The snow returns to the highest Cairngorm peaks – [# 146 & 147]

Carn Bhac (946m); Beinn Iutharn Mhor (1045m)

  • Pronunciation:               Karn Vack; Bine Yoo-ern Voar
  • Translation:                    Peat Bank; Big Sharp-edged Hill
  • Total distance:                35.6km
  • Total time:                      7hrs 08mins
  • Total ascent:                   1210m
  • Weather:                         Very mixed: very windy, cloudy and overcast with frequent driving hail showers. Severe gale force winds buffeted the summits and ridges.
  • Start / end location:     Car park at Inverey, 2.5km east of the Linn of Dee. [OS Map Sheet 43 – Grid Ref: NO 088 892]
  • Map:                                 A map of route can be found here – it may take a few moments to load into a separate window. The map displays on most browsers, but not unfortunately Internet Explorer.

Looking NE along the summit ridge of Beinn Iuthran Mhor

Today saw us cycling south along the beautiful Glen Ey. We started at the tiny hamlet of Inverey and followed a land-rover track along the east side of the Ey Burn. After only 1km the track crossed a bridge where a steep climb then commenced. Our friends, Dave and Anne, whom we’d met at the Linn of Dee car park a couple of days ago, had previously cycled up this track and commented on this particularly tough little incline. Dave and Anne’s mountain bikes don’t have quite as many gears as ours and they said that they’d opted to push their bikes up the steepest part of this incline: but that with [our] “more sophisticated bikes” we should be able to cycle right to the top. The challenge had been laid down and neither Elaine nor I wanted to be the one to have to get off our bike and push. So, after a bit of struggle in our low “granny gears” we made it to the crest where the going became much easier.

The derelict Altanour Lodge high up in Glen Ey

In the damp conditions we continued to follow the track as it gently “inclined” its way deeper into the glen: first passing the ruin of Auchelie before crossing the Ey burn again at another bridge. Once across this bridge we entered a long level section where the burn meandered gently along its course and fertile looking grass pastureland extended in narrow strips along either side of the burn. This was obviously an area favoured by birds as we stopped on several occasions to admire pairs of lapwings and oystercatchers as well as the odd curlew and sandpiper. I even found a three-pointed antler that had been shed by a red deer.

Beinn Iutharn Mhor seen from near the Altanour Lodge

Along this section the glen narrowed as it became hemmed in by the steep sides of Creag an Lochain to the NW and Creag an Fhuathais to the SE. A further bridge took us once again over to the west side of the burn and then after another 1km cycling we came to the ruins of the Altanour Lodge. We passed the lodge and continued on our bikes for 300m before the land-track gave way to a couple of walkers’ paths At this point we locked our bikes together and left them lying in the heather.

Setting out on foot we took the right-hand path that climbed WSW as it followed the course of the Allt an Odhar burn.  After crossing the burn we climbed a small rib before we arced round to the WNW and followed a broad, gently sloping ridge to reach the summit cairn of Carn Bhac at 946m or 3,104ft. We sheltered on the lee side of the cairn and enjoyed the view southward over the glen to our next Munro of the day.

On the summit of Carn Bhac

From the Carn Bhac summit we dropped gently WSW to a col before rising over the 920m point to drop once more to another col: this time just to the ENE of Carn a’ Bhutha (907m). Sitting rather incongruously near this last col was the outer stone-wall shell of a derelict building: it seemed unimaginable that someone might have actually lived here at one time so it may have been used as a high shelter for stalking purposes – who knows? From the stone ruin we dropped down a broad flank to the SSE (essentially following the county boundary marked on the OS map) into a region of rather large peat hags and boggy ground where we saw red grouse and even a snipe. From the hillside above, the terrain looked difficult to cross, but once in amongst the peat hags and boggy puddles little routes through the worst of it soon presented themselves. It did, however, feel a bit like being in a maze as we were forced to zigzag our way across: retracing our steps in places as certain routes became impractical. [Carn Bhac, meaning peat bank, certainly proved to be a very accurately named Munro.]

Beinn Iutharn Mhor (L) and Carn an Righ seen from the summit of Carn Bhac

Once across the peat bank we were confronted by what appeared to be ridiculously steep north and northwest slopes of Beinn Iutharn Mhor. However, as we approach directly below the north face of the summit point we spotted a weakness in the gradient in the form of a small rib running down the left hand side of the small shallow corrie that held the Lochan Uaine. Here the gradient was manageable despite having to ascend steep broken scree.

As we popped out onto the broad summit ridge we were immediately hit by very strong gale-force winds from the south. These winds stayed with us as we approached the summit cairn of Beinn Iutharn Mhor at 1045m or 3,428ft. After a very brief stop at the cairn we dropped SSE to the col with Mam nan Carn (986m). From the col we traversed round the northern flank to reach a narrower col, this time below Beinn Iutharn Bheag (953m). We crossed Beinn Iutharn Bheag and continued NE to reach a very small pair of spurs that together formed part of the broad NE ridge. The convex nature of the slope meant that these little spurs didn’t come into view until we were already committed to being someway down our descent line. When they did materialise we chose to descend the western spur and it did offer some minor relief to the steep gradient.

From the summit of Beinn Iuthran Mhor looking SW passed Carn an Righ (C) to Beinn a' Ghlo (R)

At the bottom of the NE ridge we joined a path by the Allt Beinn Iutharn burn that led us right back to where we’d left our bikes, just a few hundred metres from the Altanour Lodge.

Our hope was that we’d be able to free-wheel the majority of the way back down the track to Inverey. However, the strong blustery wind had other ideas and we found ourselves facing into a stiff headwind that required us to peddle – even on the gentle downhill sections. The only bit that we didn’t have to peddle was on the steep downhill section near the bottom of the glen where progress was fairly swift. Unfortunately, the rain had become quite persistent during our cycle back and our progress overall wasn’t quite rapid enough for us to avoid a good soaking by the time we arrived back at the car.

About Cameron Speirs

Born and brought up in the Scottish Highlands, Cameron, has been interested in outdoor pursuits since he was a wee lad. Over the last few decades he has climbed extensively in the Italian Dolomites as well as summiting the Matterhorn and several other 4000m alpine peaks. Closer to home he has spent many wonderful weekends mountaineering and biking in Snowdonia, Cairngorms, Glen Coe, Skye and Lochaber.
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