Summit of Beinn Bhreac

Towards the Cairngorms

Ring of Tarf

East from Beinn Bhreac

After a half hour or so it was time to be pushing on as the afternoon presented itself with the two Tarf Munros before I would drop down to camp. I had been planning on getting quite close to the Cairngorm plateau and camp somewhere up the River Eidart but had realised that the nature of the terrain was slowing down progress. Instead I now looked out and saw an excellent bit of land next to the Feshie which should provide perfect camping.

Boggy land on the Ring of Tarf

River Feshie and the Cairngorms

Towards the Tarf and Tilt

From Beinn Bhreac I rapidly dropped down to the boggy bealach below Cnap a Coire Creagach which I then climbed, bypassing the first top but instead making for Cairn Mail Tionail. I deviated off course slightly to visit this top which commands spectacular views over the watershed separating the Feshie and the Geldie. Then it was an easy rise to the summit of Carn an Fhidhleir.

Climbing towards Carn an Fhidhleir

Upper River Feshie

Looking up the Eidart

Summit of Meal Tionail

Summit of Carn an Fhidhleir

Again an empty summit presented itself. With the sun having burnt off most of the high cloud the light green moss around the cairn was brightly lit and I enjoyed the hazy views off in all directions. The hills of the morning now looked pleasingly distant, whilst the Cairngorms were looming a little larger. As I sat trying to get signal to send a text the first person since Blair Atholl hoved into view. He had camped at Geldie Lodge the previous night and had already been up An Sgorsoach. We had a pleasant chat and it was suggested our paths might cross as he returned to his tent, whilst I made for the Feshie.

The Cairngorms

Beinn Dearg from Carn an Fhidhleir

Looking east from Carn an Fhidhleir

An Sgarsoch from Carn an Fhidhleir

After this pleasant encounter I once again shouldered my pack and now made my way eastward, following the easy going track that gently drops of the summit of Carn an Fhidhleir. It then traverses steep slopes to avoid the subsidiary top . These slopes were a bit treacherous with remaining snow banks covering the path. I climbed up over one of these and then made directly for the bealach to avoid any further trouble.

Snow patch and path on Carn an Fhidhleir

An Sgarsoch

Looking over the Geldie to the Cairngorms

Carn an Fhidhleir

Another delightful stretch of bog was soon crossed and then it was a steep pull up the western slopes of An Sgarsach. Behind me the bog ran off down to the Tarf with familiar hills running off into the hazy distance. As I climbed higher I eventually picked up a path that sped up progress and I was soon standing on the summit of this 1,006m high Munro. The hazy views were similar to Carn an Fhidhleir but the cairn is more substantial and again I stopped for sustenance and an opportunity to send and receive messages. The sun was slowly creeping into the western part of the sky and the land was bathed in hazy golden sunlight. I now knew I wasn’t going to make it to the Cairngorm plateau before dark and so set my sights on the big bend in the Feshie where the river turns from an eastward course to a westward course separated from the Geldie by just a short stretch of undulating plateau.

South from An Sgarsoch

Summit of An Sgarsoch

Rocks on the ascent of An Sgarsoch

South from An Sgarsoch

Summit of An Sgarsoch

The descent was initially straightforward until the ground levelled off and then I was back amongst tussock and bog. After a few photos of the mighty Cairngorms I crossed the Allt a’ Chaorainn and then waded through bog and small streams (including the very headwaters of the Geldie) to finally reach the dramatically wide Feshie. With little recent rain the water levels were low, rocky banks and beaches exposed. There was however clear evidence of high flows with debris strewn along the banks.

Looking towards the Moine Mor

Looking out over the Feshie and Geldie

View back up An Sgarsoch

Looking north to the Cairngorms

The Allt a' Chaorainn

I picked up a faint path and followed it along the east bank of the river, trying to find a good compromise between sunset and sunrise views as well as good access to the river for water.

An Sgarsoch

Looking towards Glen Geldie

The River Feshie

The River Feshie

Finally I found my spot and encouraged by the setting sun soon had the tent up. My camp site was perfect, with views back to An Sgarsach, as well as to the long line of corries that eat into the south of the high Cairngorm plateau. The river quietly babbled away to the west and was soon stocked up with plenty of cool water.

Pitched besides the Feshie

Camped besides the Feshie

An Sgarsoch and the Feshie

Mullach Claich a' Bhlair

A little breeze was blowing, just enough to set a chill, but sitting in the lea of the tent, a cuppa in hand, I watched with a feeling of great peace and tranquillity, the gradual setting of the sun beyond the western hills.

Tarptent Scarp 1

Vent detailing

An Sgarsoch beyond the Feshie


Scarp 1 at sunset

I had a very relaxed evening. The moon, Venus and Jupiter put on an excellent twilight show, and then I enjoyed a superb dinner of beef and ale stew. Although the breeze had disappeared along with the sun, the clear skies meant it got very cold, very quickly. Dinner was had inside the tent, but then I got out again for more stargazing and photos. Later I retired back to my warm sleeping bag, reading a few chapters before changing my watch to account for the “spring” forward and soon thereafter drifting off into a satisfied sleep.

Sunset colours

Planets setting over the Feshie

Internal Illumination

Venus, Jupiter and the Moon

I awoke at some point in the night and poked my head out to find another wonderfully starry sky. My socks were partially frozen but I went out anyway to play briefly with the camera again before the cold sent me back to my down cocoon.

Things that go bump in the night