Carn a Mhaimhike, mountain bike, trail running

This weekend I decided on another bike/hike/run from Braemar, making the most of the furthest outpost on my regular bus route to the mountains while daylight allowed. A rare outing for my airnimal rhino, an unusual contraption: a folding bike (allowing it to be hefted on to buses) but it has full suspension and large (for a folder) wheels, making it trail worthy. It’ll eat trails that would see a brompton buckled into junk.

Setting off from Braemar, it was bright and blue, but with frost on the verges and a deep chill that had pooled in the valley floor.

Road to Linn O’Dee

Arriving at the Linn O’Dee, the overflow car park was already in effect with an attendant turning back cars trying to forge further. Without them it turns into chaos around the main car park with lazy morons blocking the verges.

Crystal clear Dee
Over the Dee
Towards Derry lodge

I made good time to Derry Lodge, where many bikes were parked, which always surprises me as even very tentative cyclists can go further north or west towards the main hills in the vicinity without encountering any unrideable terrain.

Along the Luibeg, path is rough in parts but cyclable by all but the most timid

I passed a few more parked bikes heading west, apart from the short section of boggy ground over the river from the lodge, the 20″ wheels of the airnimal rhino had no bother with the track and I eventually left it in the trees of the Robbers copse beside the Luibeg burn.

Heading up the path to Sron Riach I got a bit of a run on, rapidly shedding any remaining chill. I met a few mountain bikers who’d just crossed the ford at the foot of the Sron Riach ascent, out to do Ben Macdui and the Glen Derry loop, a major undertaking. I wondered if they knew about the climb ahead; about 4km with 700m ascent, much of it over a boulder field. I suspect most mtb’ers do this route only once.

Heading off on foot. Carn a Mhaim, ahead, is where I’ll descend from later

I flicked open the poles and got dug in to the climb. If I managed to get ahead of schedule I’d continue on from Sron Riach and do Ben Macdui, with return being by the Carn a Mhaim ridge which splits from Sron Riach and overlooks the Lairig Ghru.

Looking back as going up Sron Riach
Looking acros to Coire Sputan Dearg
Through some rocky clusters

As I gained height, and the views became more expansive I also looked across to the ridge occasionally to get a better view of what was involved, it’s the only narrow ridge walk in the cairgorms, on the 1:25k map there’s a very narrow looking section – I’m no climber and wouldn’t want a precarious and exposed scramble. There was a section of maybe 100m where the path looked to be on a narrow edge but hard to say from a mile away.

Carn a Mhain ridge
Crags on the other side of Lairig Ghru
The snow patchs in the middle have remained from last winter, deep in the corrie. On the right, the cornice at the top is from recent snowfall

Further up Sron Riach after a few small tors lies the boulder field which continues upwards to the plateau where the summit of Ben Macdui lies. Progress slowed here, and although I’d eeked out a small time advantage, it wasn’t enough to continue to Macdui, so I decided to descend and contour around to the start of the ridge below.

Crag of Sron Riach above Lochan Uaine
Tors of Beinn Mheadhoin to the north-east
Looking across the boulder field to Cairn Toul
Devil’s Point with Beinn Bhrotain behind
Carn a Mhaim
Last night’s snowfall persists in hollows between boulders
Heeading down off the boulder field
Past some slabby bits

I met a few folk ascending to macdui who had come across the ridge and they said it was dead easy, so I plowed on.

A friend had planned camping on the ridge and I could see why – there’s a pool and a grassy area; the views are spectacular – to the west Devil’s peak guards the start of the Lairig Ghru, but then sweeping up to the impressive peaks and corries of Cairn Toul and Braeriach, which after nearby Ben Macdui (2nd) are the 3rd and 4th highest munros.

Flat and grassy at the start of the ridge. Braeriach at the back

Climbing further up the ridge begins to narrow and changes from rounded and vegetated to narrow and rocky. I hoped not too narrow. Cresting some rocks I could see the way ahead, and there was a clear path to follow. A couple rocky bits at the narrowest point were carefully trod; though I’d probably run across these without the presence of big drops on either side. Caution would be needed in windy or winter conditions.

Looking back from the wider part
Getting narrower
Great views left and right
A long way down, Corrour bothy a speck below
Zoomed in
..and a bit further. Quite a few folk camping. Folk that say ‘mountain water is perfectly pure’ should ponder on these types of places.
The Dee twinkling in the glen
Looking back at the ridge

The ridge then widens out quickly, soon giving rise to the name (cairn of the rounded hill) with a view developing around the side of Devil’s Point up Glen Geusachan. I stopped and spoke to a few folk also enjoying the view before starting the descent.

View up Glen Geusachan
The rounded top of Carn a Mhaim

The gentle slope soon steepens, and an endless snake of granite steps stretches below, 25 minutes of clip-clopping tempered by the growing view of foliage as the cleft of luibeg burn drew near.

OK gravity let’s do this
Bike in there amongst the trees
It’s a lot of stairs; thankfully dry today so could tip-tap down reasonably rapidly
Almost back at the Luibeg
Across the stream

A stream refill and a quick bite to eat, a hop across the ford and time to remount for the ride back.

Even with small wheels no bother other than the odd drainage channel
Creag Bad an t-Seabhaig, Crag of the thicket of the hawk
Over the Derry burn

From Derry lodge to the Linn O’Dee is a trudge on foot after a long day, but a quick whisk on the bike. I turned off a side singletrack that runs past a series of falls, it’s mostly ignored by the throng on the main landy track hurrying back to the car park but they’re missing out, as it’s a great scenic end to the day.

Aquamarine hues of the Lui

I decided to take a slightly different route back to Braemar, heading via the back road to Mar Lodge. Mewing overhead alerted me to raptors gliding, enjoying the late afternoon thermals.

Gliding on thermals
Mar Lodge
Autumn red

Back across the victoria bridge it was tarmac for the last few km, following the silvery dee snaking through golden autumn fields. Soon enough I was in farquharsons, enjoying more golden: nectar in a pint shaped glass, and a well earned plate of venison sausage n mash.

The Dee meandering
Tasty sustenance and a seat, braw

All that remained was to dismantle the bike into it’s bag (you never know if you get a large coach or regular one without a boot) for the bus ride home. Pleased that the bike had made a trip happen that otherwise would have been a bit too long on foot: 49km all in.

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