Across the Great Moss – backpacking the Cairngorms

by backpackingbongos

It has been a while since I have driven in the dark.  The journey north after work was a tough one and I was convinced that my night vision had made a turn for the worse over the summer.  Stopping for fuel just north of Carlisle and the attendant informed me that one of my headlights was out.  I can confirm that it’s much easier to drive with two.

I stopped for the night in one of those Alan Partridge style motorway hotels at Abington, a 400 mile journey far too ambitious after a day at work.  My room smelt of damp bathroom and lonely businessman.

The A9 on the way to Kingussie is a combination of tractors and suicidal Audi drivers.  Now when one whooshes past I say to myself, ‘Audi do that’.  There was an alarming moment when one tried to enter my boot whilst I was overtaking a lorry.  I’m not sure what he was trying to achieve whilst flashing his lights and beeping his horn at me.  He must have been very important.

My destination was Glen Feshie, usually a pleasant drive via Feshiebridge.  Unfortunately the road to Feshiebridge was closed and a 17 mile detour did little to add to my happiness.  Getting away for a stress free weekend in the hills can sometimes prove to be a little stressful.

Day 1 – 11 kilometres with 910 metres ascent

Day 1

I left the car in a small off-road car park a short distance from the Glen Feshie hostel.  I set off up the forest track, this soon turning into a delightfully maintained footpath.  The going was easy and I soon had great views back across the Spey valley towards the Monadhliath.  The air was surprisingly still and warm, perfect for the midges that started biting the minute I stopped.

P1050697

The path climbed steadily across the hillside up to the Allt a’ Chrom-alltainn on the six hundred metre contour.  Although sweaty and a little bit wheezy I felt the stress of a week at work, followed by a long drive all melt away.  All I had to worry about for the next three nights was putting one foot in front of another.  Actually that is a bit of a lie as the first big storm of the autumn was due to roll in the following night.  I had not yet planned where I would be when it arrived.  Strangely I was sort of looking forward to it, in a nagging worrying sort of way.

The perfectly manicured path petered out at the stream and I followed the thousands of footsteps before me up steep peaty slopes.  It was a bit of a slog with food for four days, a case of stop every few steps to enjoy the view.

P1050706

Higher up the slopes I found another path that eased the gradient somewhat as it contoured round to deliver me at the col between Carn Ban Mor and Sgor Gaoith.  I was soon approaching the latter which is a Munro, its location making my skin tingle with excitement.

P1050708

A rocky prow sits at the top of a two thousand foot drop straight down into the dark depths of Loch Einich.  The summit cairn had sat right at the edge, but it looked like some eejit had pushed it into the void below.  The views are one of the best that I have seen in the Cairngorms and I had a great sense of height.  The coires of Braeriach looked magnificent in the early evening light, like a giant had taken spoons and scooped out the hillside.

Even on the summit the air was perfectly still and warm enough to sit in a t-shirt.  It was at least half an hour before I could tear myself away.

P1050713

P1050715

P1050717

P1050719

The reason why I had travelled all the way to the Cairngorms was to wild camp right in the middle of the Moine Mhor, otherwise known as the Great Moss.  This large high altitude plateau has held my imagination for years now, a place I have only ever visited on a map.  I have always wanted to wild camp slap bang in the middle of its high level contours.

I took a narrow path north from the summit along the edge of the plateau, steep slopes dropping into Coire na Caillich.

P1050724

The spring Fuaran Diotach tempted me with an idyllic looking wild camp but it just did not feel wild enough, even though the view was stupendous.  I followed the edge of the plateau downwards, the ground becoming rougher as height was lost.  It was now carpeted in wet moss sprinkled with small boulders.  Not the easiest of terrain to walk across.  There however was a real feeling of space as the high plateau rolled away to the bigger hills.  I was in my element.

