#308 – Remote Loch A’an in the Cairngorms

Remote Loch A’an (Loch Avon) in the Cairngorms

For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in to a new window, then exit that window to go back – go on, it really does work!

The northern Cairngorms with the Loch A’an route in the centre

Our first Cairngorm hill-day of August 2021 (see post #307) had included Cairngorm summit and the Northern Corries, a great introduction to the Cairngorm Plateau for Chris – it had also been a great day out in the sun for Chris, me and Border Collie ‘Mist’.  Our next trip covered a bit of the same ground, but also ventured into more remote territory – we were heading for Loch A’an (Loch Avon).

The Loch A’an route – blue, anti-clockwise.  (Post #307 route shown in red for comparison)

Loch A’an is a fair-sized loch that the tourists never see, as it’s one that you have to work for.  Both routes (shown in blue and red in the map above) were the same distance to walk at about 12 kms, but the Northern Corries route had a total height gain of 810 metres (2656 ft) against 970 metres (3182 ft) for Loch A’ an.  This is due to a significant height loss to reach the loch, height that has to be regained to get back again!

Closer view of the Loch A’an route

Looking at the map beforehand, the descent of Ciste Mhearad to the loch seemed steady enough but the return via Corrie Raibeirt looked as if it might be ‘interesting’, with an initial 230 metre height gain over 560 metres of horizontal travel.  That’s an average gradient of 1-in-3 – now that’s steep!   Beyond the initial steep section, the upper section of the path looked to be at a much easier gradient, and we had been able to see most of that on our Northern Corries trip, a few days earlier.

Setting out from Coire Cas with a cloud inversion over Aviemore in the distance
Literally off the beaten track now – dropping down into Ciste Mhearad
The path above Ciste Mhearad

We set out on another sunny Cairngorm day – this was getting to be a habit!  The Windy Ridge path up to the Ptarmigan lift station seemed to go a bit more quickly this time.  Beyond the Ptarmigan, there was a path marked on the map, but nothing materialised, even using GPS for more accurate location.  The tried and tested method of ‘just head in the general direction’ brought us to the hollow of Ciste Mhearad, which apparently translates as ‘Margaret’s coffin’.  Once there, a path of sorts did turn up.

August snow patches in Ciste Mhearad ….
…. feeding the small stream ….
…. that runs down to join the Garbh Allt (Rough Stream) and the River Nethy

There were a couple of snow patches right at the head of the corrie, remnants of the previous winter.  Not too long ago, patches of snow would survive here all year round, but this has been almost unheard of over recent years.   The now visible path ran next to the small stream, fed by the snow patches and soggy marshy ground above, but the map indicated the path turning away from the stream after about 300 metres, to take a less steep line down to the valley bottom.  Once again, locating the path wasn’t easy.

A faint path heads away towards Loch A’an – but soon disappears!
Back on track again – on the path heading for ‘The Saddle’ above Loch A’an

Once found, the faint path towards ‘The Saddle’ wasn’t easy to follow, and we soon found ourselves in lumpy, bumpy ground.  We had drifted off the path by about 20 metres, but we were below it by now, not a good place to recognise the error. We finally picked up the correct line when we spotted a solo hiker just above us, going the opposite way, and we were soon back on the correct course.  ‘The Saddle’ gives the only realistic exit to safety from Loch A’an in blizzard conditions, when the Plateau might be too hazardous, but it’s a long trudge of over 12 kms round to Ryvoan Pass and Glenmore Lodge to the north.

Heading southwest above the loch with Carn Etchachan in the distance
The cliffs of Stac an Fharaidh below Cairngorm – no exit that way!
The entrance to Coire Raibeirt and our route back (Chris just visible in the centre if you zoom in!)

We weren’t going to Ryvoan though – instead, we turned southwest to follow the lochside round to Coire Raibeirt.  The original plan had been to visit the Shelter Stone, a bivouac site famous in Scottish mountaineering history, but that would have added an extra 2 kms to the trip, and the day was starting to slip away, so we headed straight for Coire Raibeirt instead.   I had never been in this corrie before, but the contours on the map told a tale. The ground ahead told the same tale – it was going to be steep.

Looking back to the loch – the tiny white speck just left of centre is shown enlarged in the next image
A rare sight in the UK – a floatplane, just taking off from the loch
Further up Coire Raibeirt on a rocky scramble section, right next to the stream

We had barely started when we heard the unexpected sound of an aircraft – below us!  I had just enough time to get the camera out to catch the shot of a floatplane that had just taken off from the loch – someone would be home before we would.  That excitement being over, we turned our attention back to getting up Corrie Raibeirt.  The route followed the stream running down to the loch, and in the lower sections, the two ran together.  It would be rather more than exciting if the stream was in spate, but conditions for us were good.

Noticeably gaining height now in Coire Raibeirt, with Loch A’an below
Border Collie ‘Mist’ on a long tether with Chris just ahead
Off the steep section at last with just a gradual climb ahead

The route was a mixture of engineered path (thank you those who built it) and natural rock steps, some of which required a bit of a scramble in places.  No obstacle to the humans but ‘Mist’ is getting older now and starting to show it – she sometimes needs a bit of help on steps she would have leapt up as a young dog, but I had fitted her ‘Ruffwear Web Master’ harness and a long tether, and gave the collie a tug from above on a couple of sections.  It also helped me to slow her down from behind on the easier sections, to stop her pushing on into difficult ground.

The view back down the Allt Coire Raibeirt ….
…. now shallower on the uphill side
‘Mist’ back out in front again ….
…. closely followed by Chris

Progress wasn’t exactly swift, justifying the decision to drop the Shelter Stone option, but ‘steady away’ eventually brought us on to less steep ground.  The deep cleft of the Allt Coire Raibeirt became shallower and the path became an easy stroll, despite still heading uphill,  and before long ‘Mist’ was back in her preferred position of being out front.

The last bit of ascent to Point 1141 ….
…. with Coire an t’ Sneachda on our left (see previous post #307)

Our last bit of ascent was to a location known to the Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team as ‘Point 1141’ for the simple reason it is marked on the map as a spot height at 1141 metres.   From there it was downhill all the way into Coire Cas, in winter the main ski area for Cairngorm.  The day had been a long one and humans and dog were getting that dinnertime feeling – it was time to head for home.

2Just below Pt 1141 looking down to Coire cas – it’s time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

About Paul Shorrock

I've been mucking about in the mountains for longer than I care to mention. I started out by walking my local hills, then went on to rock climbing, mountaineering and skiing. Still doing it, and still getting a buzz. I'm now sharing the fun, through my guided walking business (Hillcraft Guided Walking) and by writing routes for other publishers, mainly Walking World and Discovery Walking Guides. Just to make sure I keep really busy, I am also currently a member of my local mountain rescue team.
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4 Responses to #308 – Remote Loch A’an in the Cairngorms

  1. Haven’t done Coire Raibert as we descended Coire Domhain the time we went to Loch Avon from that side – we then went up over the Saddle route where I got into an uphill race with a rather conceited guide who had a bad opinion of women walkers and won! 😉

    Like

    • I’d never considered Coire Domhain as a route, but the contours don’t look any worse than Coire Raibeirt. Good for you, blowing off the smart arse guide.

      Like

  2. Steve says:

    Breathtaking pics, just superb!

    Liked by 1 person

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