Tuesday, June 05, 2012


Moving on.

Plan: Daisy's bath & bed time, pack car, drive to Aviemore, ride, bivi, ride, meet chris and marty and more riding then home.

Route: Aviemore, Glenmore Lodge, Coire Cas, Miaden Creag an Leth-choin at the gaping mouth of the Lairig Ghru, up Ben Macdui, drop down to Glen Derry via Loch Etchachan/Coire Etchachan and (once i'd met up with chris and marty at the Linn of Dee) head up Beinn a' Bhuird and Ben Avon, before dropping down to the River Avon and following this to Tomintoul and back to Aviemore via the Braes of Abernethy.

Bivi site was hopefully somewhere near Lochan Buidhe.

How it went: Started riding at 10pm and despite knowing some fine folks who were taking a wee dram at Glenmore Lodge, i pedaled past and up to Coire Cas. The moon rose over Cairn Gorm and i headed across below Coire an Lochain and began to climb. It was cold but the efforts kept me warm. The forecast was generally good with some precip due in around 1-2am. My plan was to keep going until then and bivi down, get moving by 6am and meet up with the boys at 9am at Linn of Dee.

By 12.30am i was being chased by tumorous clouds. Short of my predicted bivi site, i kept an eye out for some receptive ground, found some and bedded down. Knowing the route allowed me to pack plenty of food and fluid as the initial climbs are not onerous. I had also elected to bring a couple of cans of Red Stripe and i supped a cold one back while i laid out the bed-stuff and manged a turkey, cheddar and mayo roll as the moon was enveloped by cloud. Sometime around 5.15am i woke to rain and wind buffeting my bivi sack. A quick pee led me to the conclusion that the rain had come in later than anticipated and i should head back to sleep for half an hour or so, which i duly did. The next time i awoke, the cloud gave me about 6 meters of visibility and it was wet with a fine drizzle. Nuts. Ah well, i needed to move. The coffee i had looked forward to would have to wait as it was too cold to sit outside my sleeping bag and i again assumed the uphill walk until i could start riding again past Lochan Buidhe. From here it is a steady climb over alternating beautiful plateau singletrack and sack-of-coal-size boulder fields to the base of the summit cone of Macdui. The ground was frozen; the grass petrified in a layer of frost. The wind was rising and i wasn't too surprised when the precipitation thickened to snow. As i made quick time over the last boulder field before the climb up to the summit of Macdui, the wind rose again and the snow turned to hail. Visibility was low, 5 meters max and the hail was stinging any exposed flesh. I felt sure that it would clear: the weather system had generally been very stable with relatively high pressure and good, clear skies, sunshine and moderate wind only. There was no reason to expect this pattern to change, other than it was the Cairngorm.

The top of Macdui is like a giant pile of sack-sized boulders. There is no real chance to pedal and the risk of a sprained ankle is high. Care is needed. There are several cairns leading those who are travelling in poor weather on and there are also many small weather/wind breaks. As i reached the familiar trig point, the weather again worsened. It was hard to keep the bike on the ground due to the wind and it was almost impossible to see if i faced into this fierce, freezing banshee from the north. The hail built up ice on my glasses making them worse than useless and i was slowly becoming hypothermic despite the physical activity. I knew the path down to Loch Etchachan was vague at first. The last time i rode down it i noted how it sort of coalesced as i passed the ruin that is just east of the summit and headed off to the north east. I followed this same route and came to the cliffs south of the desired location. Damn, it was bad weather to make an error, and the ground was hard going. Rather than chance my luck traverisng too far at a lower level, especially as there was a fractured cornice on the edge, i went back up to the summit and followed a new line via the ruin. Again, i came to the cornice, though there was no fracture at this point. There was no sign of any way down although for a fraction of a second i could see the tiny lochan that is en route through the swirling cloud and hail. Back up to the ruin again as i could not believe that the trail was wiped out by the snow and sheltered enough to recheck the map.

In retrospect this was clearly an error of judgement. I wasn't thinking straight at all. I descended again, desperate to get out of the furious weather. Again, the cornice. This time i dropped the bike and kicked a few steps and went to the edge. Again, i saw the tiny lochan and then realised i *was* in the right place but there was no way i could get down safely in this weather with a loaded bike. That realisaton led to some despair as it meant i had to not only turn back, but get back through the ferocious weather. I also could tell my right hand especially was far from functional, the brakes on the bike had become solid and i was in big trouble if i stopped moving or took a wrong turn.

This of course i did almost immediately. Rather than head back up to the summit again, i decided to try and circumnavigate the summit cone and rejoin the path at a snow field that would allow me to drop down again.

About half way round on featureless ground, with extremely poor visibility and a degree of disorientation i lost my grip a little. Several 45 degree turns, looking for a way out or a trail and then i stopped dead, closed my eyes and had a chat with myself. It was time to make a good decision and stick with it. Turn round, back the way i had come following tyre tracks in the snow and back to the ruin and then the summit. From here, rejoin the cairn route down and get out of the weather.

To cut a long story short, i made it down. A significant amount of arm wind-milling restored some function to my hands and so i ate all i could as i moved. I hummed and talked to myself and kept my baby girl in my mind's eye and just kept moving. On one of the snow fields, i encountered a total white out. My previous tracks had been obliterated by the weather and it was a little like wandering through a dream. It was only after i dropped again below Coire an Lochain that the snow and hail stopped and i knew i was out of danger. The ride down to Coire Cas is always a hoot and BA brought a smile to my stiffened face as i popped water bars and roosted the fine shale. Back via Loch Morlich and the sun came out as i rode peacefully through Rothiemurchas. I could see the cloud lift off the summits and it was possible that if i had timed things differently i might have been able to kick steps into the snow and get down to Glen Derry, but it was a chance too far for this day.

Set: on flickr.

Ride on.


simondbarnes said...


muddytrail said...

Be careful out there!!

Anonymous said...

You might have over-TTFU'ed.
Strike a balance.

Strike a pose

Vogue x

AdamM said...

Blimey Jon, take it careful out there, folk less experienced than you might have been in real trouble on this ride!

Backcountrybiking.co.uk said...

Young man that sounds bloody epic and it is the epic journeys that drive us to have the journeys because without the epic we can not have the truly great days.
Kinda like fat birds try harder.
peace out rabbit let have an adventure together soon..... not in a gay way
oh we now have 6 packrafts and i would be happy to let you in on some blow up fun.

onereallynicespeed said...

great as ever.sounded terrifying!good work.