The road from Braemar doubles-back on itself at the Linn of Dee, just before the large car park provided to allow walkers and cyclists access to the great heart of the Cairngorms National Park. Over the last few years I have come to know the track Northwards from here to Derry Lodge and Glen Lui, very well indeed. However, just at the point that the road turns back on itself and crosses the River Dee, there is another track which heads due Westwards out into wild and inhospitable territory. I have long wondered where this track went, what it was like, and what sort of adventures might lie down its path - but until yesterday had always driven on past to the familiar Derry Lodge route.
By eleven o' clock the early morning rain-storms were dying away and so I took the bike off the car roof and peddled Westwards. The map indicates that the track follows the path of the Dee, until its fork with the Geldie Burn and the first landmark of the day - The White Bridge (so called, presumably because it isn't white). A cyclable path continues on the South bank of the Dee for some miles after this, only interrupted by regular drainage cuttings which required careful handling of the bike. I passed the 'chest of Dee', with the dark shapes of cloud-enshrouded mountains beckoning me forward. At the foot of Cam Flach Beag I abandoned the bike by a little cairn. By this stage the path was so rough, I was quicker on foot. Soon the great view of the high Cairngorm peaks, and the Lairig Ghru, that great scar through the mountains came into view, so I stopped and took the photo (above). It's only a snap taken with my phone - but it does capture the grandeur and excitement of approaching the mountains!
The ascent up Beinn Bhrotain is straightforward. A maintained path splits of from the North-South track and heads Eastwards into the mountain, following the Coachan Roibidh burn. This path only climbs for a few hundred feet before disappearing into the damp heather. Nevertheless, a feint path - marked by the impressions of hundred of hill-boots basically follows the path of the stream to the broad, multi-cairned summit. Hot, humid, hungry and thirsty, I sat down and rested - basking in the broad views of Cairn-Toul and the Devil's Peak. It was here that I had to make a route-decision. Time was against me, because of my late start, however Monadh Mor looked inviting, almost tantalisingly close, and perhaps too good to resist. I had my timings worked out though, and I knew that I could not possibly manage to complete the route in the book, descending Northwards off Monadh Mor to the bealach between it and Cairn Toul, before walking back round the whole mountain. I reckoned that there was time to go onto Monadh Mor if it was possible to descend the steep corrie between these two Munros, the Coire Cath nam Fionn. A brief exploration suggested that a descend that way would indeed be possible, if a small band of ice at the top could be negotiated.
The walk to Monadh Mor proved to be longer, steeper and harder work than it had first appeared. The views across mountains in all directions, and Glen Geusachan far below were tremendous however and gave inspiration to my now-flagging limbs. The descent down the Coire Cath nam Fionn, was exceptionally steep at first, but soon gave way to more forgiving terrain, and a path appeared far sooner that the map suggested.
By the time I regained the Dee, I was struggling. Tired, dehydrated, and aching - the trek to the bike seemed endless. I usually love every minute I spend in the outdoors - but for about half an hour at this point even my insatiable enthusiasm began to wane. Climbing a hill is usually an undiluted pleasure - this one was rapidly being downgraded to an 'achievement'. Driven on by the fact that I had a deadline with sunset to meet - and therefore no opportunity to rest, I pushed my protesting limbs ever-harder. Once on the bike, it got no easier, first a headwind blew-up, which was then accompanied by driving rain. I don't think I have ever been so pleased to see my car as I was when I arrived back at the Linn of Dee almost nine hours after I had set off. Full route details of this 27mile/2 Munro route can be seen by clicking on the map (below) to enlarge it. I'm still aching..