P1050725

P1050726

P1050729

The rocky, mossy ground was not ideal to pitch a tent so I continued on towards Loch nan Cnapan, finding a patch of grass bang on the nine hundred metre contour.  I put up the tent on one of the most exposed spots I have ever camped, somewhere that would be difficult to retreat from if the weather turned bad overnight.  However the forecast was for it to remain fair and I revelled in such a wild spot.  After walking to fill up my water bottles I stood outside and watched as shafts of sunlight drifted across the giants on the other side of Loch nan Cnapan.  It really does not get much better.

P1050732

P1050734

Day 2 – 23 Kilometres with 790 metres ascent

Day 2

It rained for most of the night but thankfully the wind did not pick up.  The highest hills were shrouded in mist when I first stuck my head out of the tent.  My wind chill measuring thingymajobbie said that it was minus 0.5 celcius when I got up and packed away.  Gloves were deployed for the first time this autumn.  As I set off towards Tom Dubh I was struck by the autumn colours of the grasses, the season was already underway even though it was only September 14th.

P1050735

The walk to the summit of Tom Dubh and down to the Allt Luineag reminded me of parts of Arctic Sweden which I visited last year.  It’s a shame that the Cairngorm reindeer did not put in an appearance as that would have truly fired up my imagination.

P1050736

P1050737

P1050738

The climb to Monadh Mor was up easy grassy slopes but the modest climb of only two hundred metres felt much higher.  I stood for a while and watched a large herd of deer on Leth-chreag.  I felt that they were also watching me, surely I was too far away to be noticed.  Thankfully I would probably make a rubbish deer stalker.  The view to the west was across the whole of the Moine Mhor, culminating in the Munro Mullach Clach a Bhlair.  One to save for another day.  The plateau was split by the deep trench of the River Eidart, its secret hidden depths a place I would like to explore.

P1050747

The summit cairn was quickly gained and then left as I wandered eastwards, first for the view towards Beinn Bhrotain and then the huge bulk of Cairn Toul.

P1050750

P1050751

A little further and I was right at the edge of the plateau, Glen Geusachan snaking away beneath my feet.  It was one of those ‘Wow’ moments, the scale of the landscape enough to get the heart racing.  A photo really can’t do the view justice.  Instead I request that you go and take a look for yourself.

P1050752

A joyful yomp to the south and I was descending the steep slopes to the 975 metre col below Beinn Bhrotain.  Although the day was a little murky shafts of sunlight kept highlighting the rocks on The Devil’s Point.  Although one of the smaller summits in the area it packs a punch in terms of character.

P1050759

I passed a solo hiker and then a separate group who were doing big days from the Linn of Dee.  Even with taking a bicycle as far as White bridge these hills are pretty remote.

The path up Beinn Bhrotain starts off easily enough and the view back towards Cairn Toul and Braeriach gave plenty of opportunities to stop and gawp.

P1050760

The path is soon lost in a jumble of boulders which guard this side of the mountain.  It’s not my favourite sort of terrain, especially with a heavy pack.  Many of the boulders are wobbly and it is easy to lose your balance.  Thankfully the weather was clear as navigation could be tricky in mist, especially in descent.

The weather came in for a while whilst I sat in the summit shelter chatting to a couple of guys from Glasgow.  They were having a long day having walked all the way from Auchlean to bag a couple of Munros.  They were going to return the same way.  With only the remotest Munros left to do they had conceded that they may have to take up backpacking to bag them.

I retraced my steps to the col and then descended south-west into the upper reaches of the Allt Dhaidh Mor.

P1050763

Without losing too much height I contoured along the side to reach the saddle to the north of Cnapan Mor, a peak that I imagine sees very little foot traffic.  I often feel that lower summits can be better viewpoints and this is definitely the case here, especially along the length of the Geldie.

P1050767

I imagined that the going underfoot on the descent to the Eidart would be tough going.  Thankfully I managed to link together areas of short vegetation on stony ground.  A final cairn before dropping into the glen gave a good view towards Carn a Fhidhleir and An Sgarsoch, possibly the remotest Munros in the Cairngorms.

