Two gullies, two Munros, two white-outs = great weekend.

What a cracking weekend!

Just got back from the Cairngorms and two cracking climbing days.

Friday night was a slithery cycle into Bob Scott’s with panniers full of coal, only to find the place empty, but a good book passed the evening until bedtime and I was up early, to get away off up Glen Derry to the Hutchison Hut, enjoying the dawn light on the pines and the sunshine on the snows of the rocky faces of Beinn Mheadhoin and above Lochan Uaine of Derry.

Morning sun on the Glen Derry pines, in the Cairngorms

Morning sun on the pines looking up Glen Derry

Hard packed snow on the ground meant easy going, especially crossing the completely buried Glas Allt Mor. The footbridge across the Etchachan burn was a bit superfluous too.

Coire Etchachan footbridge over a snow-choked burn in the Cairngorms

A footbridge without a burn in Coire Etchachan

It was good to see the Hutchison Hut again, still looking inviting after its renovation, and I dumped most of my gear (along with the 8kg of coal I’d carried in), laying out my sleeping bag in the best spot in case anyone else turned up.

Inside the Hutchison Hut in the Cairngorms

Prime position for my sleeping bag.

Then set off up the track to Loch Etchachan, snow getting firmer all the way until I was moved to put on crampons just before the loch.

I walked over to the steep descent into Loch Avon, swapping walking poles for an ice axe before making the steep descent to the Shelter Stone, which was well filled in with snow, although someone had dug out enough space to kip. Cold night though, I imagine.

I’d expected to see more folk climbing in the area, given the ideal snow conditions and the fair weather, but saw only two people on Route Major on Carn Etchachan and another two on Garbh Uisge Crag.

Pinnacle Gully in Cairngorms, between Shelter Stone Crag and Garbh Uisge Crag

Looking up Pinnacle Gully, between the Shelter Stone Crag and the Garbh Uisge Crag

A quick bite to eat, then I donned a helmet and took my other axe from my pack and set off up Pinnacle Gully, with the distinctive Forefinger Pinnacle at the top.

Forefinger Pinnacle in Pinnacle Gully, Loch Avon

Zoom shot of the Forefinger Pinnacle at the top of Pinnacle Gully

Rock hard neve made progress pretty secure, but hard on the calves and there were many stops at quickly excavated steps large enough to hold one foot flat before I got to the final few metres where the gradient steepened to an entertaining angle and finished in a jumbled sea of half-formed cornices which never quite became the obstacle they might have been.

I emerged at the top to find that, during the climb, the cloud had descended considerably and visibility was much reduced.

All the same, I took a bearing for the McDui summit and walked through ever decreasing visibility until I reached the top. I was a bit puzzled that there was no sign at all of the summit cairn until I realised I was still on the North Top and had still a bit to go for the main top.

Summit cairn of Beinn MacDui in thick cloud

Look closely or you’ll miss it. The summit cairn was a welcome site when it finally appeared.

With no views, there was no reason to pause when I reached the real summit and I carried on down towards Loch Etchachan, making one false turn before coming below the cloud level and, before long, back at the Hutchie.

There, there were four people in residence: a guy who had come over from Corrour Bothy (after walking from Cairngorm Car Park through the Chalamain Gap and over Braeriach and Cairn Toul the previous day); and a group of three who had come over from Cairngorm. Two were on skis and the third on a snowboard, which apparently made for a few interesting moments on the journey across!

A good evening in the bothy followed and, if the stove was slow to get going, it made up for it later ensuring a toasty night.

In the morning everyone was away early doors and I couldn’t resist sneaking in another bit of axe action on the way home, heading up one of the unnamed gullies behind the hut and into my second white-out of the weekend. But Derry Cairngorm is a fairly east top to find and I was soon up and over and descending into clear air.

With legs getting sorer, I was glad to get down to Scottie’s (still empty) and get a bite of lunch (for I’d been up a gully and over a hill and it was still only 1p.m.) and then head back down the track on my bike.

Home in time for dinner too. Couldn’t be finer.

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