For the past couple of years, I've wanted to walk the Lairig Ghru. It's one of those classic mountain journeys, that despite reaching over 800m is still 400m lower than the peaks around it.
I arrived at the Linn of Dee car park at 10pm, so decided to sleep in the car. The car park has eco-toilets, which is always a bonus for overnight stops, but no water.
Setting off early, the path starts off through some woodland. I had a full pack, so progress was slower than those who had arranged a pick up in Aviemore. A number of people passed me on mountain bikes, using them to cycle to Derry Lodge to save some time on a day out.
At Derry Lodge, there are a couple of options for routes depending on the plans you have. There were a few tents pitches around the area and it would make a good location for a wild base camp. Off the bulldozed paths, the ground around here was a little boggy, so I imagine it's a place to avoid after heavy rain.
As I headed up Glen Luibeg it was obvious that I would have to take the detour up to the footbridge rather than being able to ford the river on the direct route. Even at this stage of the walk, I wasn't impressed with adding extra distance.
Once across the footbridge, the next landmark I was looking out for was Corrour Bothy. This small building is one of the busiest remote bothies in Scotland, enabling many Munro baggers and mountaineers the chance to have shelter and not to have to return to Aviemore or Braemar for a roof over their head.
The bothy is a slight detour from the main path, and is at the foot of The Devil's Peak. I was very tempted to set up camp at the bothy and climb the Munro, but there was quite a bit of snow in evidence, and I didn't want to get part way up and then have to turn back.
As I approached the bothy there were a couple of people sat outside having lunch, so I thought it would be a good time to stop for food myself!
The "extension" on the left of the picture is the recent addition of an eco-toilet. Such is the demand on the bothy that the area was become littered with human waste, so this was fitted as a trial project. I can say that I helped with the trial and put it to good use!
After leaving Corrour Bothy, the path starts it's climb up to the Pools of Dee. From this point onwards I saw no other people at all, except for a couple of people off in the distance ahead of me. There were regular fly-bys from the RAF helicopter so not sure if they were out on exercise or the real thing.
Up to the Pools of Dee there is a good path, but that disappeared into the boulders and the large snow patches. Originally when I'd looked at the map, I though that maybe I could camp around here, but not a chance. Crossing the snow patches slowed me down considerably, and I was starting to get tired. The surroundings were amazing, and the isolation striking. The thought that I had no mobile reception and it would be another 14 hours at the least before anyone else came past certainly helped focus the mind when travelling across very uneven ground.
After what seemed like an eternity, the path re-emerged. I was still looking out for a suitable camp spot, but there was none to be found. I decided against heading up the Chalamain Gap to the ski centre and instead took what I thought was the path into Rothiemurchus. Fording the river while keeping my feet dry was a challenge that I failed. Despite walking a fair distance up and down the river, there was nowhere that I could easily cross, so the feet got wet and subsequently suffered greatly.
Once I entered the forest, I realised that there was not going to be anywhere I could pitch the tent, so I was committed to continuing to the wild camp spot beyond the Cairngorm Club bridge, or going to Glenmore campsite. By this point, my feet were sore and I had little energy left. I decided to head for the wild camp spot, but then after heading that way, changed my plan and decided that the Youth Hostel was a better option!
The last three miles were agony. By now my wet feet had formed blisters and every step was torture. I knew that if I stopped to rest that I would never get up again, so I just had to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other. Never has the end been so welcome, and thankfully there was a spare bed for me!!
(Technical Data: distance = 32.5km, ascent = 700m)