Sunday, 11 October 2015

The Highs & Lows Of Munros 2 & 6

The second cycle trip of my holiday to Aviemore & for this adventure I had planned on bagging another couple of munros, Ben Macdui & Cairngorm, Scotland's 2nd & 6th highest mountains.
So before going any further I suggest you make yourself a mug of coffee or tea as it's going to be quite a long blog post... 
...ready ?
 Then let's go mountain biking on a Rock Mountain mountain bike up some rocky mountains.

 My day started taking my van up to the base station car park of Cairngorm mountain which is already half way up the mountain at an altitude of 635 metres (2,083 feet)
 There I met up with the rest of the clan so that we could take the funicular railway to the top station where there is a very interesting visitor centre informing of the history, geology & ecology of the mountain range as well as a shop, outdoor viewing terrace & the ptarmigan restaurant.

After enjoying coffee & cakes in the ptarmigan restaurant we soaked up the views from the outdoor viewing terrace then visited probably the highest shop in the country before going back down on the funicular to the base station.

The funicular railway is Scotland's only one, it was opened in 2001 & has a total track length of 1,970 metres (6,460 ft) during which the route rises 462 metres (1,515 ft) Most of the route is single track other than a passing loop half way. Up to 120 standing passengers can be carried in each of the system's two carriage's. The funicular railway operates by hauling up one carriage using electric motors to pull the haul rope as the other carriage descends at the same time. 

Now back down at the base station & I was itching to get going but firstly wanted to get a couple of pictures of the funicular from the outside.

Back to the van & a quick change of clothes into Mtb Innerwick Stravaiger, a quick goodbye to the family & I was on my way on track heading for Ben Macdui.

The track is well used by walkers & mostly ridable with the odd rain channels to hop over.

The same picture but the bottom one zoomed in & it's amazing how the sheer scale & vastness of the mountain just swallows up the top station which is a big building & was barely visible.

Knowing that this track was too good to be true I soon had to lift the bike over the shoulders to clamber over boulders through a boggy section.

Another couple of images of the funicular track & top station.

Before long the track became so steep & strewn with boulders that the only way up was to hike a bike taking one step at a time.

Disaster ..!
Just as the steep boulder covered ridge that the track followed levelled off a bit so that I could cycle 'twang' went my chain !
What now ?
I normally carry a spare chain link with me but stupidly forgot to pack one in my back pack, so I took five to catch my breath, have a drink & think what to do.
 Do I just cut my losses, give up & go back the way I came & try again next year, or keep going & just free wheel where I could & push & carry the bike the rest of the way.
Opting for the latter I thought that since it was just after mid day & it starts getting dark at 7pm that gives me 7 hours to ramble my way around, so slightly gutted at my bad luck but by no means disheartened off I went on my mountain quest.

It was a lovely sunny afternoon & all that I could hear was the crunch of the gravel track beneath my boots.

The scenery was absolutely stunning & I was just as happy pushing & carrying my bike as I would of been riding it.

The path that I was following took me along the top edge of the Lairig Ghru. The Lairig Ghru is a boulder covered glacial valley gouged out by glaciers during the ice age & in more recent times has been used as a hill pass climbing some 835 metres (2,739 ft) as it crosses the central Cairngorms, one of the wildest & remotest parts of the country. I'm going to plan a trip next year along the Lairig Ghru via the Chalamain Gap which will be interesting & I will make sure I have a spare chain link with me too !

Forever climbing higher then all of a sudden the track ends at a boulder field, the route was clearly marked by many small cairns as a guide to follow. Sure footing was required as this is the last place that you would want to go over on your ankle.

With the summit of Ben Macdui in sight & a final climb up following the line of more cairns.

A small stretch of moonscape scenery left to climb & before I know it...
...Ben Macdui was conquered.
 Scotland & the U.K's second highest mountain standing tall at 1309 metres (4294 ft)
The trig point at the summit, my highest trig to date & there's only one higher which is on the summit of Ben Nevis.
Also up here was a toposcope pillar which was hard to read as it's been well battered by the extreme weather up here.

The views looking over the Cairngorm mountain range was quite breathtaking to say the least & I was in absolute awe of the views around me proud that this is the land that I call home. After a few pictures it was time to fill my belly, but during my haste to get going I left all my food in the van along with my map, but with views like this my hunger was satisfied for now.
From the summit of Ben Macdui I zoomed in & could make out the second mountain I'd planned to reach, Cairngorm mountain which seemed a long long way away.

