Excursion: Bynack More, Cairngorms

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Venue: Bynack More, Cairngorms

Difficulty: extreme hiking in the mountains

Range: 12 miles/20km

Duration: 6-8 hours

“My “bad weather peak” is BYNACK More. Located east of the main Cairngorms massif, this 1090 m high Munro benefits from the rain shadow of the larger mountains. It’s interesting how much Bynack More remains reasonably dry on days when the western Cairngorms are drenched in rain.

It pays to be slightly more vigilant on windy days. Theoretically, one would think that the mighty mass of Cairn Gorm itself would shield its smaller neighbor, but, as we were to learn, the theory, while valid, does not always work in the mountains.

My brother-in-law and I drove along Glen More and parked the car near Glenmore Lodge, with the Feshie Hills and Braeriach covered in a thick, menacing layer of cloud. In dry and bright weather, we started our hike through the beautiful Ryvoan Pass, and it wasn’t until we reached the River Nethy that we noticed the wind.

One of the Cairngorm “moon roads” or passes, the Lairig and Laoigh, which stretch from Abernethy in the north to Braemar in the south, followed the route we were on. Both this pass and Lairig Ghru, its parallel neighbor, were once cattle trails used for livestock movement. In reality, Lairig and Laoigh can be translated as “Pass of the Stirks or Calves.” As they climbed from the comparatively fertile basin of the River Nethy to the boulder-covered mound that forms the edge of Bynack More itself, it must have been a long journey for cattle.

This grand hill stands out from its loftier, more prominent neighbors, as though, despite its smaller height and mass, to highlight its individuality and somber character. In general, Bynack More’s finest features are more subtle, less garish and elephantine than those of his immediate neighbors, and it reveals its finest face above the Abernethy Forest to the north. It appears from here as a fine conical peak with steep slopes rising gently to a narrow ridge, a direct contrast to distant Ben Avon’s gated whaleback and Cairn Gorm’s own leviathan mass. A broad, elevated grassy depression divides Bynack More into two distinct rocky peaks. A subsidiary peak known as Bynack Beg is situated on its western shoulder. The main mountain was formerly known as Ben Bynack, but Abernethy’s late Rev. W Forsyth, a local historian, insists that this is incorrect and that Bynack derives from Ben-Eag, the cleft hill, an indentation that can be seen from Strath Nethy between the summit rocks. Some Gaelic scholars say that the term derives from ‘beinneag’ or even from Am Beidhneag, a chimney or roof ridge, a small mountain (compared to its neighbours, even Bynack More, the great Bynack, is a small mountain). It wasn’t long until we knew we were in for a war. Cloud cover continued over the peaks amid a few light showers, but it was the wind that would prove difficult. A few fierce gusts almost brought us to a halt as we approached the main ridge, and as we climbed up the rugged ridge, it was clear that we would have to be very cautious not to stay rooted to the ground.

The wind was from the southwest, and just as Bynack More is covered by Cairn Gorm from the worst western storms, we thought that we might use Bynack More’s summit ridge for protection. That worked! In relative calmness, we crossed the slopes above Coire Odhar, and it was not until we dared to stick our heads above the ridge that we felt the wind’s full demonic wrath.

Of course, the summit rock was totally exposed to the storms and there was no place to linger, so we retreated to the safety of the eastern slopes and had a lunch break. There was a small disappointment that instead of continuing through A’Choinneach to The Saddle, from where we might have climbed Cairn Gorm ourselves, we had to go back on our outward path. The Saddle provides one of the wildest views in Scotland, above the foot of Loch Avon, with steep granite slab slopes falling down to cradle the gray waters of Loch Avon. The unlikely square-cut rock face of The Sticil rises at the head of the loch, like a giant tombstone among the plateaus that surround it.

A cross-country trail leads up the steep slopes of The Saddle to Ciste Mearaid at the head of Strath Nethy, and from there it is easy to descend either along the northern ridge of Cairn Gorm to Ryvo orde.

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