Making the 6.5hr journey North I arrived in Braemar late Sunday night (too late to find any food available!) and stayed overnight in a local hotel with the idea of being refreshed for an early start the following morning. Unfortunately due to a 'slight' failure in the body clock department things didn't go exactly as planned so it was after a hurried breakfast that I drove to the Linn of Dee car park on the Mar Lodge Estate to begin my 3 day stroll.
Day 1 - Leaving the 'Linn of Dee' car park it took me around an hour to reach 'Derry Lodge' following Lui Water as it made its way through the snow covered landscape. From Derry Lodge I took a route that led North West and started ascending through the tree line until I was making my way up the hard neve on the flanks of 'Carn Crom'. From 'Carn Crom' I carried on ascending over 'Little Cairngorm' and to the summit of 'Derry Cairngorm (1155m). Progress hadn't been record breaking in the warmth of the bright winter sun with its snow glare, and with a full 3 day pack on my back!
As I made my way towards 'Ben Macdui' I noticed a snow bank which looked suitable to build a snow hole in. After deliberating weather to walk up to Ben Macdui then back down to shelter overnight at the 'Hutchinson Memorial Hut' and then back up to continue my route the next day I opted to put try put some skills I had gained on winter skills courses into practice and build myself a snow hole!
Digging a shoulder width hole into the snow bank I removed snow until I could get the trunk of my body in the hole. At this point I started to dig out the snow parallel to the outside snow wall leaving around 150cm of snow. After digging a tunnel around 3ft long I took myself out of the hole and moved along the snow bank approx 6ft, here I repeated the process in the opposite direction until I had dug myself out a tunnel approx 6ft long and 3ft high. At this stage I shaped the walls and ceiling smooth to prevent water dripping from them and leveled the floor. Digging 12inch deep trenches at either entrance which would act as cold wells the snow hole was soon ready for me to put in my bivvy bag, roll mat & sleeping bag - cosy!
I measured a temperature of 0C inside the snow hole through the night whereas the outside temperature had been forecast for 8C.
|Digging into the snow bank.|
|Creating the tunnel.|
|Bivvy bag & kit in the snow hole.|
|Cosy apartment or the evening!|
|Sunrise from my overnight 'apartment'.|
During an 'expensive school dinner' at the Ptarmigan I set my route for the afternoon and decided I would head for the 'Fords of Avon' refuge rather than dig myself another snow hole as this would leave me a 5hour walk out before the long drive home rather than a lengthier and more tiring day. I again crossed the summit of Cairn Gorm before making my way down thru Coire Raibert, following the path of the would be stream down to the banks of Loch Avon.
The Loch was covered in snow and appeared well frozen but I resisted testing the strength of the ice and kept myself on the banks of the Loch as I made my way East towards the refuge which I reached around 15:30hrs.
The 'Refuges' or 'Bothies' are small unmanned building or huts located in the remote mountainous areas of the UK. Mostly found in Scotland bothies provide a basic watertight and windproof shelter for anyone that may need them. Varying in size from small huts to 2 storey former cottages, some may have fireplaces & sleeping platforms whereas others may be nothing more than a large box, non offer bedding etc but all are free of charge and are left unlocked - Mountain Bothies UK
After unpacking my sleeping kit and cooking equipment, I boiled water taken from the nearby 'burn' (Scottish name for stream or small river) and had my tea before retiring for the evening - at 17:30hrs!
|Rime ice on Cairn Gorm weather station.|
|Snow covers the frozen surface of Loch Avon.|
|Refuge/Bothy at Fords of Avon.|
|Hotel it is not, shelter from the elements it is.|
Leaving the bothy heading South I took care to avoid the snow covered frozen surface of 'Dubh Lochan' & the 'burn' that feeds into them, which I could occasionally hear running from beneath the snow. Dropping into Glen Derry I made my way over mixed patches of frozen ground, snow & ice which had been consolidated underfoot and delayed my decision to remove my crampons in the knowledge of tired legs and a rucksack that didn't seem to be getting any lighter!
Joining the path on which I had set out 2 days earlier at 'Derry Lodge' I followed the track back to 'Linn of Dee' car park with a much reduced spring in my step but confident that making my way to the bothy rather than sheltering overnight in a snow hole had been the right choice!
My rucksack weighed around 16kg with the food, cooking equipment, sleeping equipment, snow shovel etc and the extra weight over a normal day pack made a noticeable difference to my pace and the effort needed when going up hill.
I found the over nights no problem though weather conditions were still & dry which meant my clothes were dry.
All in all it was a very worth while trip as it gave me 3 log book days towards the Winter Mountain Leader Training Scheme and a chance to put into practice some skills I had been previously taught. It also provided with me with 3 days in a stunning winter mountain environment.
Wildlife seen - Ptarmigan, Black Grouse, Arctic Hare.