Day 3’s 23.4 km route with 1341 mtrs of ascent and 1212 mtrs of descent. (Click for a larger version)
Day 3 of the walk was the day that defined it for me. The views just blew me away, but the one overriding memory that I have of this day and indeed the whole walk was the sunset from the top of Derry Cairngorm at 1155mtrs elevation.
I have never been on a mountain top during a sunset before and found the whole experience to be magical and uplifting. I don’t think I will ever forget my time on the top of that mountain.
I found the views so good that I took a staggering 853 photos on this day and numerous videos. Trying to pick the handful I needed to tell today’s story was very difficult without making the post too long.
In the event, I do think that this post is too long, but even if you just browse the photos, they should provide some indication of the sheer beauty in the Cairngorms.
Anyways, I will let the virtual photographic tour for day 3 start…
The day starts off with my normal breakfast, though unlike yesterday, the weather is good enough that I can eat with the tent outer door opened up.
Occasionally the clouds open up to give some great views out of the tent. Being 3 days out in the wilds mean that my last weather forecast is essentially three days out of date, so I don’t really know if the weather is going to clear today or get worse.
As I pack the tent away there is a tangible sense that the weather is actually clearing and that day 3 was going to be a good one!
The visibility has now really opened up. This is the view to the North East. Finally, I’m starting to get some great views!
This is a picture of the unmarked water source that I used. Apart from its brown water and foul taste, the one memory that I have of this pool is the way that bubbles formed in it when filling the bottles. Normally bubbles form and quickly dissipate. But in this water source the bubbles made it to the surface and just stayed there without popping! I can remember being a little disconcerted by this!
This is my route Northward. I have two hill tops to climb, then I need to hang a left Westward over to Buachaille Breige and then ultimately onward down to the Geldie Burn stream.
To the Northwest my breath is taken away by the views. The Cairngorms are truly a wilderness paradise!
I find an unmarked trail to take me Northward that I decide to use. This is the climb up the first unmarked hilltop at 801 mtrs elevation.
Up ahead is the second hilltop I need to get to at 788 mtrs elevation. Once there I need to hang a left. Navigation is so much easier when there is no fog around!
I have made it to the top of the 788 mtr hill. Here I’m looking Westward and surveying the terrain for the next leg.
As I head Westward up toward Buahaille Breige I find another trail, although this one looks like it was made by a vehicle. I stay in the tracks as it keeps me out of the grass tussocks!
I have now made it to the top of Buachaille Breige at 745 mtrs elevation. The original plan was to follow this ridge Westward. However, following this ridge will lead to a steep descent down to the Geldie Burn stream. Instead I decide to drop down the right flank and make my way down a less steep spur that should be there.
I find a trail for the initial part of the journey, though this one continues on up the ridge line, so I will need to leave it soon to continue my journey to the Northwest across country.
Up ahead in the distance is the distinctive shape of the Ruigh nan Clach wood. This is near where I plan to ford the Geldie Burn stream, so I head straight for it. At the moment I’m quite thirsty as I’m put off from drinking the foul tasting brown water in my bottles. To really rub things in I can hear the fast moving Allt an t-Sionnalch stream down off to my right. I consider climbing down to it, but I know from previous experience, that the best terrain for this leg is to be found up here away from the stream. So I elect to stay dry until I make it to Geldie Burn.
*Max Zoom* In the distance to the West I can both see and hear a stag calling out. Rather bizarrely this is one of my favourite photos of this walk!
I’m now in a dip before making it to the main hill spur. As such I have now lost sight of the wood that I’m headed toward, but this doesn’t really present a problem. I can’t quite believe how good the weather is!
I’m now on the final phase of the descent down to the Geldie Burn stream. I’m really glad I chose this less steep descent route over the planned one.
Finally I have sight of the Geldie Burn Stream down below. The intent is to ford it then hang a right Northward.
A wilderness Selfie! 😛
I make it to the stream and once again make preparations to ford it. The stream is quite wide and it’s quite difficult to discern its depth.
Once again the hiking poles make a real difference to the ease of the crossing. For this ford the water came up to just below the knee – uncomfortably close to my trouser line!
The view back across the Geldie Burn stream after the crossing. I was so glad to be here as I could now finally get rid of the foul brown water I had been carrying and replace it with pure clear mountain water from this stream! 🙂
I decide to take a 15 minute break here to eat, drink and enjoy the warm sun!
