We were more than a little worried on arrival at the car park at Auchlean, as it was completely full, a sight I have never seen in my many times down the glen. Of course, we knew it was the Xmas holidays, and we had a benign forecast, so coupled with that and the growing reputation of Ruigh Aiteachain bothy, it was a fair bet that the bothy would be very busy. Still, we were here now, and it does hold a good few folks....
The walk-in is around 90 minutes, and you have to cross three burns of varying sizes, so it pays to take care after heavy rain. We were fine, as it had been very dry for December, and apart from our 12yr old border terrier who had to be carried, we all crossed without incident or difficulty, despite our packs laden with all the gear necessary for a comfortable night, along with copious libations and Xmas leftovers. We arrived just as night fell (16.15 in Scotland at this time of year), to be greeted by Lyndsay the bothy maintenance organiser, or M.O. as they are known. It was indeed busy, but not overly so, and were able to have a room and fireplace all to our little group.
It is not that unusual to meet an M.O. at his/her bothy occasionally, but Lyndsay all but lives in his, and the standards are a testament to that. It is simply palatial in bothy terms. Indeed, he had various members of three generations of his family there! He gave us a tour, and threw a few thinly veiled comments in about care, tidiness, toilet etiquette etc. which left us in no way uncertain about his expectations. You can't really fault him, given the work and care he has put in (amongst others), but It was a little irritating to get tarred with the same brush after all my years of careful and respectful bothy use. Ah well, bite your tongue and get on with it, it's his train set! :)
After the usual bothy night of restless dogs, rustling sleeping mats and nocturnal ablutions, augmented by some spectacular festive flatulence, we were ready to get walking at first light. Tracey was staying local to the bothy, walking Meikle our terrier, and Stew was going to walk out, having suffered a calf strain during an energetic session dancing to Madness in our kitchen the day before (I kid you not!). That left myself, Frankie, Kerry, Hayley and Loki the springer spaniel to attempt the 32k there-and-back route, with around 1600m of ascent and descent. This is a long day in summer conditions, and without skis would be very difficult indeed in 'normal' winter conditions. We however, had clear, almost snow-less going, with just a little ice and a superlative track for much of the way. I know I normally bemoan such tracks, but on this occasion, I could almost forgive the estate....seriously, it is very well done and maintained, so at least there's that.
The route has little dramatic to commend it, other than the wilderness feel you get once you ascend onto the Monadh Mor itself, the wide expanse of Braeriach, Carn Toul and the Angel's Peak, the depths of Gleann Einich, Glen Geusachan and finally the Lairig Ghru. Actually, come to think of it, apart from the effort, it has lots to commend it in reasonable visibility!
At the summit of Beinn Bhrotain we spoke to the only couple we saw all day, apart from a solitary walker and a distant fell runner during 10+ hours of walking at such a busy time....illustrative of the wild nature of the location. The walk back was character-building as light dimmed, and we summited Mullach Clach a'Bhlair in full darkness. With little wind, it was enchanting, the lights of a distant Kingussie shimmering many kilometres below. I don't think any of us enjoyed the descent down the track, be it new boots rubbing, old knees complaining or even older boots disintegrating, the metres took their toll.
Eventually we got to the glen, and blessed flat ground for the final kilometre to the bothy, a meal and a dram. A fantastic day, superbly executed.
We awoke to wind and rain, but by the time we had eaten, packed and swept up, the rain had dissipated, and we walked out dry. Well, dry that is except for me, who in a momentary lapse of concentration whilst watching Tracey cross a burn, put my foot on a sloping stone and took a pirouetting tumble into the water, bouncing off a couple of boulders on the way. Idiot! My sore arm and knee weren't as sore as my bruised ego of course.....
Stew was there to meet us, and we sallied forth to the splendid trucker's cafe at Newtonmore for a 'healthy' late breakfast by way of a celebration. A great way to end 2018, bring on 2019.