First published on my Blogspot site 15th October 2015
The first few days of my trip north had been characterised by low cloud and drizzle, the weather suggested little prospect of a good day on the hills with the peaks of Cairngorms lost in a blanket of grey cloud smothering out the sun. Having brought my bike with me I had passed the time with a good ride through the woods of Rothiemurchus and and run between Loch Ericht and Loch Laggan via the remote Loch Pattack the bike making short work of the landcover tracks now carved deep into the hills.
Today was different a glimmer of hope to my drenched expectations as I was fast running out of dry cycling kit. The forecast was for a high pressure system to settle over the northern Cairngorms giving blue skies and an excellent opportunity for a long walk into one of the more remote Munros on my still very long to do list; Beinn Mheadhoin situated south of Loch Avon in the heart of the Cairngorms.
A winter view of Beinn Mheadhoin (left) and Carn Etchachan (centre) taken from the top of Coire nan Lochan
A hill I had often seen from afar, its distinctive granite tors is easily visible from the top of the Northern Corries after a days climbing but from any further approach it is well guarded from casual suitors by the deep trough containing Loch Avon which to my knowledge must have a good claim as being the most remote large body of water in the UK.
The air was cold and crisp as I left the ski centre carpark but as the sun continued to rise its rays soon provided a warming glow as a worked my way through the clutter of ski detritus that is Coire Cas in summer as various bits of heavy plant dig and scrape their way about the hill in preparation for the coming season. Snow cannons sit forlornly beside a maze of picket fences and lift cables look incongruous agains the heather.
Looking down the gentle slopes of Coire Raibeirt towards Beinn Mheadhoin its tors clearly visible against the skyline.
Having joined the path up to imaginatively named point 1141 which is perched on the shoulder of Cairn Gorm I follow a faint path across the plateau which drops down the gentle slopes of Coire Raibeirt picking up a small stream of tumbling water as it goes. Beinn Mheadhoin dominates the view whilst Loch Avon itself remains hidden in a deep trough ahead only becoming visible at the last minute as the path drops very steeply downwards out of the hanging corie towards the deep blue water. The decent is very steep and strenuous efforts have been made to build stairs down for much of the route saving what would be a pretty horrific scramble over loose rock although the path does eventually end up in the stream bed, no doubt the decent is a nightmare if coated in verglas in winter!
Towards the bottom I cross the stream and pick up another rough path which leads after much bolder hopping to the head on Loch Avon. The remoteness is palpable, a wild place with steep hills and crags on three sides with just the narrow opening to the north west containing the loch itself. The Feith Buidhe cascades down from high on the slopes of Ben Macdui and is crossed on stepping stones where it enters the Loch.
I make a short detour to visit the famous howff of the Shelter Stone one of hundreds of huge boulders that erosion has prized off the encircling crags which now lies across its neighbours creating a sheltered bivvy cave famous in Cairngorm mountaineering history as the base for many climbers exploring routes on the faces above. The shelter is one of many dotted throughout the bolder field no doubt welcome places to rest for those who brave these parts in the depths of winter, if they can find them in amongst the deep drifts of snow.
Loch Avon with the slope of Cairn Gorm behind.
From the head of the loch a path climbs steeply to the col between Carn Etchachan and Beinn Mheadhoin, nestled just beyond this is Loch Etchachan the highest large body of water in the UK at over 900m above sea level; it looks a lovely place to camp in good weather surrounded by such awesome scenery. Just before the outflow of the loch I turn up the hillside to the northwest and climb steeply onto the summit plateau of Beinn Mheadhoin. The landscape is flat and stony with very little vegetation, a testament to the difficult year round conditions plant life faces clinging to life in the poor soil.
The expanse of the summit is dominated by a series of high granite tors their sides wrinkled like old leather and the largest and highest of which proves to be the summit. Having scrambled onto the top to me they almost almost justify inclusion alongside the Inn Pin as a Munro needing some climbing skills (but not ropes), certainly there are a couple of moves which would not be out of place on a v. diff
The three summit tors, the highest point being the central tor.
The view from the top is quite spectacular, for 360 degrees hills stretch out around you with no sign of roads, houses or the clutter of modern life, its a place to stop and savour just being in a landscape absorbing it in to enrich your soul before heading for home. I spend about half an hour playing about with my camera taking bracketed exposures to try and compensate for the contrast in light conditions which makes exposing both the brilliant blue sky and green brown earth a really chained even with a couple of graduated filters. Finally having had my fill of the view leaving the summit I retrace my steps back down to Loch Avon as the shadows of the day begin to lengthen.
Naturally having decended steeply this morning its a tough climb back the way I came onto the Cairngorm plateau but the babble of water keeps you company and refreshed. Loch Avon is certainly somewhere I would like to return to, perhaps trying to approach from the west and the Fords of Avon by bike or to explore with a packraft, but those are adventures for another day.
The view from just shy of the summit back to Loch Etchachan and Loch Avon, the count back to Cairn Gorm is the steep gully about a third of the way in from the left.