The aim of the most recent mission was reconnaissance. I have spent a little time riding in the south eastern Cairngorm/Lochnagar area which has made me keen to try and find a reasonable way to push through from Braemar south east. This in turn allows me to come from Aviemore, or even further afield and drop down to Perthshire, through the mountains rather than by road.
The other reason i am interested in loops in this area is that it is truly stunning. High craggy mountains, steep sided glens and beautiful forests, all tacked together with some fast draining, narrow gauge trails.
So: having parked in Braemar, i pedaled B.A back along the road to the Small car park at Glen Callater and up the glen. This trail is called ‘Jock’s road’ after a certain John Winter who was instrumental in creating Scotland’s famed rights of way. You can read about it here. Anyway, the beta suggested that there is a pretty gruesome portage at the south east end of Loch Callater which i was keen to avoid. A friend had suggested that this may be possible by taking some of the estate tracks up the munros that are situated west of the route and which form part of the imposing side of Glen Clunie, where Glen Shee ski area is situated. After a fair amount of climbing it became clear that i wasn’t going to get off lightly. For starters, the track is in places very steep and the wind was rather blustery. Like 93kmph gusts blustery. This brought fronts of light rain over regularly but also acted as a rather loud soundtrack to the climb. The OS explorer series maps do not show the extent of the trail that leads up towards Carn an Tuirc. The dead end on the map is erroneous. Infact, the trail continues up Cairn of Claise (the first munro of the day, not that i’m counting!). As i began to drop, it was clear that Dan’s observations were indeed correct. A good trail leads east towards the saddle between Tolmount and Tom Buidhe, another couple of munros.
Unfortunately as i descended, the weather decided to worsen and the cloud level dropped. The gusts were becoming sustained and although i was glad to have them at my back, it still made covering ground very difficult. The trail veered south towards the top of Tom Buidhe, which i ascended in the hopes that i would find a trail that would take me down into the glen below Crow Craigies. At this point, i hoped to pick up the Jock’s road and descend the fantastic trail to Glen Doll, from there making my way via Loch Muick over the shoulder of the Lochnagar massif and picking up Glen Gelder to drop me out near Braemar.
Not so much.
The ground was tussocky and steep. I had a 100m drop and a steep 100m+ carry up the other side of the glen. Not so bad, but on the tough terrain it would be slow and the daylight was beginning to slip away. Hmmm.
I turned tail and climbed back over the top of Tom Buidhe, optimistic i would find a trail up Tolmount. It was insane how strong the wind was: I don’t think i have ever been out in stronger. As i dropped to the boggy saddle i eyed the climb up Tolmount which was steep, vague and most likely slow going too, then i would have to find a short link if there wasn’t an obvious one to the Jock’s road. I knew as i stood there that time was tight and as another dark mass of cloud was rushing towards me the promised deterioration in weather looked like it was coming early. Time to bail.
Back up to the Cairn of Claise and returned by whence i came. When i started this loop, i gave myself about a 50% chance of completing it today. I was late getting there and the weather window meant i would have a reasonable chance of having to tuck tail and turn regardless of how good the trail and my speed was. However, what i have proven to myself is that this loop is doable. I don’t know how bad the portage up Jock’s Road is, but this is certainly a viable option: thanks Dan!
Another curious thing: the whole day, from the second i got on my bike, until i was enjoying a shot of Skittle sours as i descended to Braemar, i had an intense feeling of dread. I don’t know why, it has never happened in the hills before. I was frightened that the weather might turn. I was scared of being caught in bad weather, isolated and high, particularly as i was having to read the map in terrible wind, which made it difficult to be sure of my navigation. But it was more emotional than that. It reminds me in some ways of the myth of the Grey man of Macdhui: he is supposed to make you feel some sort of portent of doom when near.
Maybe it is haunted up there too?