Carn na Drochaide - 818m
Saturday 13th March 2010

Weather/Conditions: Beautiful weather all day, some wind higher up. A strong sun made the snow hard going.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 20.6km / 550m / 7h
Accompanying: Colin Delorey, Iain Alcock

Another great weekend with Bealach MC, probably one of the best to date.

We only walked on the Saturday, but spent Friday and Saturday night in Braemar at Rucksacks Bunkhouse, the place we also stayed in November 2008. This weekend, Colin wanted to climb one of his outstanding Munros, Ben Avon so I decided to join him.

It's obvious that we didn't climb Ben Avon in the end, but the reasons that attracted me to the idea in the first place were several: it's remote, it's huge, it's complex, its winter, there's snow on the ground and a battering wind, its over 16 kilometres to the summit. What a goal... My reasons for going along were the same reasons that made us change our plans mid walk, but all in all, a highly successful walk.

It was also one of my all-too-rare excursions to the Cairngorms, a place my opinion of keeps rising steadily. So we went to bed on Friday night intent on a 6.30am start. Iain Alcock joined in at the last moment, and in the morning, three of us got out the door for an early start by Keiloch, only a few kilometres outside Braemar.

Up through Gleann an t-Slugain

When we left, it was already cold with a strong wind blowing from the west. It was windy in the forests, let alone the summits. But we headed onwards anyway, through the maze of roads and tracks that surrounds Invercauld House. The tracks well marked showed us the way - initially the signs pointed to Slugain/Quoich, then split it with one track leading to Glen Quoich and another leading to Gleann an t-Slugain, which was where we were heading.

This didn't however mean we didn't go off track. We lost ten or fifteen minutes to a wrong track but were rewarded by the sight of two red squirrels chasing each other across a tree. My camera was out and it was well documented, as is usual...

The tracks thus far had been snow free, although the track that cut off to Slugain was covered in a foot or more of soft snow. So, walking was harder, but not a great problem. Of course, Ben Avon was still our target, but it was still a long way off and it was hard to comprehend the distances. As far as the weather was concerned, it was shaping up to be a great morning, so I wasn't in any worry about the coming day even if the winds were high.

The only problem was that the glen went on and on, further than I would have thought. It may be a pleasant walk in the summer, but when snow covered the track, it was tough going. Worse still, the sun was beginning to thaw the snow and this wasn't good news. Anyone that has walked in these conditions before will know the score. Exhaustion.

After a long snow plod up through the sunny glen, we arrived at the ruin of Slugain lodge. From here on, we'd have a new glen to climb to the head of before gaining the summit plateau of Ben Avon. But it was here that our resolve began to wane. I could feel it in myself for sure. The snow was getting horrendously soft and we only had more long kilometres of this to go. When I saw the cloud capped cliffs of Beinn a' Bhuird from the ruin, I knew that giving up or changing tactic was becoming a reasonable plan of action.

A change of plan...

Beyond the ruin, we pressed on while views opened up towards the Sneck to the north, Glen Quoich, and Beinn a' Bhuird. It was a spectacular place. While the enormous scale of the place meant we would have a lot of walking to do to gain Ben Avon's summit, it left me in awe. it's an enormous place.

When Iain, Colin and I came to a unanimous decision to leave Ben Avon and go for something else, the mountains just seemed bigger. So big now, we wouldn't even climb it. But then again, it was huge mountain and we were trying to climb it with the soft wet snow of early spring beneath our feet.

Ascent to Carn na Drochaide

Our change of tactic was to go for Carn na Drochaide instead. It wasn't a peak I had ever paid attention to or given much notice. Despite being just 100m short of Munro height, it sits firmly in the shadow of the Cairngorm giants. Much like Meall a' Bhuachaille in Aviemore, you could say. So we turned our backs on Ben Avon and struck up the gentle slopes towards the summit of the Carn. It was easy in comparison, and a walk in the park compared to the epic we had previously set ourselves. I knew we could make it to Ben Avon and back, but would it really worth it?

Still, the kilometres wore on, and the soft snowfields were still present, so it was tiresome. But it was with much relief and joy that we finally made it to the top, with sunshine and views all around. It was a peak well worth doing, even though it was small, just a midge among monsters. The big peaks surrounded us on most sides. If the cloud wasn't present, we would see Ben MacDui, Cairn Toul, and Beinn a' Bhuird, all among the highest mountains in Scotland. Lochnagar was however clear of cloud and absolutely magnificent. I did give a few thoughts and a couple of quiet words to my friend Michael for whom Lochnagar was his last mountain. The things I thought and quietly spoke were done with a feeling of contentment and happiness, nothing depressing.

While on top, I took some panoramas, had a bite to eat, then got moving again. The wind wasn't warm, after all... but it was on descent that I knew that this was going to be a good day. Perhaps it was the silent contentedness of knowing I could happily enjoy a day on a smaller hill, but in any case, I knew it would take a lot for me not to enjoy the remainder of this walk.


In fact, descent was all out fun. We had been going for a long time already, but there are fewer joys than leaping down the spring snowfields. The sun was out too, and for some reason I was just damn happy. After all, a goal had been achieved though not the original one, a long walk out to be relished remained, and quite simply, I found happiness in being among the Cairngorms. I love the Cairngorms now. There's a freshness in the plants and trees there that makes the Southern Highlands look grey by comparison. The forests are pretty much natural and there isn't the bare, waterlogged hillsides of some areas of the Highlands. It's an amazing place. If my plans for a trip here come off, I'll have a good few more days in the coming months to explore these mountains. And yes please, I would love to do so too.

But we got down to Glen an t-Slugain again, crossed the river with a little difficulty, then got back onto the track out. A good walk back followed, the forests looking great in the afternoon sun. It was a long track back, but nice all the way and never too wearing. It had definitely been a good walk today.

And more was to follow. Afterwards: Creag Choinnich.


Glen Quoich & Beinn a' Bhuird

360° - Carn na Drochaide


Lochnagar to Glen Shee
Times (Time relative to 0.00)
(0.00) 7.50am Keiloch
(2.40) 10.30am Slugain Ruin
(3.10) 11.00am Turnaround point (Ben Avon)
(4.35) 12.25pm Carn na Drochaide
(7.05) 2.55pm Keiloch

Written: 2010-03-18