P1050773

The ground reverted to the usual tangle of heather and tussocks on the final descent to the River Eidart.  I think that on my next visit to the Moine Mhor I will approach by following the river to its source.

P1050775

The bridge above the waterfall is a good spot to sit in the sun, the spray floating like tiny crystals in the air.

P1050777

I passed the old pony hut and deliberated whether or not I should pitch there for the night as planned.  With the weather forecast being absolutely dire in terms of wind and rain I decided to press on.  If it was going to be as bad as predicted then I did not want to be in an exposed spot.  I also did not fancy crossing the landslip area during strong winds and after heavy rain.  I thought it would be best to head for the bothy.  With the weather being so calm it was hard to imagine weather fronts sweeping in.

P1050779

It felt a bit of a slog walking down the Upper Feshie, however the scenery is about as good as it gets.  I had walked the same route the opposite way in May, I’m not sure that I could ever get bored with it.  For me its all about the many splendid trees.

P1050785

A lot of work had been done on the landslip area since earlier in the year and the path was easy to follow with no difficulties.  I later read in the bothy book that the MO was often seen fixing the path.  He has done a cracking job.

I reached Ruigh-aiteachain just as darkness was falling.  With it being a Saturday night I expected to see lights in the windows and smoke drifting from the chimney.  The place was dark and deserted.  With it being late and not being too fussed about spending time chopping wood I pitched the tent on the grass outside.  It had felt like a long hard day and I was soon asleep after dinner.

Day 3 – Bothy fester day

The wind and rain arrived in the night.  I had fixed the crossing poles to the Scarp when pitching, but the bothy provided shelter from the wind whistling down the glen.  They were hardly needed.  I managed to fester in the tent until about midday, reading and drinking coffee.  The weather down in the glen was not half as bad as expected, although I imagine it would have been tough on the summits.  The rain came in the form of sudden short downpours, the noise deafening under Silnylon.  I used a lull after one such downpour to make a dash to the loo.  Yep this bothy comes equipped with somewhere to squat in dry comfort.  All very civilised.

During the afternoon the sun came out and I used the opportunity to have a short wander.  It felt a bit odd that no one was around, I had that last man on earth feeling, especially since this is a very popular bothy.

P1050794

P1050797

P1050798

The rest of the afternoon was spent sawing wood, an increasing pile of logs being stacked next to the stove.  It was hard work with arms not used to manual labour, but at the same time very satisfying.  Time ticked by slowly and I was happy just to fester with a book.  Finally an hour before dark I got the stove roaring.  It was soon t-shirt time inside.

An evening spent with my feet up by the fire, a dram in my hand and candlelight flickering on the walls was pretty good.  By 10pm I was reticent to go back out side and sleep in the tent.  I quickly dashed out, packed and then spread my mat and sleeping bag out on the wooden floor.  Bothy nights can be damn good.

Day 4 – 9 kilometres with 120 metres ascent

Day 4

I was up and packed early as it was a few miles to the car followed by a four hundred mile drive home.  I made sure that there were a few logs and kindling left by the stove and swept the floor.  A night camping outside followed by a night inside had made it feel rather homely.  I was a bit sad to leave.

The paths on the way to Auchleen have been greatly improved and currently appear very manicured.  I hope that they soon blend into their surroundings.  The River Feshie kept me company on the way out, the only person I saw being a fisherman dressed for the part in tweed.

P1050811

It was a bit of a shock to be on tarmac once more for the final section back to the car.  On the road I could see the tops of the Monadhliath to the west with a dusting of snow.  It felt like winter was on its way.

34 Comments to “Across the Great Moss – backpacking the Cairngorms”

  1. I have to say that I do rather like the Cairngorms, although I’ve hardly done anything there in summer, just winter.

    Fantastic photos as usual and that bothy does look very appealing!

    • I would imagine that they are a very different place in winter Chrissie. It’s a great bothy and it was nice to get it all to myself.

  2. James you got a fine high camp and walk despite the weather turning. Good use of a bothy (who needs to be stuck in a tent) when it turned bad – great post, and the paths to Auchleen are fecking terrible and ruin the wild land feeling.

