Morvenhike, mountain bike

A fortnight of seemingly endless rain and gloom had preceded this trip; I hoped much of it had been falling as snow higher up and was encouraged by the Sentinel Satellite view from a brief window on the 6th showing the Cairngorms painted solidly white, I fancied a mountain run, but a shout from a mate changed weekend plans to a combo bike/hike, and we hastily decided on Morven as doable within time and pace limits.

Heading off from Cambus O’May – trails a lot squishier than my last couple visits
A bit harder to cross the Culsten Burn at a higher level. Huawei p30 pro has a useful ‘auto silky water’ mode

The plan was to ascend the track between Crannach and Culblean hills, I’d only ever been on the lower part but the gradient from OS maps seemed OK to be fully bikeable.

The OS maps shows double-dash, but it’s pretty much singletrack all the way
It gets quite overgrown and narrow, but the scenery is decent

I was glad in some ways that because of the hike to come I’d worn trousers, these were saving my shins from a heather-scraping from the narrow trail but also soaking up the dew. I’d have put on waterproof overtrousers but felt the steady climb would steam them up too much.

Opening out
Then closing back in. A fair amount of water trickling down the trail
View back. Higher up the trail was a stream
Over the watershed and down another stream heading on to open moor
A few foaming flood-filled burns to cross
Water everywhere
Emerging on to the landy track at the foot of morven.

My initial plan had been to dump the bikes here and then walk a loop over Morven, but it being 10k, though it better to reduce the walk part by grinding through another few km on the bike and then walking up and back rather than looping.

After a couple map-checks on some tracks heading up the side of the hill, we reached the correct one. Heading up it didn’t look like there’d be the deep snow predicted – not seeing any until past 600m

Looking back as heading into the clouds
Fully in cloud by 700m
A bit more snow, quite soft and melty. Posts a handy marker on the way
Something moving in the gloom
Prints of other residents though didn’t see any
Reaching the top was relatively easy, a still and mild day
The book cache buried under snow

After a blether to a runner who was doing the Deeside runner christmas challenge to do a bunch of peaks in the area, we headed off.

With winter runs in mind, it can often be tough going on the plateau where deep snow can mean hard work ‘post-holing’ each footstep. I’d always pondered a pair of snowshoes for those types of days, but hummed-n-hawed about them: bulky and heavy extra kit. I’d read about inflatable snowshoes – lighter and more compact, but not cheap; a chance appearance of a pair on ebay, 60 quid lighter, and I was waiting for a chance to test them. I’d brought them along to try out, and on the way down found a section of drifted track that had maybe 3 feet depth.

These are from and I think are either the original kickstarter version or maybe a military batch, as all the new ones are red. They take a few minutes to blow up, and the tangle of straps didn’t initially inspire confidence, but once pumped and on, I was pretty impressed.

They sank in between an inch and a few inches, but without these on I’d postholed up to the knee in the same patch. The snow was soft/thawing without any crust, but not powdery at all. The felt light on the feet, and running in them was possible

Floating well alongside postholing prints from going the other way
The foot is suspended in straps between the inflatable sides so sinks an inch or two lower which provides good traction
Run test successful

Only a quick test but pretty impressed. There is the additional faff of inflating/deflating, but I think worthwhile if off-path and traversing deep snow for more than perhaps half-an-hour. I’ll need to try a sterner test with fresh powder and steeper slopes. I reduced the pack weight to just over 1kg by leaving the attachable crampons behind (they’re pretty chunky) and swapping the original heavyweight dry bags for one lightweight one of 6L.

Descending below cloud, beginning to clear a bit
Yay a break in the gloom
Even a ray of sun!
Nice scenery for the descent back to the bikes

Back on the bikes, the break in the clouds was short lived and the drizzle came on and the gloom began to chase us off the hill

Looking past Crannach hill to Peter’s hill
Misty moorland vistas
Top o the glen. Now just let gravity do it’s thing
An interesting and fun ride down, splashing through mini-rapids and pools, then on to muddy off-camber bits trying to not dab the foot
Clag over Crannach hill
Slippery leaf mulch on the track lower down. It doesn’t look like it gets much bike traffic, so unlike the trendy ‘rad’ trails near Ballater and Aboyne, not been churned to obliteration.
Back across Culsten burn, same old waterfall

A really enjoyable descent to finish off the day.

I remembered one last thing – a rinse to get the worst of the considerable mud off the bike, there’s a handy pool or two not far from the car park.

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