Carn Ban Mor - 1052m
Sgor Gaoith - 1118m
Sgoran Dubh Mor - 1111m
Meall Buidhe - 976m
Geal-charn - 920m
Creag Mhigeachaidh - 742m

Creag Ghiuthsachan - 603m
Creag Leathan - 564m

Tuesday 29th November 2016

Weather/Conditions: Thawing conditions - generally quite dark, with overcast cloud and occasional drizzle. The top 50/100m of the highest summits had rime ice, thus below freezing. Some clear skies breaking at twilight at the end of the day. Ground conditions generally quite easy to move on with many thawed areas. The high plateau was a bit 'white room', but fine apart from that.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 19.8km / 1350m / 6h 32m
Accompanying: Alone

This was a fantastic day on Sgor Gaoith. As usual for this time of year, I was indifferent in the morning. I was a bit lethargic, unsure or unwilling of what to do. A million ambitious objectives and ideas, but too tired and indecisive to bother going for any. The Mckeowns were all still in bed when I left the accommodation mid-morning, and drove off toward the hills. Sure, it's tempting to enjoy a warm bed because no one else is up, but I figured I'd better go and do something! There is not a lot of light at this time of year after all.

Still in a state of indecision, I drove toward Glen Feshie, then turned down the glen. I was several miles down the road before realising I'd taken the wrong road into the glen - i.e. the road on the wrong side of the river. Your head really isn't screwed on. Bloody hell. Three point turn, back out the glen, and get the right road next time.

Carn Ban Mor, Sgor Gaoith

I parked in just up from Achlean, feeling like the last one out. To be fair, by the time I'd got my stuff ready, the morning had nearly passed. I walked down the tarmac to Achlean, then up on the hills.

A good path goes all the way to Carn Ban Mor; today the colours were bleak, but not sad. The weather was raw yet not hostile. I didn't feel like moving with any urgency, and I didn't feel like changing that either. That being said, I think I prefer urgency. While stressful in the moment, it does get stuff done, you do get to see places.

I was well aware I was feeling lazy. But I knew I didn't need to rush. My original plan had been to include Mullach Clach a' Bhlair, but with morning wearing into a half-lit afternoon, what would be the point? A return hours into darkness, and treading ground I'd trod before?

I had a better idea: climb Sgor Gaoith and go for it's north tops!

As I came over the shoulder of the hill, the path got lost under snow. I followed a pretty direct line into the mist, and came straight upon the Carn Ban Mor cairn. I took some time for food, a drink here, and some quick photos. With map and compass out, I headed north over snowfields, first taking a bearing to the low saddle, then back up the long flank of Sgor Gaoith. For such a flat featureless place, the navigation didn't feel too awkward at all. The final ridge to Sgor Gaoith was exposed of snow, and it was an easy walk to the summit, where I found there to be curiously no cairn at all. Take some food, drink, photos, then set a bearing.

NW arm: Sgoran Dubh Mor to Creag Mhigeachaidh

Until now, I'd never been north of Sgor Gaoith. Sgoran Dubh Mor is an attractive (and impressive) prominence to the north; that has as much to do with it's eastern cliffs! The other Munro Tops are a little more indistinct. Sgoran Dubh Mor arrived after another cloudy plod, but it was when heading to Meall Buidhe and Geal-charn that the cloud began to peel back in little bits, here and there - and slowly the grey gloom lifted entirely to reveal Strathspey in blue-purple twilight.

And what next? I headed in this dim light to Creag Mhigeachaidh, shockingly aware that time was getting short. The west flank of this hill is also known for being one of the few places that a natural tree line has established itself. (or so I'm told - and another very clear example is on the side of Meall a' Bhuachaille)

Another side effect of the cloud lifting had been that I became aware of two lower tops curled around the foot of the Cairngorms; Creag Ghiuthsachan and Creag Leathan. And they were just crying out to be climbed! I probably wouldn't come back for them (they are pretty small hills), but if I were to climb them tonight it would turn in the day into an absolute monster top bagging session. And that appeals to the list ticker in me, for sure.

Creag Ghiuthsachan, Creag Leathan

I headed off Creag Mhigeachaidh with urgency and speed. The glen toward Creag Ghiuthsachan is narrow, deep and rammed with old pines and woodland. With the light half-gone on the open exposed slopes, it was very dark down here, and my world quietly diminished to the halo of a headtorch beam, the occasional pine, and the snow and heather as I plodded back out the glen.

The light was nearly gone. But I was nearly done myself. It seemed to take an age to cover the ground to the top of the Creag; thickly vegetated as it was. I curse these hard underfoot conditions sometimes, but the greater part of me feels feels the importance of a land left to grow. All the overgrazing in the Highlands has left terrain that is quite gentle, close cropped and open to walk upon!

A cairn in the darkness met me at the top of Creag Ghiuthsachan, and I headed off for Creag Leathan, under some trees and up onto it's little ridge. With the darkness and unfamiliar ground I felt I was lost somewhere far from the road; in fact it was pretty close by. I was even doing myself a favour, as to not go over these last two hills would mean a tarmac-pound back to the car. I'd take the hill terrain any time.

Creag Leathan came and went in the dark; another cairn, and then I headed off on compass bearings down the final slope to the road. I popped out at the tarmac 100m from the car and found myself back soon after; an empty car park, with just my car sitting in the darkness. It had been a good day, and a good haul of hills.

The Mckeowns had taken a walk into the Northern Corries of the Cairngorms, and by evening we were back watching outdoor films again, one last night at the Roundhouse.

360° Panorama

Geal-charn (920m)

Times (Time relative to 0.00)
(0.00) 11.15am Achlean parking
(1.50) 1.05pm Carn Ban Mor
(2.40) 1.55pm Sgor Gaoith
(3.05) 2.20pm Sgoran Dubh Mor
(3.50) 3.05pm Meall Buidhe
(4.15) 3.30pm Geal-charn
(4.45) 4.00pm Creag Mhigeachaidh
(5.40) 4.55pm Creag Ghiuthsachan
(6.10) 5.25pm Creag Leathan
(6.32) 5.47pm Achlean parking

Written: 2016-12-14