The view Northward. I would be following a track to take me directly to the hill up ahead.
After I put the boots back on I head Westward to locate the trail Northward and here it is! Time to hang a right!
The track is a well worn vehicular track. Despite this, I’m really enjoying this part of the walk. The combination of views, isolation and weather make for a heady mixture!
This is the view to the West as I head Northward. Just stunning!
According to my map I should soon reach a bridge called White Bridge. The plan is to cross it then leave the track to head across country straight up a hill that will ultimately take me to the peak of Sgor Dubh at 741 mtrs elevation.
There’s the bridge – right on cue!
The view down the River Dee to the Northeast from the centre of White Bridge.
This is where I leave the track. From here I will be going straight up that hill directly ahead!
The terrain on the way to the hill is surprisingly boggy. Up until now I had been blessed with relatively dry terrain.
Another view to the Northeast. I was just captivated by this view and found myself continually stopping to take a look!
The ascent isn’t particularly steep, but the terrain is very rough and rocky. Much of the rock is hidden by the heather, which makes foot placement a little tricky on occasion.
As I ascend I take another view up the valley to the Northeast. For me, this is the quintessential wilderness view – not bad for a Monday when everyone else is beavering away at work!
To the Southwest I can see the distinctive shape of the Ruigh nan Clach wood that I had just walked alongside of earlier. What these photos fail to achieve, is immerse one in the environment. They are just tiny snapshots that show little windows into the beauty of the place. When you are actually there, being surrounded by 360 degrees of great views, it can sometimes be hard to decide where to look!
I soon crack the main part of the ascent. Up ahead is a rock which I decide to head to for a well deserved rest!
I was sat on this rock for around 15 to 20 minutes just eating, drinking and taking in the great all round views. I don’t think hill walking gets much better than this!
To the North East I can see the top of Sgor Dubh. The ground between here and there looks incredibly boggy, so as a result I elect not to head directly to it. Instead, I head Northward to get onto the East-West ridge line early to hopefully avoid the worse of the bog. Then I can hang a right Eastward and walk the ridge directly to Sgor Dubh. Not the most direct route, but probably a faster and drier one!
*Zoom On* Just off to my left in the shadow of Sgor Mor I can make out what looks like a meeting of deer!
Up ahead is the ridge line I’m trying to get to by the most direct route. On the right one can see Sgor Dubh at 741 mtrs the ultimate aim for this leg of the journey.
As I get nearer to the dear I can get a much better close up shots like this one. However, by this time they had started to notice me. It wouldn’t be long before they all dispersed and disappeared completely from view.
This is the view to the South East down toward Feith na Sgor. I’m so glad I had decided not to take the direct route across that boggy ground!
I’m nearly at the ridge line now. The rocky outcrop kind of reminds me of a Dartmoor Tor.
The view back from the way I came. In the far distance I can just discern the stream that I had forded this morning!
When I make it to the top of the ridge, my socks are blown off by the view to the North!
This is the view roughly Eastward toward Sgor Dubh. Most of the climb has been done now, so it should be a nice easy stroll to the trig point.
This is the view Northward up to Coire Crom. Im now a little worried. The plan was to head right up its front face, but from here it becomes obvious that this was not a practical proposition due to the steepness of the terrain. My brain now starts whirling to come up with alternative plans!
The view Southward! Once again, simply stunning! *stunning counter : 9999*
I’m now at the bottom of the final climb up to Sgor Dubh. I was really enjoying this. Great weather, 360 degrees of gorgeous views and terrain that makes walking a breeze!
Another view to the South. Sometimes I wish my plans had more slack in them so that I could just sit around for an hour or two to take everything in.
This is the view Northeast toward Luibeg Bridge. I’m actively considering that valley as a route on up the mountain to Loch Etchachan, given that my planned route is not a practical one.
There it is! The trig point of Sgor Dubh!
Sgor Dubh’s trig point has got to be the weirdest one I have ever seen! I have never seen one based on a circular concrete column before!
