Monkey off my back.

14 07 2013

So sunny, still. With a full day to go and mess around in the hills, a long run of very dry weather and stable conditions, you might just try something a little out of the ordinary. I’ve been turning over a crossing of Ben Macdui as part of a route ever since I first dropped down to Loch Etchachan and made the mistake of riding past the shelter stone, before the most hideous ‘schwack ever down Strath Nethy several years ago.

Heading down Coire Etchachan to Glen Derry is the clever plan. All that remains is connecting the dots: how do you close the loop? With a relatively early start and the super stable conditions, I knew I could get up Macdui pretty quickly and travel light – no need to take thermal and winter layers. With B.A’s help, the descent would be fantastic, so the only remaining question was how to get back to base. I decided to start at Feshiebridge and take in some of the Inshriach trail, before heading around Loch Gamhna and Morlich and taking the ski hill road. The two options for returning without making the loop massive are Glen Feshie, in which I have recently been bitten and remain a bit shy, or the Lairig an Laoigh. This pass is rocky and usually wet and boggy – not a problem on this day. If you have to use it, I much prefer north to south, but on this occasion I was just going to have to suck it up.

I made quick time up to Macdui and decided, due to having been there once or twice before, that I didn’t need to go to the actual top. Instead, I tracked around the vague trail to the ruin that marks the start of the trail down to Loch Etchachan. No snow today, just a rocky, steppy, highly enjoyable technical descent. I don’t usually ride on the limit when I am solo in the backcountry, the risks if you hurt yourself properly are not worth it and I don’t want to have to rely on any emergency services just for the sake of an extra ‘cc’ of adrenalin. However, I was pretty close to my ragged edge on this drop, slamming the ground at one point and lightening my Saint cranks a smidge.

As I came to the throat of the Coire and looked down on Glen Derry, I couldn’t help but smile, soaking in the view – what an environment! The higher you get, the higher you get for sure! the views of the peaks around were intoxicating. Truly, when the weather allows you to feel comfortable enough to take your time and look around at that altitude, you are blessed!

I tore myself away and danced past a party of young walkers before making the scrabbly, loose descent down to the Hutchison Hut, which was in fantastic condition after recent renovation.

From here the Lairig an Laoigh beckoned me on. The climb was rough, water damage to the trail obvious and I was walking more than I was riding. I knew that this would continue until the Fords of Avon, where I met 2 hikers and their ample supply of vino tinto. Why not, eh? it was shaping up to be a beautiful evening and there had been no midge and the only cleg I saw all day landed, somewhat optimistically, at my feet before a size 43 ended his reverie.

There is somethign to be said for pedal removal if you have to make a prolonged ‘schwack. Every time the bike gets hung up on vegetation or a rock, the rear of the bike swings around and the pedal took another slice of the back of my leg. Those Alaskan backcountry bikers know their onions! On this occasion I decided to just put up with it, afterall, the pass is short, right?

Not short enough! but after passing the tors of Bynack Mor, with a short yomp up onto the improved access trail, there was only 400 sharp water bars and the descent past the Ryvoan Bothy until I could take the soothing, smooth tarmac back to the car.

The route took 7 hours total. B.A behaved impeccably and I felt like a large monkey had been plucked from my back. I don’t think Macdui would be good as part of a bikepacking route: the trail deserves your full attention and effort on the way down and I think even if you were travelling extremely light, as I was almost exactly a year ago, it would encumber you to the detriment of enjoyment.

Ok. Next up, some buff, woodsy singletrack, no rocks. Or some sewing…

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