Carn an Fhidheir (994m); An Sgarsoch (1006m)
- Pronunciation: Karn ern Eeleth; Un Sgarshoch
- Translation: The Fiddler; Place of Sharp Rocks
- Total distance: 44km
- Total time: 10hrs 22mins
- Total ascent: 1190m
- Weather: Another mixed day with strong winds and very heavy showers.
- Start / end location: Forestry car-park at the Linn of Dee. [OS Map Sheets 43 – Grid Ref: NO 063 898]
- 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.
Success today pushed our Munro tally over the halfway mark. With 283 Munros in total to climb, us reaching the 142 mark means that we now have fewer remaining to climb than we’ve so far bagged – a significant milestone. However, completing these two today turned out to have a bit of a sting in the tail!
As a slight preamble, it is fair to say that bagging the peaks of the Cairngorms requires one to appreciate the philosophy of “the long walk in”, or, where the conditions have allowed, a long cycle in. That is why the use of our mountain bikes has been so beneficial in helping to eat up the miles along the estate land-rover tracks that would otherwise have required a much longer trudge. Additionally, over the last few weeks we’ve been calling on all our reserves of energy to keep the Munro count increasing as rapidly possible towards the specific aim of exceeding the half-completed mark by the middle of May. All of this continual focus places quite a strain on our physical “well-being” and so last night I asked Elaine to choose the route for today that would see us breaking through the halfway barrier.
So Elaine duly studied the guidebooks and maps covering the 8 Munros that we’d left to do around this area and decided to opt for the two (above) requiring the longest cycle, but arguably the shortest climb from where we would have to leave our bikes. The rational was that this combination would require the least effort compared to the others, and as the weather forecast suggested heavy showers and buffeting winds, the shortest climb would see us back at glen level the soonest where we’d just have to grin and bear the rain showers on our long cycle back. I agreed that this was all excellent reasoning and so this morning we once again parked up at Linn of Dee and set off on our bikes.
From Linn of Dee we headed west to reach White Bridge after about 5km of cycling along the land-rover track. At White Bridge we crossed over the River Dee, which was in spate and running peat-stained brown due to the recent heavy rain being funnelled into the burn from the run-off from the surrounding hillside catchment area. We continued to follow the track for another 2.5km until we reached the confluence of the Geldie Burn and the Allt an t-Seilich burn. Here we turned east and after a further 4.25km came to our first obstacle: the crossing the Allt Dhaidh burn – in spate conditions. The ford running through the burn was too deep to negotiate with the bikes so we looked up and down stream for a suitable place to cross. We decided that it was too much of a risk trying to scramble across with our bikes, and with only another 1.5km left that was possible to cycle we thought it prudent to abandon our bikes at this point. So, slightly down-stream from the ford we laid our bikes side-by-side in an inconspicuous hollow and chained them together as we’d done numerous times before.
Up to this point we’d been wearing our waterproof over-trousers because of the already showery weather but decided now to also don our gaiters to give us added protection. After a bit more surveying of the burn I found a suitable place up-stream for us to cross, which we did without any mishaps. Once across we continued on foot until we reached the next challenge of crossing the Geldie Burn: this was an altogether much more difficult prospect. In any other situation the Geldie Burn would actually have been named the River Geldie as it was far from being a wee Highland stream! Today, more so as it was in spate, it was more river-like than anything. I walked upstream for over 600m and still could not find anywhere that was suitable to cross as all of the natural stepping-stones were completely submerged underwater. I didn’t want the crossing of this burn to defeat us from reaching our goal of breaking through the halfway point on our Munro challenge and so was beginning to contemplate broaching with Elaine the idea of taking off our boots and socks and wading across in our bare-feet. I needn’t have bothered worrying because Elaine, walking along the burn just behind me, had read the situation and suggested that we simply wade across: even better she informed me that she’d packed a tiny light-weight towel in her rucksack in case we got the chance to dip our feet in a burn after a long hot day (today was not really that day!). So it was off with our gaiters, boots and socks, and with our trousers rolled up we waded into the brown peat-stained, fast-flowing water. It was cold but not unbearable, and apart from not being used to walking bare-foot on pebbles, was absolutely fine. Once across, we dried our feet and put on our boots. We were back in business!
From our Geldie Burn crossing point we headed south to easily reach the path that traversed around the north flank of Scarsoch Bheag. This path petered out as we approached the Allt a’ Chaorainn burn, which we then subsequently crossed to reach its western bank. Without a path to follow the going became rather boggy as we negotiated deep heather moorland and peat hags en route to climbing directly up the east side of Carn an Fhidhleir. As we gained height the heather gave way to grassy slopes, which became very steep towards the summit. We firstly intersected the crest of the north ridge, where we turned left and quickly gained the summit at 994m or 3,261ft. The weather wasn’t particularly pleasant so we grabbed a snack followed by a self-held summit photo of the two of us, and then we were off down the broad SE ridge towards a little top at 906m. We bypassed this little top by its north side before dropping more steeply east to reach a broad col below the SW ridge of An Sgarsoch.
The ascent up the broad SW ridge of An Sgarsoch, although pathless, was straightforward as we crossed grassy sections interlaced with boulder pavements. Once on the summit at 1006m or 3,301ft we stopped at the rocky cairn that appeared like a conventional cairn on one side a more throne-like construction on the other. After a short stop at the top we descended northward down another broad sloping ridge that was grassy to begin with but soon gave way to heather moorland, which extended all the way down until we once again reached the path that we’d used on our ascent earlier in the day. This path led us back to our crossing point of the Geldie Burn. As the weather was once again closing in and we only had about 1.5km to walk on the other side of the burn to reach our bikes we decided pragmatically to wade briskly across hoping that the combination of our gaiters and over-trousers would keep most of dampness out of our boots. If we still had to walk 1.5km and then the 11.75km we’d cycled earlier we might have decided differently and opted to do as we’d done this morning and cross in our bare feet. But the walk to our bikes was short and so we chose to cross the burn wearing our boots and other attire. We actually made it across with our feet still dry so the combination of boots, gaiters and over-trousers worked rather well. All we had to do was to walk back to the locked bikes and cycle the 11.75km back to the Linn of Dee … or so we thought.
We quickly got back to the Allt Dhaidh Mor burn and crossed at the stepping-stones we’d used earlier before locating our two bikes locked together in the deep heather. As I opened the side of my over-trousers to reach the pocket of my trousers underneath where I kept the key for the bike lock, I was sickened to find not only the pocket unzipped, but the key missing: it had obviously fallen out somewhere along our walk! I’ve no idea why I’d left this pocket open as I was usually so careful because of the serious consequences of loosing the key: as I’d just patently done.
There was no other option than to push the two locked bikes side-by-side the 11.75km back to the car whilst reflecting on a couple of things that could have made the situation much worse (i) if I’d passed the bike lock cable through one of the wheels, which would have meant carrying the bikes rather than pushing them, or (ii) if I’d locked one bike in the reverse direction to the other. Talk about being lucky???
Eventually, after another 2 hours and 15 minutes we arrived back at the Linn of Dee car-park where we had an extra lock key on the spare set of ‘van keys. We unlocked the bikes and vowed to use a keyless combination lock from now on.
Today we exceeded the halfway point on our Munro Challenge – but our triumph over adversity had been hard won on this occasion!