Solo 4+1 Cairngorms walk from Blair Atholl to Aviemore – Day 1

Day 1's 13.9km route with 677 mtrs of ascent and 152 mtrs of descent. (Click for a full-size version)

Day 1’s 13.9km route with 677 mtrs of ascent and 152 mtrs of descent. (Click for a full-size version)

Day 1 of this walk would follow the same route as my previous walk to the Cairngorms with the exception that I would be carrying on straight past Carn Liath.

I had needed a route that would originate from Blair Atholl, get me to Aviemore and yet avoid the areas that I had previously visited. This was a tough call as most people doing this walk would follow the River Tilt Northward as this is the most obvious way there.

However, if I had chosen to do this, a fair proportion of the route would have been over ground that I had previously covered, something that I was keen to avoid.

The only solution I could see was to head East on the same route I had taken previously, but to continue going Eastward instead of breaking Northward up Carn Liath. This would enable me to turn Northward a lot later and provide the opportunity to explore completely new terrain.

I figured that the duplication of the initial part of the route would be on road anyway, so it wasn’t like I was missing out on anything.

Anyways I will let the photos tell the story of Day 1:

After an epic 9 hour train journey I finally make it to Blair Atholl at around 1530.

After an epic 9 hour train journey I finally make it to Blair Atholl at around 1530. It is for this reason that today’s walk will be a relatively short one at around 14 km.

I soon cross the River Tilt ready for the turn Northward toward the Mountains.

I soon cross the River Tilt ready for the turn Northward toward the Mountains.

The initial part of the route is on the road. This is the left turn to the Old Bridge of Tilt. For this journey I'm headed to the right and up the hill!

The initial part of the route is on the road. This is the left turn to the Old Bridge of Tilt. For this journey I’m headed to the right and up the hill!

Up ahead I can see the outline of Carn Liath, the Mountain that I had climbed on my first visit here.

Up ahead I soon get to see the outline of Carn Liath, the Mountain that I had climbed on my first visit here.

As I head toward the Mountains I see this monument to James Graham the first Marquis of Montrose. It celebrates his raising of an army and their subsequent campaigns.

As I head toward the Mountains I see this monument to James Graham the first Marquis of Montrose. It celebrates his raising of an army and their subsequent campaigns.

The first view of Loch Moraig, this is an indicator that I will soon be off the roads and onto the foot trails. I used this area to gauge what the midge presence would be like for the walk, but there were none about - a good sign!

The first view of Loch Moraig, this is an indicator that I will soon be off the roads and onto the foot trails. I also used this area to gauge what the midge presence would be like for the walk, but there were none about – a good sign!

The gateway to the wilderness! The next time I will be on real roads is when I make it to Aviemore on Day 5.

The gateway to the wilderness! The next time I will be on real roads is when I make it to Aviemore on Day 5.

Up ahead on the left is the track turn off to the Mountain up ahead - Carn Liath. This was climbed on the previous Cairngorms walk, so is not part of this walk's plan. From here on in it will be all new sights and sounds, as this is the point where today's route departs from the previous one.

Up ahead on the left is the track turn off to the Mountain up ahead – Carn Liath. This was climbed on the previous Cairngorms walk, so is not part of this walk’s plan. From here on in it will be all new sights and sounds.

A classic Y-Junction to trip up the unwary. Here the track I'm on goes off to the right, but the track I need can only just be discerned on the left. I've fallen for Y-Junction traps in the past, so this one didn't phase me!

A classic Y-Junction to trip up the unwary. Here the track I’m on goes off to the right, but the track I need can only just be discerned on the left. I’ve fallen for Y-Junction traps in the past, so this one didn’t phase me!

I'm now headed North Eastward toward the Allt Girnaig stream which I know I must ford.

I’m now headed North Eastward toward the Allt Girnaig stream which I know I must ford.

Another junction, but here I need the right hand fork. The Mountains directly to the front are Meall Breac. Nestled behind it is Loch Valigan my planned camp spot. Right now I'm considering different routing options to get there.

Another junction, but here I need the right hand fork. The Mountains directly to the front are Meall Breac. Nestled behind it is Loch Valigan the planned camp spot. Right now I’m considering different routing options to get there.