The summit of the Ben Macdui is a rock & boulder covered plateau with nowhere to hide if the weather turns foul but today I was spoiled by beautiful & still early autumn weather.
 While up here I met a couple who I had a great conversation with, very unusual for me I normally avoid speaking to people I'm not good at meeting new people hence how I like being in the middle of nowhere on my own ! They told me that they loved the Aviemore area so much that they decided to move up here, of which I was very envious of them, they were both into mountain biking too & were telling me that they were at Whistler bike park in British Columbia, Canada, they really had my attention & I was even more envious by now, Whistler is my dream holiday & it was brilliant listening to their stories of their time there, I spend half the time on my computer watching you-tube footage of Whistler bike park . After a great blether with really nice people they set off on their way back down off the mountain. 

Throughout my climb up here I kept on seeing snow here & there from last seasons snowfall which will be covered by fresh snow again in a matter of weeks.

While taking time out to enjoy my environment I couldn't believe my eyes as I saw a couple of snow buntings foraging within a few feet of me, they seemed not to have any fear of me what so ever. Snow buntings which are Arctic specialists with a circumpolar Arctic breeding range throughout the northern hemisphere. There are small isolated populations on a few high mountain tops south of the Arctic region, including here at the Cairngorms & the Saint Elias mountains on the southern Alaska-Yukon border & I was lucky enough to see these high altitude rare birds :-)

A final look around me & then I set off inspired by the couple I'd just met towards Cairngorm dreaming of Whistler.
Among the boulder fields there were often huge chunks of marble which looked really out of place.

Following the route that I'd taken on the climb up I soon took another track to my right past Lochan Buidhe towards Cairngorm mountain.

More marble boulders next to the track, some covered with lichen fungi.

With the setting sun my shadow was getting longer & a good reminder that I need to get moving before I'm stuck up here in the dark.

As the sun was going down an eerie silence was present with a couple of ravens which I was convinced were following me, mind games in my head went into overdrive & I was thinking that the ravens were cawing to each other discussing which eyeball to eat first ! I knew I still had a fair bit to go to get to Cairngorm & was starting to become more concious that I could be in trouble here if it gets dark & I get stuck up here.

A welcome sight became clear as I could see the summit of Cairngorm mountain.

Loch Morlich down below in the Glenmore forest. As the sun lowered in the horizon the colours & shadows it was creating on the mountain slopes & rocks was amazing to see.

I had to keep reminding myself to get a move on before it gets dark, but the  colours & views were almost hypnotic it was hard not to keep stopping to take pictures.

Looking back the way I'd came, the scenery other than the track itself was completely unspoilt by man & looked like the beginning of time.

The final climb to the top.

Stopping to catch my breath I could now see the car park zooming in with my camera where my van was parked down at the bottom base station & a sense of relief was felt as I hadn't much further to go now.

Made it at last, the weather station & the summit of Cairngorm mountain the sixth highest mountain in the Scotland standing tall at 1245 metres (4,084 ft)

A couple of Google pictures of the weather station during the winter months & you can see clearly why this mountain range is classed as sub Arctic.

The summit cairn & a row of cairns guiding you off the mountain down to the path, helping conserve this rugged but fragile eco system.

Spending ten minutes enjoying the euphoric feeling that there's not many people if any people at all higher than I was unless they are up at the summit of the five higher mountains in the country. Taking photos for my collection of beautiful places to look back on.

Feeling accomplished I could finally get on my bike & free wheel off the mountain following the row of cairns down to a pathway & leading to the ptarmigan top station.
The bottom picture is all the skiing routes on the mountain. 

Making my way down the sunset was creating some amazing colours that I just had to keep stopping for a few pictures, it was also to let my brakes cool down a bit on this fast descent.

The track downwards started off with a gravel track with rain gutters every few feet but then track soon turned into quite technical steps to negotiate, some quite steep so I had to have my wits about me as I went down, but still going fast enough to enjoy a good buzz, it was great to finally be on the bike & for this descent it was worth all the huffing & puffing carrying the bike to get to this point.

Now at the bottom base station & my arms & shoulders were feeling the toil of all those steps.
Looking back up to the summit of Cairngorm mountain & the top station it was a long way up that I just came down.
Note the phone box, which is the U.K's highest working public telephone box !

Here at the base station it is normally packed full of people, but at this time of night there were just a few die hard walkers & a daft mountain biker left.

Bike loaded up & into the van I made my way down the ski road back down to our holiday cottage in Aviemore with a huge grin from ear to ear absolutely buzzing at my adventure.

On my way back I just had to stop & take some photos of the sunset over Loch Morlich & the surrounding mountains it was stunning to see.

So that was my second bike trip of my holiday. I had planned another day out cycling the 'Burma road'. But with my chain snapping it kind of put paid to that adventure, although I did buy a chain link from one of the bike shops in Aviemore but I never got around to putting it on with all the stuff that we were doing during our stay, but hey ho there's always next year to plan for & I can't wait :-)

So I hope you enjoyed the climb up Scotland's 2nd & 6th highest mountains & I'm sure you'll agree it was worth hanging that bike over my shoulders for those stunning views !

Thanks for reading & I hope you enjoyed as much as I did doing it, cheers for now.