Victory pose time at Sgor Dubh at 741 metres elevation! 🙂
As I look Northward at Carn Crom – I think I have spotted a solution to my predicament! I’m quite sure, that there is a track on it’s right flank, but it is hard to tell for sure from here. My Ordnance Survey map doesn’t show any track, so I’m a little intrigued…
As I get closer it becomes obvious that there is most definitely a track there! Wooot! My prayers have been answered! I now have a route directly up Carn Crom! But I am still puzzled as to why such a major track does not appear on my map. The plan is to use my elevation advantage here to take a careful note as to where to get onto the track at the bottom.
The pink line shows the missing path on the Ordnance Survey map. The red section is an estimate as I had left the track at this point to climb an unnamed peak at 1040 mtrs. I can’t believe that Ordnance Survey missed this one! (Click for a larger version)
The view to the East as I start my descent. Whichever direction I looked, the Cairngorms seemed to go on forever!
I know from my map that it will be too steep to descend from here. Nevertheless I decide to continue to the edge on the off chance I can spot a way down. Just to the left of this picture one can see that the unmarked track starts in the woods to the South East of Carn Crom.
The view Eastward down the Lui Water stream!
Just past this ridge it is an almost sheer drop downwards. As such I decide to contour around to the West where I’m promised a shallower slope. It is here that I make careful observations of the unmarked track and how to get to it through the woods. These observations would stand me in good stead once I got there.
Here I’m contouring Westward to find a shallow slope to descend.
As I proceed Westward I find myself getting continuously distracted by the great views off to my right to the North!
Finally I get to see the shallow slope! Although it is on the map, the steepness of the terrain that I was on was giving me cause for doubt!
The view behind me back down the valley as I make my descent.
It’s now a case of passing through the wood-line to get me to the Lui Water Stream. Once there, the plan is to ford it Northward then get onto an East-West trail from there to head Eastward.
I’m now at the stream. It doesn’t look very deep – but looks can be deceiving!
The boots are once more around my neck and the hiking poles are taken out to give me stability on the slippery rocks and pebbles. It’s time to ford!
Here I have made it on to the opposite bank. Once again the water came up to knee high – which was completely unexpected as it simply did not look that deep. Whilst towelling off, I decide to take a rest stop and just enjoy the view. It is late enough that I have my lunch here which consists of Oatcakes with cheese spread and a warm soup to wash it all down with!
After my late lunch I climb up a steep bank and make it up onto the main East West track. Here I’m headed Eastward. I’m trying to remember all the details for the unmarked track that I had spotted whilst up on the ridges. I don’t want to miss it!
There are the woods that the unmarked track passes through. I keep a sharp lookout to my left for any clues that would lead me to the start of that track.
My careful reconnaissance from the opposite ridge line had given me all the information that I needed to easily locate the track. I was now very happy. From what I could tell, this track is likely to take me all the way to Loch Etchachan the final stop for today. This should ease the navigation burden for the rest of the day!
The first part of the track takes me up to the rocks at Creag Bad ab t-Seabhaig.
I’m a little disappointed to discover that the track takes me around Creag Bad an t-Seabhaig rather than directly up on top of it
The view to the Southeast back toward the woods. As you can see I have already gained a fair bit of elevation!
The track then winds up behind Creag Bad an-T-Seabhaig. This is the view down to the stream that I had forded earlier. I can’t quite believe that I was all the way down there!
The climb starts to flatten out a little now, which is most welcome! Time is now getting on. I now know that I’m unlikely to reach my destination until after the sun goes down. Never the less I’m determined to climb the 1155 mtr Derry Cairngorm Mountain that lies between me and my final destination at Loch Etchachan. I’m wondering whether I will get to the top of that mountain before dark?
The going is now relatively easy, but rather oddly quite tiring. Maybe an end of a day thing?
The view to the Southeast back toward the way I came – just breath taking!
To my right to the East is a view down to Derry Burn in the Glen Derry valley. The gorgeous views just keep on coming!
Up ahead I get a view of what I think is Derry Cairngorm and curse myself for planning a climb this late on in the day! 😉
The climb starts to really steepen up as I approach the peak…
I cannot quite believe it, but the unmarked track seems to be going around Derry Cairngorm!!! I thought there is no way I’m missing this peak, so elect to leave the track and scrabble up what I think are its rocky slopes!
The upper slopes are very steep and bouldery that require a keen sense of balance and some use of the hands.
