Triumph over adversity to exceed halfway target – [# 142 & 143]

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.

Looking WSW towards the ruined Geldie Lodge

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!

The Allt Dhaigh Mor burn running fast after three days of heavy rain

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.

Getting wet feet wading across the Geldie Burn, which was in spate

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.

Almost across the Geldie Burn, which was in spate

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.

Elaine on the north of An Sgarsoch

On the summit of Carn an Fhidhleir - our 142nd Munro - now more than halfway through our Munro Challenge

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!

An Sgarsoch from the SW ridge of Carn an Fhidhleir

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.

Looking north from the SW ridge of Carn an Sgarsoch towards Beinn Bhrotain and Monadh Mor

Nearing the summit of An Sgarsoch with Carn an Fhidhleir in the background

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.

On the summit of An Sgarsoch

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.

Sitting at the throne-like summit cairn on An Sgarsoch

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!

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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6 Responses to Triumph over adversity to exceed halfway target – [# 142 & 143]

  1. Karl says:

    Congratulations to you both on passing the half way mark. There’s been many tough days so far and this seems like one of the ‘worst’ despite the shortish climb.
    Take a rest and then this day won’t seem quite so bad.

    • Cameron says:

      Thanks Karl,

      We’re both really delighted to have reached and now exceeded the halfway mark. In just under 4.5 weeks we’ve managed to climb 54 Munros. These latest ones in the Cairngorms have generally proved to be long days out – but as they say “character building”. Now in Aviemore where we have two left to complete the Cairngorm round for now – excluding Braeriach of course, which we’re saving as our last Munro sometime in the early autumn.

      Regards,

      Cameron

  2. Roy Starkey says:

    Hi Both – Congratulations! You do need the occasional “epic” to make it all memorable – so sounds like this one qualifies as that! We have had similar experiences which have resulted in “disappointment” – one notable instance which springs to mind is when Mary knocked the billie (containing the evening meal) off the stove when trekking in the Hindu Kush Mountains of Pakistan – there was a long …..silence before anyone spoke!

    We had a terrific Easter week on Skye – wall to wall sunshine for seven days. On our way back south we stopped at Oban and did Ben Cruachan in near perfect conditions, blue skies, sunshine, and views to probably 50-70miles distance (somewhat more favourable than when you were up there in March). Let me know if you would like a few sunny pics of the walk….

    Bye for now

    Best wishes and good luck with the “last few”.

    Roy

    • Cameron says:

      Hi Roy and Mary,

      It was great catching up with you both at the Clachaig a few weeks ago – talk about good timing. Since then it appears that the four of us have been very busy. I’m really glad that your week on Skye went so well, and particularly that the weather was so good. There can be no better place on earth than Skye when the weather is favourable. We are really looking forward to our visit there in about a months time. Was your trip mainly mineralogy based or did you manage up into the high Cuillins? We’re heading to Aviemore today in order to complete our circuit of the Cairngorms and then a wee break is called for.

      It would be great to receive another one (or more) guest blog for the site if you have time.

      Very best to you both and hope to got out climbing again with you before the end of our trip.

      Cameron and Elaine

      BTW your incident with the spoiled billie-can of food somehow makes me feel a bit better about my faux pa!

  3. Iain Macleod says:

    Nice to meet you the other night at Braemar campsite – I was one of the gatecrashers that disturbed your blog update in the (initially) peacefull information room.

    Hope the dram we shared fuels your future exploits and all the best to you both for your continuing adventure.

    Slange var

    Iain.

    • Cameron says:

      Hi Iain,

      Great meeting you on Saturday evening, and I certainly appreciated your hospitality: the Balvenie (whisky) was simply lovely. If we bump into each other again then I’ll return the complement with a little west coast or island dram.

      Cheers!

      Cameron

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