Another walking/camping tour masquerading as ‘running’, but it’s my blog, I make the rules and (short of starting yet another unnecessary category) that’s where it goes!
Having long suspected the sprawling mass of Ben Avon to be the biggest single obstacle to a clean sweep of Munros, Tops and deleted Tops with neighbouring Beinn a’ Bhuird not so very far behind, I was keen to get them done. So, choosing to carry camping gear to keep my subsequent options open rather than commit to the fixed agenda of one (oxymoron alert!) interminably finite day, I set off from Lynn of Quoich on Thursday to see just what I could get done, finishing up yesterday (Saturday) morning with a clean sweep (current/deleted Munros and Tops) of Ben Avon, Beinn a’ Bhuird, Beinn Bhreac, Beinn a’ Chaorainn, Beinn Mheadhoin (a repeat to get Stacan Dubha) and Derry Cairngorm plus a Corbett (Carn na Drochaide) that just happened to be in the way. Except that it wasn’t an absolutely ‘clean sweep’ because I skipped Creagan a’ Choire Etchachan (forgot it officially belonged to Derry Cairngorm rather than Ben Macdui)… annoying, but immaterial because I’ve done it before, and also debatable because the bealach to its Macdui side (which I came over) is about 40m higher than the one separating it from Derry Cairngorm! Still, ‘near sweep’ it has to be, with that Top listed under Derry Cairngorm and mistakenly skipped to keep the round ‘pure’ when I’d never have left it had I needed the tick and could obviously have included it without trying (it’s what, 50m above the bealach?) if I was prepared to straight-line it over an obstructing Corbett on my way to Ben Avon…
So what can I say about Ben Avon, except that it’s a huge hill and topping every excrescence that’s ever been listed as a Top (along with a few more that haven’t) involves covering a huge amount of ground, but at least the weather was pretty well perfect (you want to do this in good visibility!) in staying cool, clear and dry till I got hit by a 10-minute heavy shower just as I finally made the crowning summit tor of Leabaidh an Daimh Bhuidhe (my penultimate top before crossing the Sneck to Beinn a’ Bhuird) at about 6:00pm.
However, aiming to make the most of Thursday by establishing a high camp on Beinn a’ Bhuird, I continued over the Sneck and the two northern Tops of Cnap a’ Chleirich and Stob an t-Sluichd before pitching the tent by clean running water (at over 1,100m!) near the rim of the Garbh Choire with a great view of Mitre Ridge (which looked steep) and Squareface (which just oozed slabby goodness in a situation more striking than suggested by the usual front-on photo). Have to say I was quite taken aback by the remains of the 1945 Airspeed Oxford crash (which I wasn’t expecting) out by Stob an t-Sluichd, but later discovered that it’s not even the only WWII crash site on the mountain!
With copious rain overnight, more in the morning and thick clag to boot, I hid in the tent till well after 8:00am before setting out to grope my way over the rest of Beinn a’ Bhuird, which isn’t called the ‘table’ mountain for nothing with enough unbelievably flat ground on top to make such conditions distinctly sub-optimal! So I found the main North Top cairn (bigger than implied by some of my ageing books) quite easily, but spent perhaps half an hour (after visiting the deleted tor of A’ Chioch) searching with map, compass and GPS for one on the 1,179m South Top before locating the tiniest pile of stones that may or may not have been in exactly the right place (not that it matters when I’d covered all the possible ground multiple times!) but was certainly far less obvious than its equivalent on the old (deleted) 1,177m South Top. And so through alternating showers and sunshine (with the camera largely packed away for its own good) but generally improving visibility over the two tops of Beinn Bhreac (a sad apology for a Munro being little more than the south end of the Moine Bhealaidh plateau!) and rather more substantial pair of Beinn a’ Chaorainn, where (starting to get wet and cold) I considered just ‘escaping’ down Glen Derry before telling myself I was carrying three days’ stuff so better use it and crossing the Lairig an Laoigh to a windy Beinn Mheadhoin. And from there it was plain sailing in more pleasant conditions down over Stacan Dubha and past Loch Etchachan to capture the small Top of Sgurr an Lochan Uaine (not to be confused with its much bigger near namesake between Braeriach and Cairn Toul) before camping on Derry Cairngorm at c.945m just below where it becomes continuously stony.
Tucked up in my sleeping bag by about 7:30pm (too cold to stay outside it!), I was under way again by about 6:15am, topping Derry Cairngorm some 25 minutes later and enjoying a glorious morning walk out through the old Scots pines of Glen Lui and Glen Quoich (linked by the curious little cut of Clais Fhearnaig) to make the van by 10:30am. So (never mind the slight aesthetic blip of mistakenly skipping a Top I’d done before!) who wouldn’t be happy to get that huge chunk of the Cairngorms mopped up in two-and-half-days? With a pervading sense of worthwhile mountain journey at probable underestimates of 20 miles on Thursday, 17 on Friday and 10 yesterday morning, I know I am! :-)