  3. A very fine trip by the looks of things James despite a downturn in the weather.
    It’s only relatively recently that I’ve started doing more camping trips in the Cairngorms.
    I suppose because they are only just a couple of hours drive away they have tended to be reserved for days out when unable to get a weekend away further west.
    I should make more use of them really, it is after all a fantastic part of the country!

    • You are very lucky to have the Cairngorms only a couple of hours away Paul, a solid 8 hours drive for me. Perfect for backpacking.

  4. Great write up and pics as usual James.
    Was just wondering why you had the Scarp rather than the Trailstar?

    • Cheers Paddy. I took the Scarp as I just fancied a more enclosed shelter for this trip as I knew it was going to be windy.

  5. You certainly had the best of both worlds with two fine wild camps and a quiet bothy night, and coupled with such wonderful mountains it looks an idyllic trip.

  6. I always enjoy reading your trips. Brotain and Monad Mhor are still in my list. Looking forward to them more now.

  7. Fantastic country James. Have camped and walked that area a few times. Well done.

    • I managed to find one of your old blog posts Dawn, the one when you camp above the Eidart. It looked like you had chosen a good pitch.

  8. Fine walk and one I must do especially around Loch Einich. Is it possible to walk all the way up the Eidart?

  9. A cracking trip that James and a great route combining high tops, plateau and the beauty of Glen Feshie. I tried to do a similar trip maybe a week or two before you but got blown off the hills just trying to get up to Beinn Bhrotain! Like you, the Moine Mhor and the Eidart hold a strange fascination and are definitely places I’ll be exploring more in the future. The tent/bothy day sounded an ideal way to weather the storm and it’s good that you got that amazing warm, still weather on the first evening. That view over Loch Einich really is spectacular and I love the photo with the pale clouds reflected in the glassy-blue water.

    • Thanks Nick. I really enjoyed the bothy fester day, time well spent in great surroundings whilst simply relaxing. It was good to mix and match Glen Feshie and the high plateau, a real contrast. The Moine Mhor is a fascinating place that just calls out for a wild camp.

  10. Wild and lonely mountains all to yourself, marvelous. Glen Feshie is Scotland’s finest glen IMHO. Those gnarly old Scots Pines are just magnificent

  11. Fabulous trip in one of my favourite places. Have done a few backpacks in the Cairngorms as well as bothy trips and never tire of the place! Like you, I have always wanted to wild camp on the Moine Mhor but haven’t got round to it yet. Brilliant and informative write up as per usual.

    • Cheers Joyce. There are an endless choice of routes in the Cairngorms for a backpack. I have to say that I was surprised that none of the few people I saw on the hills were backpacking. Everyone was doing big long day walks that just cried out to be split in two with a wild camp in the middle.

  12. Just completed my first backpacking trip in Scotland in the Galloway Hills and am hooked. This looks like an amazing route and you had some pretty clear weather too, very envious!

  13. Looks a great route – I once did the route across Braeriach and Cairn Toul but not been as far over as Einich and the Great Moss. Nice pics.

  14. Enjoyed that. Great walk and great pictures.
    Cheers, Alen

  15. Hi James.Another top write up and the pictures are fantastic. Helps with the sanity whilst staging on shift.
    Cheers Stuart

  16. looks like you were lucky with the views. Last time I was there it was thick of fog. We left the heavy packs on the moss after a night in Ruigh Aiteachan and went off on a compass bearing to bag Sgor Gaoith. Finding the packs proved a little more difficult as the GPS pointed left, then right then backwards and so on. It gave us an estimated accuracy of =/- 7 metres, but the packs turned up more like 50 metres away. It must have been due to the fog. The eagerly anticipated bothy toilet there always reminds me of the Irish reel ‘the Long Drop’

    • No sure that I would fancy wandering up there in think fog! The bothy bog is indeed welcome, especially when the wind and rain is howling down the glen.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: