Monday, July 28, 2008

Cairngorm Tops July 2008

A failed attempt on all 51 Cairngorm tops, 74 miles and 23,800 feet completed, 34 hours 40 minutes

Prior to the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc, I reckoned I had time for one more long run.  As far as I was aware, no-one had completed all the tops of the Northern Cairngorms and I could see why.  Its a pretty long day out at almost 90 miles and with around 28,000 feet of ascent so I reckoned that it would probably take me more than 24 hours without support and having to carry everything.

Me on Cairngorm - the last major peak
The previous evening I trekked up to Ryvoan Bothy and had a pleasant evening until some lads turned up and lit a blazing fire that was quite unnecessary in the middle of July and caused me to overheat in my bag.  As a result I didn't sleep too well and was a bit groggy in the morning.  I set off at 7:45 on a sultry overcast day.  Bynack More passed easily enough, then I crossed over Creag Mhor to Faindouran before trotting down the track to pick up the Eastern outliers of Ben Avon.  I took a short-cut over the river which proved to be a mistake as my feet naturally became sopping wet and subsequently burnt up in the heat of the following day. 

The slopes up from the River Avon are pretty tiresome in the height of summer - deep heather and no trods to speak of.  I therefore laboured a bit until it became fresher on the summit plateau.  Soon it was to become too fresh.  In fact it lashed it down with cold rain whilst the mist rolled in and it was pretty miserable all in all. I became cold and wet and couldn't see anything.  It was also quite difficult to find the little tops of Ben Avon and Beinn a Bhuird and the route began to lose appeal.  I felt that I was peak bagging for the sake of it, but the challenge had been set so I carried on.  After zig-zagging across the plateau for a considerable while, the sun came out and all was well again.  Even the heather bashing up Beinn Bhreac failed to dampen my spirits too much and onc over the Moine Mor, the great boggy plateau,  I could look forward to the best of the Gorms - the wild corries of Beinn Mheadhoin and ben Macdhui.

However, time had rolled on and I could see that I would not make Corrour by nightfall which would mean a tricky descent in the dark.  For now though, the quality of the evening light was superb as I tracked up and down, picking up the little tops.  By Derry Cairngorm it was properly dark and difficult to keep up a good pace over the boulders, especially as the mist had descended and route-finding was slow and painstaking.  Ben Macdhui seemed to take an age and my feet were beginning to become very painful.  I shuffled along to Carn a Mhaim contemplating the descent.  In the dark and not knowing the gully down to Corrour, I elected to go down the ridge a little and then strike off down the heathery slopes.  This didn't proove to be the best of plans as the slopes were both heathery and littered with boulders - a poor combination in the dark and with problematic feet. 

By Corrour, it was getting light rather than dark, as I'd taken so long in the misty night with my stinging feet.  I felt sick and de-motivated so rested awhile outside the bothy.  The Devils Point passed okay, but the long slope up to Cairn Toul was very testing.  On the top I decided to stop and look at those feet.  What I saw appalled me (and I am used to nasty feet and toes).  The soles of my feet were a rubbery mass and the toes were oozing yellow pus.  No wonder I could hardly walk!  I did the best I could to patch up my feet, had a couple of painkillers for breakfast and hobbled on.  By Angels Peak I knew the game was up.  I couldn't contemplate the long loop out to Monadh Mor and Sgoran Dubh.  I could barely walk and at that pace I might take a week.

But it was a lovely hot day and once I'd got used to the idea of just shuffling over Braeriach and back to the bothy, I began to enjoy it.  I developed a technique of keeping some of my weight off the painful areas of my feet, and shuffled a little more effectively.  By the Lairg Ghru I'd improved to the extent that I thought I could even manage the ascent up Lurchers and on to Cairngorm.  So thats what I did, meeting the first people for a day near Cairngorm, from where I made the long slow descent to Ryvoan.

So in one sense it was a failure - I hadn't even got round, let alone completed in anything like 24 hours.  But in another, I'd won the day.  I'd kept going, I'd completed a long round in wild country and had bagged a few new tops, and above all, I'd managed to enjoy it even with my trashed feet.  But I won't be back for a repeat.  Its not a good line and there are better challenges to be had in the British Isles.  I'll look forward to those.

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