David came home for a long weekend this weekend, so that we could celebrate his Significant Birthday as a family. On Friday, the Big Day, we had intended to enjoy a dram at the top of Bynack More (while the children were at school, shame) but in case you didn’t see the forecast, it was grim. We decided, wisely as it turned out, to walk to the pub for lunch. As we walked back home again, we could see that we couldn’t see the hills, so it was a Good Decision.
Saturday was a lovely day, but two of the offspring had things on and needed transport, so Sunday was the day for our adventure. We decided we would make this attempt without children, which turned out to be exactly the right decision.
I woke early in time for a quick getaway, or perhaps my sleep had been disturbed by the hoards of butterflies wearing hobnailed boots, doing Riverdance in my tummy. As we drove south to Grantown-on-Spey and then south-westish to Aviemore, the views towards the Cairngorms were stunning. Didn’t do much to quieten those butterflies though. We stopped at the powder room by the cop shop on our way through Aviemore before neatly abandoning the car by Glenmore Lodge. Another walker was preparing to leave as David put on his boots, the chap was apparently staying at the lodge and had borrowed crampons and an ice axe for his day out. Hmmm, butterflies re-doubled their efforts to unsettle me. We set off by 9.20 am, a remarkable achievement.
We set off on this very familiar part of the route towards Ryvoan Bothy as another car was parked in front of ours. As we walked, we encountered a small group of grumpy walkers obviously on a circuit back to the Lodge, they barely acknowledged us. As we passed the Green Lochan, we caught up with the chap again.
“I’ve just seen a crossbill!” he said.
“Ooo, how lovely!” says I, “I’ve never seen one. I have seen short-eared owls recently, just a mile from home. I get to watch osprey fishing too, that’s wonderful.”
“You’re lucky,” says the chap, “I saw a snowy owl yesterday!”
“Really?” I thought. Maybe at a wildlife park…
We walked on and the chap slowly drew away from us. After an hour we arrived at what was Bynack Stables and the chap was having a break. We engaged in conversation again, he was a teacher from Edinburgh up for a first aid course as he takes pupils from his school to Inchnadamph for regular outdoor bound type trips. He’d spent Saturday up Ben Rinnes, (so I’m a little sceptical as to the snowy owl) killing time. As we chatted, I spotted a golden eagle soaring above Mam Suim and pointed upwards. Seconds after I saw it, it dived into a stoop and disappeared against the heather. Nice.
After he left, we didn’t see the chap again. Before we moved on, we were joined by a couple of young women. Well, I say young, a little younger than me maybe, equipped with ice axes, although they weren’t safely stowed on their packs. They managed to say hello. This part of the track after the bridge goes forever upwards, steadily and unendingly. I tend to find it hard going to start with, my legs become leaden as they become accustomed to the sudden demand. I may have indulged in a spot of whinging. We were passed by a cyclist shortly before we entered the snow line, just as we started to play a game of leap frog with the two girls. They managed to say a word or two more each time we passed each other but they managed to strike up a full blown conversation with the young male runner that popped up out of nowhere. Running! Madness.
We crossed the snow field up to about the 818m point with little incident, although it was fairly tough going as every few steps a foot would disappear into unexpectedly deep snow, risking a ripped Achilles. I do fret about my Achilles more these days.
We continued to the foot of the steep section, where we paused for a snack and to don my microspikes. Now, I know they are not really intended for this sort of use and are not the best equipment, but actually, I found them useful and certainly of no hindrance. As we set off, zigzagging our way upwards, David informed me we could turn back at anytime if I was unhappy or uncomfortable. I did not know why, at the time.
We went up. Slowly, but up.
There are some rocky outcrops at the top that we circumnavigated and we passed another couple here on their way off the hill. You cannot immediately see where the top is, but we eventually found it with the girls huddled on one side of what I presume was the cairn, snacking. We said hello, again, took some photographs, enjoyed the view, then turned around and headed off. When we found some shelter, we too stopped for a snack, but no sooner had we removed mitts and found our squashed sandwiches than the wind blew up from nowhere, showering us with blown snow. I shoved half a sandwich in my mouth, the rest back into my pack, on with the mitts and overmitts (Tuff Bags, excellent!!) and off we went.
I had thought that the going down would be as usual, easier than going up. Er, no. Not if you take a slightly unintended different route through the rocky bits. Then, as we got further on, there was the Steep Slope. Ah. Now I know why he’d made the kind offer that we could turn back. How on earth I got up that bit without flinching is beyond me. I must have been so focussed on our target (and my feet) that I didn’t look around myself and see the steepness. I took a deep breath and followed in David’s kicked in steps, which was when my left knee started to complain. This is obviously descent related, it’s the only time I have problems with it. Then my right hip got in on the action, but I knew that too would probably wear off on the level. Shame it took quite so long to get there. The girls, meantime, had leap frogged us whilst we messed about in the crags and we didn’t see them again.
The snow field seemed never ending. The surface had thawed slightly even in the relatively short time since we’d been the other way and made it even harder to walk across. Downhill was not going to be quicker today.
We did eventually leave the snow behind, but the path is still very steep at this point and it wasn’t really until we reached the stables again that my joints decided to play ball. We soon picked up speed again, passing another four walkers as we made our way to the car.
As a reward, we stopped at the Winking Owl in Aviemore for a pint apiece of Cairngorm Brewery’s Wildcat, rather lovely it was too and well deserved. A hard day, but so glad I’ve done it, I’ll be able to walk passed it on my Challenge without feeling remotely guilty!
Roughly (as ever)
2.1 mph moving average
2678 ft ascent
5 hours 56 mins moving, 1 hour 55 mins resting.
Oh and we forgot the hipflask after all.