A’ Chiochhike, mountain bike

I’ve been lucky with blue-sky weather this winter, and with another one imminent for the weekend, I dithered with different plans of what to do. A fellow club member got in touch with a proposed trip to Beinn a Bhuird or Ben Avon, which made no further thought necessary: “I’m in”

Being a single-day mission, and needing to be back in the evening prompt, I dug out my airnimal rhino folding mountain bike to fit into the small car alongside another, we’d cycle in as far as snow would allow.

Setting off at Keiloch the tarmac was clear, but some areas in the trees were icey, and I almost crashed going round a shaded corner; fortunately a lower seat than normal adjusted for this scenario, allowed a quick ‘foot-down’ and saved a spill.

Morning sun streaming to A’ Chioch

We decided to dump the bikes at the fork to Fairy Glen, and proceeded along the downward fork into fresh snow

Fairy Glen in The Slugain
Various beast prints criss-crossing the trail

Coming out of the glen past the lodge, there were some deep snow banks albeit not as drastic as our last visit in January.

Big whorls of snow at the head of the glen

Surveying the terrain, we came to decision time: we’d pondered Ben Avon, or Beinn a Bhuird via various ways. We could see more snow than expected, but the side of Carn Fiaclach had stripes of clear terrain, we thought ‘glen sneck’ would be deep. Bhuird selected we headed down to ford the river; a misunderstanding of where we should ford led us upstream.

Heading upstream

Above the river a cracking view to A Chioch and Coire n Ciste

We followed along the bank looking for an easy crossing, but matters were complicated by an edge of ice of unknown strength; as we headed further the ice intruded more until a small gap remained. Fortunately it’s strength was sufficient and saved an early knee-deep soaking

Can we cross here? Let’s try further along
Crossing the frozen Quoich Water with a single step

Making for Carn Fiaclach, the sun was now creating a heat shimmer, and reaching the ascent we stopped for a pleasant coffee break on one of the diagonal ‘terraces’ that provide a zig-zag passage upwards.

Away to have a coffee break seat
Bird wings take-off print
Unlikely to make it around to ‘glen sneck’ today
Solifluction grooves in Lar-choire Sneachdach
Hazy distant views

We noted a party ahead of us, and then crossed their tracks – skiers skinning up. Where as they were trying to stay on snow at all times, we were doing the opposite and trying to avoid the layer of soft new snow. Higher up it can’t be avoided, and this time the steep patch could be step-kicked rather than requiring crampons.

Ski trails towards The Laird’s Tablecloth
Looking back down the river crossed earlier
Kicking steps up a steeper snow field
Unusual sculpted rock in the boulder field
Skier heading back down

Reaching the plateau we reassessed plans: there wasn’t going to be enough time to loop around towards Ben Avon. We headed for A’ Chioch instead – I’d never had a close look at it’s tors, always being in a hurry on a long route, but today we’d cut short see that and the Bhuird south top and head back.

A Chioch tor above Coire na Ciste
Around the coire
Coire an Dubh Lochain
Lunchtime view

We sat in the lee of a tor for lunch, although only a gentle breeze it was chilly enough. There’s another tor nearby and below a slope punctuated with slabs down to the river.

A Chioch tor above Cor na Ciche

We headed back across the plateau, crunching on sastrugi towards the south top – debate ensued; on the map the south top is 1179m, but I was told most considered the 1177m cairn 1km south to be the south top. We headed first to the map one, and then to the cairn

Sastrugi crunching
Mountains north west
Looking past Derry Cairngorm to the mountains of the Lairig Ghru
Cairn Gorm at the back, Beinn Chaorainn front, Beinn Mheadhoin edge left
Churned up snow at small rocky outcrop: ski tourers rest point
Cairn ‘south top’ 2m lower than map top

We enjoyed the panorama of crisp winter mountains from the cairn before starting the homeward leg. Past the Laird’s Tablecloth the ground steepened; I could feel the fresh snow slipping off the older neve below a bit and got the ice axe in hand

Winter panorama from Beinn a Bhuird south top
Laird’s Tablecloth, a dusting of fresh snow overlaying hard neve
Lochnagar in the distance
Carn Eas
On closer inspection, a hollow here has had a windslab layer collapse as a small avalanche – break line down from the top, debris below
Hare highway
Back across Quoich water

Across the river and back on to the Ben Avon track, we found it snow-filled, but others out today had broken trail at the edge through heather

Head of The Slugain

We collected the bikes and enjoyed the gradual descent down, some snow and ice had thawed since we set off making progress less tentative.

Back towards Keiloch

30km day out nicely timed to sunset

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