A report from a traverse of the Cairngorms from the Linn of Dee to Coylumbridge via Cairn Toul and Loch Einich
Date: 18th August 2012
Time: 10hr 24min
Hills: Angel's Peak (Munro), Cairn Toul (Munro), Devil's Point (Munro)
Weather: Early showers giving way to bright sunshine
Route: View on OS Maps
The opportunity to traverse a mountain range in a day is a rare one and is definitely one of the main reasons why I am a member of the Stocket Hillwalking Club. The club’s 2012 Cairngorm Traverse was an opportunity to cross the Cairngorms, either via the famous pass of the Lairig Ghru, or going across the Cairn Toul massif to bag the Devil’s Peak, Cairn Toul and Sgorr an Lochain Uaine. Despite the fact that I had been up in this area wild camping just a couple of weeks before I was still thoroughly looking forward to this day out, especially as the weather promised to be rather good. Would it be, as with Braeriach on the last occasion, third time lucky for a summit view from Cairn Toul?
The weather took a little time to sort itself out and the situation wasn’t helped by our super speedy bus driver who got us through to the Linn of Dee for 8:30am, a little earlier than expected given our 7am departure! A little light drizzle was falling as we set off through the pine woods, but the sun was shining at times and it was already turning into a warm day. The walk along the Derry Road was enlivened by the shifting light but it was good to get to the lodge where we had a short break before the midges could get too settled.
We chased several rainbows along the line of the Luibeg, the sun lighting up the wonderfully purple heather as the dark shadows of clouds chased each other across the higher tops. Last summer I did almost no hillwalking and had forgotten the vivid colours that transform this usually somewhat drab, brown-grey landscape into a place of endless beauty. Everything from the very tops of the hills to the deepest depths of the streams was alive with colour and light.
The Luibeg, flowing strongly with startlingly clear water, was forded without too much trouble and then we were climbing up and over the shoulder of Carn a’ Mhaim and down into Glen Dee. The weather was improving with every step forward, although the scudding clouds meant that the light was dramatic and ever changing. The waterproof jackets were put away, stuffed into the bottom of the pack, and forgotten about for the rest of the day.
Walking into the bottom of the Lairig Ghru is always a marvellous experience, the big mountains, bigger than anything outside of Ben Nevis, rise up on either side, their flanks the soft red-pink of the Monadh Ruadh. Glen Geusachan was dark beneath the clouds but as we approached the bothy at Corrour sunlight broke over the Devil’s Point, lighting up the cloud that was clinging to the summit of Cairn Toul towering above this tiny, isolated shelter.
At Corrour we paused for a bite of lunch. There was a chill wind blowing down from the Ghru which did a reasonable job of keeping the worst of the midges away but did mean an extra layer had to go on. To warm up again we had the joy of the ascent up through Corrie Odhair on the excellent gravel track which winds its way up besides the tumbling stream. I took the opportunity to refill my water at the crossing above the falls, enjoying the views up the Lairig Ghru to the rounded summit of Ben MacDui.
As I ascended I passed a group of Australian lads who were lumbering up the steep slope under heavy packs. They were on a multi-night Cairngorm adventure and really enjoying it despite the weight of their loads. Shooting by them I quickly reached the bealach and, following the same path I descended in the deep dusk two weeks before, got to the summit of the Devil’s Point to enjoy some solace. It was breezy but the views were endless, disappearing off into a haze of hills in far off Perthshire. The Geusachan shimmered, a slender sliver of water coursing its way into the Dee.
Back to the bealach and then northward, following the rim of the cliffs to point 1213 and then up to the summit of Cairn Toul.
Third time lucky it was and from the summit cairn there were glorious views in all directions. I took a brief stroll down the northeast ridge to look out over the Green Lochan and across the Lairig Ghru. Braeriach and Ben MacDui dominated the scene their scree-covered flanks basking pink in the sunshine and thin ribbons of white water tumbling down their riven gullies.
Back at the cairn I now had a good long wait for everyone else to catch up. The chill wind remained so I hunkered down behind the cairn to eat some food. Members of an RAF SAR team up and puttered about on the summit for a while before disppaearing off again. A group of three walkers who had cycled in at the same time as us also arrived before pressing on to the Angel’s Peak. Regrouped and fed we followed suit, picking our way clumsily through the loose and jumbled boulders before puffing our way up the track to the summit of Sgurr an Lochan Uaine.
The summit of the Angel’s Peak provided another wonderful spot for a break, the views out over the immense Garbh Coire to the tumbling Falls of Dee and the crags and cliffs of Braeriach drawing the eye as much as the Lairig Ghru and Ben MacDui now off to the east.
We descended down more boulders to the col between the Angel’s Peak and Einich Cairn. Here was our last views of the central Caingorms with an impressive view across the Garbh Coire to the Falls of Dee and along to Braeriach’s summit.
We now left the high, harsh land of the plateau and contoured round the flanks of Einich Cairn on a faint track that kept us high above the Allt Luineag. The sunshine remained and we enjoyed the views over the boggy land to Beinn Bhrotain and Monadh Mor.
The path petered out but it was simple enough to contour around until we could spot the cairn marking the head of the descent through Coire Dondhail which would take us down into Glen Einich.
The stalker’s path is most excellent, at least once past a slippery section through the crags, and we were soon enjoying the views up Loch Einich to the dark cliffs of Sgor Gaoith. As we descended the evening sunlight lit up the waters of the loch and the wonderful wild flowers growing alongside the track.
The walk out was long but straightforward. The hills were bathed in late afternoon sunshine and the thought of a cold beer at the pub draw us on, through Glen Einich, through the Rothiemurchas forest, and finally down into Coylumbridge.
There were weary feet by the end but it had been a stunning day and some of the best conditions I’d experienced in the Cairngorms. The journey back was sleep filled after a couple of well earned pints and it was in deep darkness that we arrived back in Aberdeen, a long but rewarding day complete.