East Ben Avoncamping, hike

It was getting to the point of the year for snow tunnels – gullies with deep snow can have water flowing in a stream below sculpting them out into abstract works of art. Rather than return to Lochnagar, I thought I’d have another look at Ben Avon’s east side where the topography looked likely, do some exploration and go and check the gullies I’d spied on a recent traverse where I’d ended up on the mountain’s south east corner.

Beinn a Bhuird

I headed off from Keiloch under blue skies, and enjoyed the trip up through the forest with assorted butterflies and insects flitting around, and the ground peppered with spring flower splashes of colour.

Through the forest
Splashes of colour in the undergrowth
Fairly new bench

It was hot work tramping the Culardoch ‘road’ and either side there were fresh patches of burned heather, the stench of recent burning acrid to the nose, the soot-clogged ditches draining downstream. A hidden trap contained a congealed mess of fur and bone. Invercauld are a horrible estate, obstinate in their Victorian cruelty.

Culardoch ‘road’
Beside the recent muirburn, this older patch from years back still showed no regrowth; the apparent reason for it. It’s just backward bullshit from hundreds of years ago
Black and white destruction. A few skulls peppered amongst the burnt stems

I turned down the Allt na Claise Moire, it’s wilder and there’s barely a rough path but avoided another 70m of height gained sticking to the main track before it turns downhill towards the River Gairn.

Ben Avon with route of ascent ahoy
Small waterfall on Allt na Claise Moire

Across the River Gairn, I hid my main rucksack with camping kit, and proceeded with a lighter run pack. The planned route was quite long so saving weight would help expedite proceedings, there’d likely be some scrambling and confined tunnel creeping which would be hindered with a large pack.

Crossing the River Gairn
parasitic wasp. long tail isn’t a sting but but for laying eggs into larvae of wood-boring insects. probably in xoridinae family

Looking up to the mountain I could see some of the snow patches were ‘speckled’ and a closer look through the monocular revealed large herds of deer getting relief from the midday heat.

Head of Allt an Eas Mhoir, destination later on
Speckles on a snow patch: deer herd
zoomed in through monocular

I headed east and meandered off-path amongst some small glacial mounds and old ruins of presumably shielings.

Pond in Gairn flood plain with hunting hut beyond
Old shieling remnants
Boggy between the glacial mounds

The first gully target of the day was the Allt Phouple, from a few miles back I’d seen it still had a good chunk of snow. There’s a landrover track to it’s right but I thought it’d be more fun to follow the stream, and after a short impassable steep sided section at the bottom with some waterfalls, it becomes pleasantly grass-banked with some deer paths and occasional side-hopping I made my way upstream. Getting closer, I got a look inside the Allt Bad a Mhonaidh and could see there was some snow left there: an inspection via the monocular, a check of the watch showed ahead of schedule, so I departed the Allt Phouple for the time being.

Bottom of Allt Phouple
Possibly some old stonework. Would have been a good location for an illicit still
Waterfalls on lower Allt Phouple
Steep sides quickly widen
Following the stream along grassy banks
Diverging from the Allt Phouple. “Barns” snow patch

The stream tumbled through waterfalls and I scrambled steeply upwards, leaping from bank to bank to avoid slabs and sheer sides, before reaching a holed snow tunnel with the water splashing past refreshingly, I’d seen this just in time with it likely to be only a few days before the structure crumbled.

Getting steeper. Jumping from side to side to find easiest route
Getting tricky. A bit of care needed as slippery
Long waterslide
Just a wee bit of snow left in this stream
The splashing is sweet relief after a hot climb
Black white and blue at the Allt Bad a Mhonaidh

I contoured back across to the Phouple, underneath “the barns” snow patches on grassy terrain where I saw a lizard scampering into the undergrowth.

Reaching the bottom of the Phouple snow patch, this was a far deeper deposit and the tunnel inside was dark and exhaled fog: no go. I followed the bank up on the grass and rocks to the side, although I could have kicked steps in the snow one would be wary to fall through into tumbling water below.

Allt Phouple deep snow patch
Allt Phouple tunnel: currently dark and ‘foggy’ this would need a few weeks to be large enough to enter easily
Unusual patterns and covering of chaff on this snow patch

At further ceiling holes I got another look inside albeit with not much space I got a bit of a soaking both from water dripping from above and the stream splashing underneath. I’d taken an ice axe and between that and an elbow smashed out some larger entry points.

Higher up the Allt Phouple

Leaving to climb upwards, I noticed a small movement at my foot: another lizard, which I’d apparently managed to step on amongst the grass: unfortunately it stopped moving and possibly expired (although later research has revealed lizards can ‘play dead’ to avoid predation and I really hope this was the case) which allowed a close up inspection. It looking entirely undamaged and I lay it down in a sunny spot if there was any chance for it to recover.

Hopefully just faking and not crushed

Reaching the upper reaches of the Allt Phouple I headed across the plateau past the small tor of Clach an t-Saighdeir and made towards Sgor Riabhach which being a large eastward cleft into the plateau where two deep stream gullies meet before plummeting downwards, was a likely large tunnel location.

Shallow gap under the last of the snow higher up

Crossing the Allt an Sgoir Rhiabhaich, it’s steep walls had me detour upstream and then loop around to the northern fork and follow that gully bac around from the head which started shallow and then deepened, and as expected held a lot of snow. Some gaps in the side of the snow allowed a look inside: some large tunnels but very heavy overhead, and the stream plunged deeply into black depths; not a place to take chances.

