A Cautionary Tale

Cairngorm

A tale of pain, exhaustion, losses and gains, ups and downs, near misses, good company and wild brown trout.

(For a few pictures click here)

I knew it was going to be one of those trips as soon as I got into my daughter's car and turned on the satnav. It didn't matter how often I told the young lady that I wasn't going that way she still insisted I do a 'U' turn or turn right instead of left. I stayed polite and eventually she decided I was right and kept quiet.

The trip up to Aviemore passed quickly. George was with me after a long layoff and it was good to have him along. My wife and daughter were there too but they were going to stay in the Coylumbridge Hotel for the two nights as a treat, my daughters' man was at home dog sitting. We arrived at the ski centre car park at nine o'clock and the views were fantastic with the sun just setting above the hills over Aviemore. We got our gear from the back of the car, heaved it on our backs and waved goodbye to civilisation as it drove down the hill and out of site. I turned and looked up following the track of the railway as it disappeared into the clouds at the top, what had I let myself in for.

We followed the road up to the Ptarmigan Restaurant, 2 miles doesn't sound far but it is straight up and we hadn't realised how unfit we were, it took us 2 hours. We eventually got to the top of Cairngorm at midnight. It was cold, the cloud was down and visibility was in single figures. We had a look at the summit cairn then had a wander round the weather station before heading right and down off the summit to Coire Raibert that was when things started to go a bit wrong, we couldn't find it. There was no path where it was supposed to be and we just kept going down instead of getting to a flat bit. We checked the GPS and the map and compass but because of tiredness and fatigue we refused to believe them and continued on. It got steeper. I slipped twice because of sloppy footing due to tiredness and the steepness of the incline. It flattened a little and we made the decision to stop and camp till the sun came up and we could get our bearings again. It was the proper decision or I might not be writing this now and would perhaps be just another statistic in the papers. The lesson learned, believe your navigation instruments no matter how right you think your instincts are.

The next morning the sky was clear and the sun was shining. We were camped in Corrie Cas and could see the road we had climbed up the night before. Our wandering last night had taken us in a loop and nearly back on to it. After a quick breakfast we packed the tents and climbed up the 600ft to the corrie rim and there was the path we couldn't find in the mist and dark. Following this into Coire Raibert we found a stream that just seemed to come straight out of the rocks. It was very welcome as our water supplies were very low not having had them refilled since the night before. The first part of the walk down Coire Raibert was a pleasant stroll with a view of Loch Etchachan in the distance and the snow on Ben Macdui reflecting the sun towering above. The last mile though is, more or less, straight down. It follows the cleft cut by the burn in which we had filled our bottles at the start. It is not for the faint hearted with loose stones, flat rocks at precarious angles and parts where you have to scramble using two hands, one of which was holding a fishing rod. Scary stuff but we made it in one piece. From this path you get some great views down on Loch Avon, or A'an as it is usually called, with its' golden beaches and green tinged water. We could also see the path up to Loch Etchachan, goat country I said to George. Our legs were tired and sore with the unaccustomed exercise so a joint decision was made to leave Loch Etchachan for another day and camp at A'an to fish it.

Coire Raibert Cairngorm

We found a spot at the west end of the loch beside the river that was flowing down from the melting snow in the corrie high on Ben Macdui. After a hot meal we gathered the fishing gear and set off. We fished the north shore back the way we had come. The loch was ruffled by a strong breeze with the occasional strong gust; it was sunny with the odd cloud covering the sun. The fly life wasn't abundant but there were small fish rising in the shallows and on the first few casts I had a rise to the dry fly and a tug on one of the wets but no hook ups. I carried on round the shore casting here and there till I finally caught my first brownie of about 6oz. It was a lovely silvery green in the sunlight. I unhooked and returned it. From this same spot I eventually caught and returned twelve of its' identical brothers and sisters on all three flies on the cast. My #14 Dry Fly on the top dropper, #12 Iron Blue Dun on the middle and a #12 HillLoch Nymph on the tail. George was also having some response and had five fish and numerous missed offers, his best fly being an Olive Daddy Longlegs on the top dropper. With tiredness setting in again, it was only five o'clock but we had been up since six that morning, we retired to the tents for a lie down. It wasn't long after that we heard the first spots of rain on the canvas; the wind had been getting steadily stronger and now it was gusting strong enough to rattle the tent. I must have dosed off and when I woke it was seven o'clock and the rain was still on. I got out the tent to answer a call of nature and could hear the steady snoring from the other tent; George wasn't doing anymore fishing tonight. I got back in my tent, had a bite to eat and settled down for the night. I woke a few times to the sound of battering rain and howling wind so not getting out and fishing didn't seem so bad.

We woke early next morning; no rain; no wind just midges, the first we had felt this trip. I remarked to George over breakfast that the rain hadn't been too bad during the night; he said that it had been torrential for at least four hours with really strong gusts of wind at one point. After hearing that I was glad we had decent tents and had picked a good camp site that hadn't flooded. We packed the tents away, heaved the rucksacks on our backs and carried them to the mouth of the burn at the bottom of Coire Raibert. We had decided to fish from here east along the shore as there were fish rising in the flat calm. We each had a few touches but no fish and the thought of the climb back out was always at the back of our minds which tended to dull the concentration.

At midday, after having lunch, we broke the rods down, shouldered the packs and set off up the 'Khyber Pass', seven hundred feet in one mile . It was actually easier going up than it was coming down although we still had to use both hands and climb at some points. It wasn't long before we were filling the water bottles at the spring at the top of Coire Raibert; from here it was all downhill. We stopped to take some photographs looking down into Coire an t-Sneachda and seeing people like ants on the path below gave us a sense of the scale of the place. Eventually we headed down the path on Fiacaill a' Coire Chais which took us down to the road and then eventually to the car park at the ski centre where the car was waiting to pick us up. Just as we reached the road the rain came on with a vengeance so for the next half hour we got a right soaking. We had to retire to the public toilets and change into dry clothes before my daughter would let us into her car.

Both George and I had found the going tough, but we had done it. It had taken three and three-quarter hours to walk out from Loch A'an to the ski centre, three and a half miles, which we felt was reasonable considering we had stopped for water, picture taking and the condition we were in. One lesson we both learned, if both your navigation aids are telling you the same thing believe them, what you think could be your last thought. Don't take chances wild fishing it isn't worth it. Remember you are there to enjoy yourself.

Till next time, tight lines.