Down below I finally get eyes on the Allt Girnaig stream. On the approach I'm trying to look for the best place to cross it.

Down below I finally get eyes on the Allt Girnaig stream. On the approach I’m trying to look for the best place to cross it.

Here's the stream! I now have to make some preparations so that I'm ready to ford. I don't personally like fording streams unless I have to. It breaks up the flow of a walk as one must stop to take one's boots and socks off. This is then followed by further disruption on the opposite bank as one locates the towel in the rucksack to dry ones feet off, prior to putting the boots and socks back on.

Here’s the stream! I now have to make some preparations so that I’m ready to ford. I don’t personally like fording streams unless I have to. It breaks up the flow of a walk as one must stop to take one’s boots and socks off. This is then followed by further disruption on the opposite bank as one locates the towel in the rucksack to dry ones feet off prior to putting the boots and socks back on.

The boots are around my neck and I'm ready to ford. For a first, I'm using walking sticks to assist the crossing and found them to be marvellous in that role. They really help ones stability on the slippery rocks and pebbles.

The boots are around my neck and I’m ready to ford. For a first, I’m using walking poles to assist with the crossing and found them to be marvellous in that role. They really do help ones stability on the slippery rocks and pebbles.

I'm now on the other side. As it turned out the stream wasn't that deep - unlike the others that I would be crossing later on.... However, once across, I start to notice how precariously close the sun is to the horizon. Looks like I don't have a lot of time left to get to the Loch.

I’m now on the other side. As it turned out the stream wasn’t that deep – unlike the others that I would be crossing later on. However, once across, I start to notice how precariously close the sun is to the horizon. Looks like I don’t have a lot of time left to get to the Loch.

To the West I spot this weird isolated Rainbow like effect. I find the colour changes entrancing and observe it for a quite bit despite the fact that the clock is now ticking against me.

To the West I spot this weird isolated Rainbow like effect. I find the shimmering colour changes entrancing and observe it for a quite bit despite the fact that the clock is now ticking against me.

Here I am now hand-railing the Allt Girnaig stream Eastward. The plan is to keep heading in this direction whilst keeping a look out up the Mountain to my right to look for a good route up it.

Here I am now hand-railing the Allt Girnaig stream Eastward. The plan is to keep heading in this direction whilst keeping a look out up the Mountain to my right to look for a good route up it.

On occasion the trail moves quite close to the stream and as a consequence gets quite boggy. Still no sign of a decent way up to the right.

On occasion the trail moves quite close to the stream and as a consequence gets quite boggy. Still no sign of a decent way up Sron na Innearach to the right.

As I look behind me I can see the sun starting to set behind Carn Liath. This adds further impetus to get to the planned camp spot.

As I look behind me I can see the sun starting to set behind Carn Liath. This adds further impetus to get to the planned camp spot.

This is the view Eastward to my right. I spot what looks like a nice easy way up so start heading toward the ridge-line to climb it.

This is the view South-Eastward to my right up Sron na Innearach . I spot what looks like a nice easy way up, so start heading toward the ridge-line to climb it.

I'm following a streamlet's path on up to the ridge-line. Although a little muddy in places, I find the going easier there than in the thick heather to either side.

Here I’m following a streamlet’s path on up to the ridge-line. Although a little muddy in places, I find the going easier there than in the thicker heather to either side.

To the North-West are the Mountains that I had climbed on my previous Cairngorms walk. However on that walk, there was a lot of fog so I didn't get to see much. I stared up at their peaks imagining what I could have seen had the weather been better back then.

To the North-West are the Mountains that I had climbed on my previous Cairngorms walk. However on that walk, there was a lot of fog so I didn’t get to see much. I stared up at their peaks imagining what I could have seen had the weather been better back then.

This is the first real climb of the walk and as usual there is a little shock to the system as one's body starts to adapt to the environment! :)

This is the first real climb of the walk and as usual there is a little shock to the system as one’s body starts to adapt to the environment! ๐Ÿ™‚

Not much further to go - just got to keep pushing!

Not much further to go – just got to keep pushing!