Clach an t-Saighdeir
Startled ptarmigan scurrying out of sight
Allt an Sgoir Riabhaich gully
Big snow bank
Tiny bridge
Following the northern branch back down
Algae amongst the snow
Small entry point under large snow bank
Stream heading down towards the junction into dark depths
Sgor Riabhach – pointy hill of the grey rock
Junction of streams above Sgor Riabhach

I wonder if it’s possible to scramble up the steep outflow from below, one for exploration on another day.

I was behind schedule now so made my way over to Clach Choutsaich, wanting to have a nosey down the Allt an Eas Mhoir and also look for an old ruin.

Outcrop standing above the forks of upper Allt an Sgoir Riabhach
Forks of upper Allt an Sgoir Riabhach
Crystal clear mossy pools below Clach Choutsaich
Clach Choutsaich is an impressive large tor

There was a big bank of snow terminating at the burn, and I followed it down looking into the odd side streamlet hole, before ascending the other side and contouring around to north of Stob Dubh an Eas Bhig, where despite a large snow wall there wasn’t much happening tunnel-wise.

Over the hill and down to the top of Allt an Eas Mhoir. Top of Ben Avon at the back
Deep snow retreating
Following the stream down
Diverging to a fork above Stob Dubh an Eas Bhig. Big snow bank at the head

Following a side stream down again, I happened upon the ruin I was looking for around the 950m contour at NJ 1380 0066. I’d read somewhere that this may have been a shelter for Victorian gem-hunters. It’s certainly an isolated and high location for a shieling.

Gem hunters’ hut ruin
Nosey Ptarmigan heading towards summer outfit

I rejoined the Allt an Eas Mhoir and headed down to the Gairn. I was beginning to run out of daylight but also becoming tired and the thought of setting up camp, having my food and a beer, extinguished thoughts of investigating the Allt an Eas Bhig.

Lower down the Allt an Eas Mhoir still some chunky snow tunnels

I collected my kit, crossed over The Gairn and unpacked at Allt na Claise Moire where there’s some good flat grassy spots.

Pitched without pegs

I’d made a rooky error: the pegs were missing! The lanshan is a pole supported tent that needs pegging out, so I was almost resigned to staying in a flappy nylon bivi, when I had an idea: I gathered some stems from a nearby muir-burned heather patch, then using a walking pole prodded guide holes in the ground that would then accept twig entry sufficiently far without snapping. The tent was up, a bit shoogly but barring high wind would do. Phew.

Twig peg substitute

In the morning, it began to drizzle but I thought I’d explore a bit more before heading back and headed up Carn Liath to have a nosey at what had looked like ‘caves’ from afar.

Carn Liath NE side. This looked ‘cavey’ from a distance
Following a rocky ridge up
Carn Liath plateau

Carn Liath is no longer a corbett having been demoted for a slightly higher mound nearby, but the real tip of Carn Liath nonetheless deserves a marker at it’s highest point, and having reached that and checked with GPS, and it having no cairn, I thought I’d spend 10 minutes constructing a small one so that the hill may be conquered correctly and not mistakenly the nearby outcrop which is slightly lower.

My new cairn marks the correct top of the hill

Heading down across a patch of muirburn I encountered this drainage ditch. The Dee Trust are desperately trying to improve conditions for salmon in the head waters as temperatures rise, planting trees along riverbanks, but for every mile of that lower down there’s another hundred like this out of sight, scorched and bare and feeding warm dirty water downhill, the same estates unwilling to contemplate that intensive grouse activity doesn’t make for good hydrology or aquatic ecology.

Scorched dirty drainage

Down then the dusty road to Keiloch, with some on the hoof calculations indicating I’d miss a bus, allowing a further detour of a couple hours. I headed east behind Craig Leek on the trail before venturing across some outcrops and fields to see a ruined village. The geology here is limestone which is why the fields are very green and grassy.

This branch is a fighter
Track around north side of Craig Leek
Off trail heading down some outcrops
Remnants of old township
The Stuic in the distance

First stop was what Canmore describes as a “water mill” though I suppose it could be an illicit whisky still. Following downstream, many ruins appeared in the fields; this was Balloch, a settlement of over 40 buildings who according to Cairngorm Club description was “of the late 18th century who were weavers; the estate didn’t approve of them, possibly because they were Catholics and continually harassed them and their priest who had to flee. The 30 families living here decided to leave and emigrated en masse to Canada.”

“water mill” ruin

Now a ghostly remnant, inhabited only by a flutter of pippits, a rabbit or two and no doubt sheep on occasion.

Craig Leek behind ruins
Lots of fluttering around the mossy ruins
Morven? in the distance

Looking past Balloch to Lochnagar

Across the Felagie burn, overlooked by the retree’d crags of Craig Leek, I made it back onto a track and then across the bog flat, tramping to Keiloch.

Plenty yellow. Marsh marigold?
Something primrosey
Craig Leek is growing green
Grassy. The area is a limestone nook so has a different vegetative feel
Ford ok on a dry day
Across Felagie bog

Nearing the end I still had some time on hand so pottered: first around Felagie then scouted for camping spots in the woods near Keiloch (one day I’ll miss the last bus)

Monument near Felagie girl guide’s hut
Girl guides hut
Heading to Keiloch

A lot of the woods near Keiloch are very hummocked so not much flat ground but did find a couple spots that could be used at a pinch to pitch a tent. There was also a pond with some small islands and ‘bridges’ and old hides, probably for local gamekeepers to shoot ducks

A bridge of sorts
Old hides around the pond

A good variety of terrain explored, although I’d not quite seen everywhere I’d wanted to so I reckoned I’d be back soon for another look.

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