Ben Avonhike, mountain bike

2 weeks after the recce trip it was the weekend of the club snowhole trip, but unfortunately those efforts were in vain as there was insufficient interest from members. I’d pondered heading out myself, but it’s a tough gig digging one yourself and there’s safety to consider too, both from temperature (a week of daytime temps well above zero makes for a weaker snowpack) and general safety. Coire Boidheach would have to wait until next year.

A plan for a daytrip was hastily assembled to make the most of the blue sky spring conditions, and a combo bike/hike up Ben Avon was chosen.

Heading off from Keiloch
Past a picture postcard Invercauld house
Mountains ho! A crisp spring morning for cycling

Entering Glen Slugain I stopped to layer down and open vents on my trousers (the most excellent Keela Roadrunner which although designed for bike use make for great hiking trousers too) – it’s a long slow gradient, getting rougher towards the top, and we were sheltered from forecast strong southernly winds within the glen’s shelter

Up Glen Slugain
Popping out of Glen Slugain to a view of Beinn a Bhuird
View west to Cairn Toul
Beinn a Bhuird and Carn Eas
Heading north, still clear of snow
Looking into the southern corrie of Beinn a Bhuird, Coire na Ciche
Getting closer to dumping the bikes, snow now banking out the path in places

At the usual bike dumping spot at the ford at Clach a Cleirich, a large snow bank had covered the burn entirely. Assembled my lightweight mountain king poles and we were on the march up towards the sneck.

Burn at the ford entirely snow-covered.
Quite early in the year for a caterpillar? Duly moved to some heather where it’d find something to munch on
Heading up towards the Sneck. The burn was mostly buried, but kept clear of it higher up the side
Spots where the snow bridge had collapsed
Drifts above
Burn appearing from under the snow pack
Larger drifts on the side of Cnap a Chleirich

Arriving at the sneck, the wind was now howling: I stuck my Mountain Hardwear Atherm top back on, as the breeze was getting chillier. I really love this top – it’s a polartec alpha direct one with a fluffy interior that works well to keep warm but also dissipate sweat. It’s quite breathable though so was reaching it’s limit in the strong wind now.

The Sneck

With the wind whistling past I put the hammer down up the zig-zags and across the plateau which still had full snow cover. The main tor became visible and we hurried over keen to get some shelter behind it. We were joined by a group who’d been staying at Faindouran bothy.

Getting closer
Looking back
Sheltered spot for lunch. Didn’t go on top: very icey

A lunch of cold snacks and a flask of hot chocolate, then time to head back into the wind and sun.

“..Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
Iā€™ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace..”

From High Flight
by John Gillespie Magee

The Faindouran group had left ahead of us

The snow had a thin glistening crust on it: at 4c (although a windchill of -10) there’d be melting/overnight freezing occurring

Looking south east to Lochnagar
A Chioch in front of the south top of Beinn a Bhuird
Back down to the sneck
Crags of Garbh Choire
Sneck up to Cnap a Chleirich

The path was awash and acting as a stream with snowmelt. It could do with a few drainage channels cut here and there to stop the water cutting ruts

We stopped for water refill at a waterfall and chatted to a chap who’d been out for a scramble in Garbh Choire, it was a long walk back to Keiloch for him without a bike.

Back at the bikes
A last look at the corries of Beinn a Bhuird

It’s a long descent, and now sheltered again from the wind, great fun. The left track high above the fairy glen although neither as steep or technical as the path into the bottom of the glen, twists and turns pleasingly and has moments of rocky spice.

Above fairy glen
Whizzing down, glad of the full suspension on some of the rockier bits
Looking back up a hazy glen
We splashed through the fords
Lochnagar above Meall an Tionail
Larches of Invercauld

We didn’t detour up around Craig Leek this time, with 36km in the bag it was plenty to make it back to Keiloch just in time for sunset. The snow is beginning to melt now and with temperatures rising, fair to say that spring is now in full swing. I imagine the next visit to the mountains will see trails mostly clear of snow.

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