Cross Fhearnaighike

The Cairngorm Club Burns Supper at Muir Cottage was great fun last year and I was back for it again. Unlike last year with snow from the hut door, and still clear cold, this time it was yet-another-storm, every weekend for months seeming to have been hindered by very high wind. Plans for a return to Beinn Bhrotain or Bhuird were quickly quashed as long days and hard enough but with 40 gusting 60mph higher up, a bit of a tough challenge before a social evening. Something lower down was required to get an appetite for the haggis later. A few of us headed off for a loop through Clais Fhearnaig between Glen Derry and Glen Quoich, the “clash” being a narrow gap that cuts across thanks to glacial meltwater at the end of the last ice age.

Gloomy outlook from Black Bridge down Glen Lui
Into Clais Fhearnaig

I try and incorporate an element of exploration into ‘easy’ days out to make things a bit more interesting, and a gully previously eyed was added to the route. I’d enjoyed a sortie up the Allt a Mhadaidh previously, and once further east into the clash proper, another nook presented uphill on the north side. We’d go up and back down a wee bit, see what was there. With a lot of recent snow melt, the waterfall at the bottom was flowing nicely and a bit of a barrier. The steep sides here were either rocky (and loose as untrod) or deep heather, I chose the heathery side and grabbed handfuls to aid my feet.

Lower waterfall
Lookingback: tufty heather and loose rocks and gravel

After a few hundred metres and a smaller secondary waterfall it began to taper off, and rather than thrunge further alongside the burn, climbed up and out on to a small rocky edge to the right.

Upper waterfall
Top of the gully has a kind of ring shaped hollow with a central hummoch
Rocky copse around the edge
Some snow drifts surviving in the folds and hollows

Out into the open and even at 600m we were blasted by the wind. We didn’t fancy doing the gully in reverse so decided to follow along the top, until we found a slight hollow for a lunch break. Opposite, the south side is boulder-strewn, I scanned it with my monocular having heard tales of howffs there but no sign of anything obvious. We tucked our food away and headed on. What next: to keep on going along or to try and head down the steep side?

Looking south across Clais Fhearnaig
Zoom across Creag Bhalg to Glen Ey. Creag an Lochain jutting out?

The map had a burn down, and it’s grassy slopes tempted us as safe passage down the gradient. The odd rocky outcrop required avoidance, and once down below looking back up we could see that in general the hillside here is covered in small cliffs and would be hazardous to come down elsewhere.

Down following the burn
Up above Clais Fhearnaig
Almost down looking across to the other boulder-fieldy side
Crossed a boulder-stepped shallow and looking east

We decided to follow a scratch in the heather up on the other side. I imagine that 99.99% of people sensibly head through the clais following the path and not fighting gravity, but ach, a short day out and better earn the whisky.

Up the other side: Looking back west. Snow wraith above Glen Derry
Looking back at descent gap
Beinn a Bhuird cloud-capped
Beinn a Chaorainn Beag to the north

We rejoined a track across Creag Bhalg, and saw a cairn and considered it as a shelter for a coffee break, but the wind was whistling past. The cairn has a surprise in it – a small shelter with a roof, propped up by some old logs. I crawled inside with some difficulty and trepidation that the rocks might fall in and bang my head, the wood is rickety and the space only fit for a very small person or dog really.

Rickety roof of rocks and old logs
Heading to Doire Bhraghad

As we headed to Doire Bhraghad and passed some of the old twisted trees we began to debate the mechanism of twisting – were they all the same ‘hand’?

This tree has seen some storms

We found a spot under a grand old pine for the delayed coffee break and watched clouds sweeping past. I mulled on the twisted trees: perhaps the south facing side catching more sun grows leaves more profusely, which then creates a mismatch in wind resistance to the prevailing westerly winds, creating a tendency for anti-clockwise twists. One for some investigation in future: more data required. (A subsequent search found an interesting discussion with some backing to my theory but also scepticism).

Anti-clockwise twisted tree-wreck

The track back down to Black Bridge was pretty soggy, awash like a small burn in places, could do with a few channels dug to save it becoming a flash-drained rut.

We timed our return to Muir well as the sky darkened. I had another task to quickly do before sunset though: I’d volunteered to give up a bunk to get one other space freed, by taking my tent to camp outside.

I’d bought the salewa litetrek pro for windy days and this was exactly that, albeit not up a mountain. It’s easy to ‘build’ in high wind, similar to a hilleberg soulo in that sleeves hold the pole foot then the tent clips up to external poles which means there’s no sudden “sail moment” when you have to go from flat to 3D when inserting poles. Constructed I could now go and enjoy the evening, some great craic, food and drink.

Burns Supper under way

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