I stop off to catch my breath from the relatively steep slope and just take in the view below me.

I stop off to catch my breath from the relatively steep slope of Sron na Innearach and just take in the view below me.

A beautiful photo down the valley toward Carn Liath as the sun sets behind it. I get a great sense of well being from scenes like these. It makes the climbing very worth while!

A beautiful photo down the valley toward Carn Liath as the sun sets behind it. I get a great sense of well being from scenes like these. It makes the climbing very worth while!

I soon get to the top and get my first view of Loch Valigan. The original intent was to follow this ridge line around it, but this plan would soon be shot to pieces...

I soon get to the top and get my first view of Loch Valigan. The original intent was to follow this ridge line around it, but this plan would soon get shot to pieces…

To the West I can see my route all the way toward Blair Atholl. I'm really enjoying the views and this walk has barely started!

To the West I can see my route all the way back toward Blair Atholl. I’m really enjoying the views and this walk has barely begun!

I'm now headed Northward following an unmarked trail along the ridge-line...

I’m now headed Northward following an unmarked trail along the ridge-line…

Man Down!!! All of a sudden my left calf gets hit by cramp. I have a tennis ball shaped piece of muscle sticking out of it. The cramp is so painful and sudden that I involuntarily cry out in pain and fall to the ground. All I can do is lie there, pinning that leg down and waiting for the pain to subside. I know what the cause is and curse myself for not drinking enough on this walk. I thought that this was a lesson that I had learned a long time ago, but I guess that in my haste to get to the camp-spot before sunset I had neglected my hydration levels.

Man Down!!! All of a sudden my left calf gets hit by cramp. I have a tennis ball shaped piece of muscle sticking out of it. The cramp is so painful and sudden that I involuntarily yelp out in pain and fall to the ground. All I can do is lie there, pinning that leg down and waiting for the pain to subside. I know what the cause is and curse myself for not drinking enough on this walk. I had thought that this was a lesson that I had learned a long time ago. But in my haste to get to the camp-spot before sunset I had neglected my hydration levels.

Getting back on two feet was very painful. I try to stretch that leg, but never the less every step I take with it results in pain shooting up from the calf. I briefly consider getting the walking poles out, but decide against it. Instead, I elect to drink all my water in the hope of rehydrating myself properly. With the sun setting and things starting to get dark I decide to abandon the ridge walk and head straight for the Loch. This should enable me to make it there before it gets dark, even at my now much slower pace.

Getting back on two feet was very painful. I tried to stretch that leg, but nevertheless every step that I took with it resulted in pain shooting up from the calf. I briefly considered getting the walking poles out, but decide against it. Instead, I elect to drink all my water in the hope of rehydrating myself properly. With the sun setting and things starting to get dark I decide to abandon the ridge walk and head straight for the Loch. This should enable me to make it there before it gets too dark – even at my now much slower pace.

The route to the Loch is all cross country and dips down below the level of Loch, causing me to lose sight of it. Although cross country, the vegetation and going isn't too bad.

The route to the Loch is all cross country and dips down below the level of Loch, causing me to lose sight of it. Although cross country, the vegetation and going isn’t too bad.

To the South East on a ridge-line I can hear a somewhat aggressive sounding animal noise that I had not heard before. When I take a closer look I spot this male deer calling out to his fellows.

To the South East on a ridge-line I can hear a somewhat aggressive sounding animal noise that I had not heard before. When I take a closer look I spot this male deer calling out to his fellows.

In the fading light I get enough elevation that I can now see the Loch again. Directly ahead there looks to be a great flat grassy area to camp on!

Eventually in the fading light I get enough elevation that I can see the Loch again. Directly ahead there looks to be a great flat grassy area to camp on!

But when I get closer it becomes evident that the โ€˜grassyโ€™ area was actually marsh-land! I now decide to handrail around the side of Loch Valigan until I find a suitable spot to pitch the tent.

But when I get closer it becomes evident that the โ€˜grassyโ€™ area was actually marsh-land! I now decide to handrail around the side of Loch Valigan until I find a suitable spot to pitch the tent.

