Meall a’ Bhuachaille: I couldn’t say how many times we’ve looked, in passing, at Meall a’ Bhuachaille and wondered about the possibility of incorporating it into a day’s outing. But wondering was as far as things ever went; there were always other plans, other destinations, other priorities. Until today…
We started from the visitor centre in Glenmore, with a counter-clockwise route in mind; the ascent of the hill proper would be via the track leading up from Ryvoan bothy. The first surprise was the weather, as we walked outwards from Glenmore – warm and springlike, with clear blue skies; not particularly unusual for the last week in May, but much better than the forecast had suggested. We felt that we might be carrying an over-cautious amount of spare layering; but a day can be a long time in the highlands…
Heading up the short section from Lochan Uaine towards Ryvoan, one of the party enquired as to the possibility of a “brief pause for a snack” and so we parked ourselves on the flat rock just across the track from the bothy. There we waited (and waited) while a “snack” became a banquet – unfeasible amounts and varieties of food being retrieved from a modestly sized daypack and consumed in a leisurely, unhurried fashion. We could have been at the summit by the time we eventually got moving again.
No more than a couple of hundred feet into the ascent, it was already becoming clear that some of the extra layers were probably going to be needed after all; the temperature was steadily falling, the wind gathering both speed and bite as the path wound its way upwards. Long before the summit cairn I was regretting not packing at least a pair of liner gloves, and glad of the hand-warmer pockets in my jacket.
The path on Meall a’ Bhuachaille is generally good: it varies in terms of its surface; some parts are engineered, with a gritty texture; others are pretty much unmade and with loose stones; some of the trickier sections have been stepped, using natural materials and mostly in a fairly unobtrusive way. The track does twist and double back on itself on occasions and is probably a little longer than a route planned on – for example – Routebuddy would suggest. But it’s easily navigable and climbs at a steady rate.
The summit cairn/shelter is a decent size but doesn’t come into view until you’re quite close. Reaching summits is generally a welcome sensation and today it was particularly so – we were well in need of some food, a hot drink, and a sheltered spot to enjoy both. It had been our original plan to make the top our one and only food stop, albeit a little sooner. Surprisingly, the leisurely luncher had managed to work up a whole new appetite and – even more surprisingly – still had some food left in his pack.
Meall a’ Bhuachaille, occupying a position at the eastern end of its own small group of hills to the north-west of Ryvoan Pass, provides an excellent vantage point; particularly so for making sense of the complex, forested expanses of Abernethy, and for giving an insight into how things must have looked back in the days when the boundaries of both it and Rothiemurchus extended well beyond their present ranges. This kind of terrain can play tricks on the mind: if someone had blindfolded me at the summit and invited me to point to the twin lochs of Garten and Mallachie, I would have been at least 30º adrift, despite having visited them many times over the years. It’s never a bad thing to be reminded of the discrepancy between what we know and what we think we know; intuitive navigation isn’t a gift given to all of us.
And that wouldn’t have been the only error of judgement, when it came to perspective. The Ryvoan pass is guarded to the north-west and south-east by two peaks – Meall a’ Bhuachaille and Creag nan Gall respectively. These two hills, viewed from the path heading up towards Lochan Uaine, I would have estimated at roughly similar heights; probably with Meall a’ Bhuachaille as slightly the higher of the two. What I wouldn’t have imagined is a disparity in summit heights of 188 metres (810 cf 622), or more than 600 feet; it was a lesson in how different things can look from the valley floor.
From the summit shelter, the difference in elevation becomes obvious, with unobstructed views across Creag nan Gall to Bynack More and Cairn Gorm. The last week in May and plenty of snow was still lying in the northern corries and elsewhere. (Addendum: later in the week there would be a fresh overnight dusting).
Leaving the summit, we headed west for the obvious saddle between Meall a’ Bhuachaille and Creagan Gorm. At just about the low point of the ridge the path forks and the left-hand option leads down into the woods of Glenmore Forest Park and back to the visitor centre. By the time we reached the tree line, we had escaped the wind and it was once again mild, if a little cloudier than in the morning.
Having pointed out a rotting tree stump and suggested that it looked an ideal nesting spot for crested tits, I somehow managed to be the only one to miss the actual crestie which was flitting around its dead branches. Wildlife watching can be an exasperating business at times…