Cairngorms walk - Carn Ban Mor circular from Auchlean

Should have taken sunglasses!
After a week of near perfect weather in Skye the wind and rain forecasted for the Cairngorms was slightly disheartening but the deep snow and "full winter" conditions on Cairngorm and the surrounding mountains would certainly add a different challenge to our walking trips.

I love walking, hiking, scrambling and just "being" out in the mountains in the Winter - it adds a totally different dimension to everything you do - from navigating along a path that, in the summer, is obvious and well trodden but in the winter is nothing more than snow, to digging out a snow hole to shelter, eat or even sleep in.  You do need to ensure a certain element of respect is given to winter conditions and there is no substitute for knowledge, planning and the preparation but it can be a thrilling experience in even the most challenging of weather conditions.

We'd had a few days of starting walks and then having to change route or abandon completely due to the weather.  Two notable attempts were a planned walk across Cairngorm to Ben MacDui and another to Carn Ban Mor - both walks resulted in an about turn and total change of plan as the weather moved in and conditions were both unfavourable and (on Ben) boarding on dangerous with Donna being lifted off her feet a number of times in the wind.

After a few of these trips we were watching the weather like hawks and had our route planned and bags packed for a window of opportunity and so it was that we headed back out to the Glen Feshie estate and the start of a circular walk to the summit of Carn Ban Mor and Meall Dubhag. 

We parked in a small car park just at the edge of the forest with the river Feshie to the left and views up the flanks of Carn Ban Beag (716m) to the right (note, this isn't the end of the road as this continues for another few hundred meters or so to the house at Auchlean but you can't park past this point - so there's no point in driving down there!).

The walk along the road is, I'm sorry to say, slightly tedious and walking back along it at the end is even more so but there isn't really another option and there is only really a few hundred meters of tarmac to cover before you turn off the road to head upwards across the heather and into the forested area before the slopes of Carn Ban Mor really kick in.

The path follows the edge of the wooded area and then snakes out through the heather, crossing a number of small streams, which were swollen with melt water on our trip, before opening out slightly and running diagonally up and across the Westerly slopes of Carn ban Mor.

The official path (marked on OS explorer maps) strangely doesn't run to the summit of Carn ban Mor, passing instead a few hundred meters to the S/SE on a saddle between the Carn ban More summit (1052m) and an unnamed top at 1029m before heading down a wide ridge and joining a doubletrack that, if followed, takes you almost all the way down to Glenfeshie Lodge and the river Feshie.
With this in mind we continued on an almost due Westerly course to the summit, meeting the snow-line at around 900m - thankfully the snow was compact enough to walk on without the need for crampons or ice axes, our mountaineering boots providing enough grip to climb the hundred or so meters to the summit where we stopped for a brief lunch and a warm drink (after digging the snow out of the shelter to take us out of the wind!).

Carn Ban Mor summit

Digging out the shelter for lunch!
After lunch we plotted our course in a curving SW direction that would take us off the Carn ban More summit, down to the saddle and then up again to the unnamed top (the area is marked on the map as "Badenoch") before dropping down to another saddle at 966m and then the final climb to the summit of Meall Dubhag at 998m.

The terrain around Meall Dubhag is totally different from that around the summit of Carn ban Mor despite being only a km or so away, there are more rocky outcrops and patches of stony ground - the summit cairn and surrounding area could be dropped in to many areas of North Wales without looking out of place.

From the summit plateau the views out across Corie Garbhlach are amazing and there were some huge cornices and areas that had recently avalanched which held our attention for a good 15 minutes before we decided to press on and head in a WNW direction down towards the river Feshie, keeping the steeper banks around the stream head of Coire Gorm to the right of us.

The descent down the heather flanks of Meall Dubhag was quite challenging due to the height of the heather and the very uneven ground underfoot but large patches of snow sped things up, giving us the chance to glissade for 20-100 meters at a time!

We aimed for the edge of the larger forested area before the river and on arrival at the woods headed around them to pick up a well trodden track leading back to the small house (Auchlean) at the end of the road leading back to the car park area.
It's worth pointing out that after heavy rain or snow melt (we had both!) the small streams leading off the mountain side and into the Feshie run very high and the path (and footbridges) are the only safe way to navigate across these without getting a boot-full! 

Route map from Social Hiking (recorded on my GS3 with ViewRanger)


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