To the NorthEast of the Loch I find a pretty good area and set up the Akto tent. Once again, the camera's automatic light compensation feature makes the scene look a lot brighter than it really was.

To the NorthEast of the Loch I find a pretty good area and set up the Akto tent. Once again, the camera’s automatic light compensation feature makes the scene look a lot brighter than it really was.

Loch Valigan. With views like this I soon forgot about my calf!

Loch Valigan. With views like this I soon forgot about my calf!

As usual, the first thing I do after putting the tent up is top up all my water bottles. So I head off to the water's edge with them and the Petzl MYO RXP head torch. Filling up the bottles in the relative darkness was once again a somewhat surreal experience.

As usual, the first thing that I do after pitching the tent is top up all my water bottles. So I head off to the water’s edge with them and the Petzl MYO RXP head torch. Filling up the bottles in the relative darkness was a somewhat surreal experience.

I get back to the tent with all my water bottles and take the opportunity to sit down properly and enjoy the view out of the tent. The left leg is still sore, but is getting noticeably better.

I get back to the tent with all my filled water bottles and take the opportunity to sit down properly and enjoy the view. The left leg is still sore, but it is getting noticeably better.

The water from the tarn has a brownish tint to it, but it does taste fine. Here I'm boiling the water for tonight's freeze dried meal.

The water from the tarn has a brownish tint to it, but it does taste fine. Here I’m boiling the water for tonight’s freeze dried meal…

Tonight's meal is a Mountain House Sweet and Sour Chicken and as usual it hits the spot!

Which is a Mountain House Sweet and Sour Chicken. As usual it hits the spot!

I'm now fully fed and watered and decide to turn in for an early night.

I’m now fully fed and watered. ย I decide to turn in for an early night to give the leg as much time as possible to recover for tomorrow’s walk.

Day 1's camp spot by Loch Valigan.

Day 1’s camp spot by Loch Valigan.

That’s it for Day 1! Tune in next week for Day 2 of this walk.

Laters

RobP

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About RobP

Got into backpacking in the spring of 2012. I started as a couch potato then made my way through walker, hiker and now backpacker! As you can see from below I have far too many hobbies! :)
This entry was posted in Backpacking, Cairngorms, Camping, Hiking, Multi-Day Walk, Wild Camping and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Solo 4+1 Cairngorms walk from Blair Atholl to Aviemore – Day 1

  1. Robin says:

    Good start. Look forward to the rest of the trip.

  2. An interesting first day there Rob. It’s a shame that the cramp set in and curtailed the ridge walk but at least you weren’t far from camp.

    I’m looking forward to seeing where you go next as this is an area I’m pondering for a future trip and it seems like very few people go east of Beinn a’ Glo, especially if they are making for Aviemore.

    I can heartily recommend switching to trail shoes – a stream no longer breaks up the walk as you simply wade across and let the walking on the far side do the drying for you ๐Ÿ™‚

    • RobP says:

      Thanks Nick. You are not the only person to recomend trail shoes – Martin Rye recommends them too. Given that my boots leak anyway, I can see them being a viable option ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Yep, once you make peace with the fact you will have wet feet from time to time, the comfort and convenience of trail shoes really does make a big difference. I still wear boots through the winter and it is always a huge relief in spring to pull the trail shoes back on!

      • RobP says:

        Well, I get wet feet anyway, so this won’t be an issue. Do you have any recommendations with regard to brand?

  3. I’ve used The North Face and Inov-8 and been happy though the Inov-8s I’m currently using have now been discontinued ๐Ÿ˜ฆ Your best bet is to try a few different pairs on – find a pair that fits comfortably, has decent toe protection and, very importantly, doesn’t have a waterproof liner.

  4. Martin Rye says:

    Shame about the cramp. Nick is right and going east is often missed in planning routes to Aviemore. I have said before that trail shoes unlock so much more advantages over the claimed disadvantages.

    • RobP says:

      I am going to be giving trail shoes ago. I have already learnt that weight on feet impacts performance much more than weight on the back. Given my feet get wet with my current kit, I don’t really see a downside to them!

  5. Pingback: Year in Review 2014 | Uk Backpacker

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