I get to the top and my heart immediately drops as the real Derry Cairngorm reveals itself! I check the map and it appears that I had just climbed an unmarked peak at 1040 mtrs directly to it’s South. Darn! Looks like I have the whole climbing thing to do all over again!
To the West the Sun is visibly starting to set. Once again my camera’s auto exposure settings make things appear a lot brighter than they really are.
Finally the real final climb of Derry Cairngorm! Looks like I’m going to make it up there just as the sun has set. This will be a first for me!
Down below to the Southwest I can see the Luibeg Bridge valley that I was actively considering as my alternative route.
I’m now on the upper rocky slopes of Derry Cairngorm. The all round views are just stunning, especially when bathed in the orange light of the setting sun.
Once again I’m having to use my hands to climb the rather steep boulders. Although I can’t tell how much further there is to go I do have a tangible sense that I’m almost there!
Whilst resting amongst the boulders I take a look Southward at the stunning view. I have never been up a mountain whilst the sun is setting, but I can thoroughly recommend the experience – as long as it’s safe!
WOOOOOOOT!!!!! I have made it to the top of Derry Cairngorm at 1155 mtrs elevation! 😀 The setting sun makes this peak a memorable experience that I will never ever forget. For me it is the quintessential experience that has defined this whole walk.
The cairn at the top of Derry Cairngorm. Despite the setting sun, I elect to stay up here for a fair bit to see the changing light affecting the mountains all around me. The experience is completely magical.
After taking my fill of the gorgeous views I decide to carry on with the journey Northward up toward Loch Etchachan where I intend to camp.
To the West shafts of light are visibly moving upward as the sun sets. The experience is very surreal. I have already said it once, but if you can only do it once in your life, get to the top of a high mountain and watch the sun set – you will not be disappointed!
As I head Northward I keep peering over to the West to watch the beautiful light show!
This is the view Northward. Descending on this kind of rocky surface is quite tiring and requires concentration to maintain one’s footing. In the far distance I can just make out the trail. It does indeed look like it will take me all the way to Loch Etchachan – why isn’t this trail on the OS Map?
Up ahead to the North is Creagan Etchachan. With time running out I elect not to climb it but to stay on the trail all the way to Loch Etchachan. The oranges of the sky make the views a stirring experience.
Another view to the West! The camera doesn’t do these dynamic views any justice whatsoever!
I’m now in the saddle between Creagan a Etchachan and Derry Cairngorm. All it’s going to take is a nice easy stroll up the track directly ahead then I will be making camp!
Nearly at the ridge-line. My map assures me that Loch Etchachan is just on the otherside!
There it is woot!!!! But it’s shoreline looks a long way off. What’s more the surrounding ground doesn’t look suitable for pitching a tent
Down below I spot a small grassy apron devoid of rocks, the only area that I can see that is suitable for a tent. It’s a long way up from the shore-line of Loch Etchachan, but I don’t really have a choice. Besides, I would need to climb back up here the following day anyways, so maybe it’s not too bad camping all the way up here.
The rucksack is put down and I start to put the tent up. I know I will then have a 60 mtr descent for around 250 mtrs down to the shoreline to fill up all my bottles…
As I head downwards with my bottles, I try to remember the terrain features, as I don’t want to lose the tent on the way back up!
After what seems like a long time I eventually get all my bottles filled up. I then take my water treasures and make the 60 mtr ascent. Luckily without the weight of a rucksack to weigh me down the ascent is not too bad. My main concern is finding the tent again!
In the distance my headlamp picks up the reflectors off of the tent! These can just be seen in the picture above! Wooot! I found it! 😀
Finally I’m back at the tent and completely knackered after a very hard day of hiking. I can’t wait to get the evening meal on as I’m now very hungry.
The evening meal is a lasagne flavour pasta dish. It really hit the spot. I savoured every mouth full! After the meal I drifted off to sleep with very happy memories from the sunset view atop Mount Derry Cairngorm.
Day 3’s camp spot overlooking Loch Etchachan! (Click for a bigger version)
That’s the end of Day 3 – possibly one of the greatest day’s of hiking that I have ever had. Even if the weather ends up being foul for the next two days, I won’t care as this day will have more than made up for it.
I’m now around 25 to 30 km away from Aviemore, so there is a tangible sense that the walk is coming to an end. I wish I had more time and more supplies to enable further exploration of this National Park.
Tune in next week for Day 4’s write up!