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Not Quite Braeriach

PostPosted: Thu Mar 24, 2011 2:18 am
by Alastair S

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Braeriach profile.jpg

I had hoped to join the Aviemore meet members in tackling Beinn Mheadhoin the other week but the weather had other ideas. So the weather was set fair for the following weekend. However the avalanche warnings were considerable for most aspects over 900m so I didn’t fancy the steep drop down to Loch Avon. I opted for Braeriach from the Sugar Bowl car park instead. On this route most of the steep stuff is done by the time you get to 900m and the steep stuff is on a broad ridge so hopefully it wouldn’t be loaded with snow.

But I also had the supermoon to factor in too. I wanted to be at Dunnottar Castle for 6:30pm on the Saturday to catch the moonrise over the castle (to take pics). Was hoping to do the walk on Sunday but the forecast was better for the Saturday and with temperatures on the rise I didn’t fancy trudging through miles of slush. So alarm set to 4am, on the road by 5 and arrived on site by 7. The Sugar Bowl car park was still under a foot of snow but the roadside opposite had been well cleared so managed to park right next to the start of the path.

On my way but 7:15am. The snow was over a foot deep but the path was fairly well trodden so progress was fair. Approaching the Chalamain Gap and the foot prints veered up the hillside. It was easy to see why – there was a 10m bank of snow if you carried straight on. The foot prints (& one set of snowshoe prints) then took me gently back down into the gap and I got a foretaste of what was to come. What had been a steady breeze became a howling gale as the gap formed an effective Venturi. Easy to see what had build that 10m bank. Had a smaller 3m bank to negotiate near the narrowest point but the snow was pretty firm here.

Approach To The Chalamain Gap

Chalamain Gap

On the other side the wind eased back down but most of the foot tracks had been covered over by the snow. However there were still a couple of ski tracks and one set of prints to follow. But more importantly I could now see Braeriach (well its northern approach) and the way I’d be taking was indeed scoured of snow. Once I’d reach around 700m the way looked fine. I couldn’t see the final summit push so I’d have to call that one when I got there. In the mean time I cracked on. I followed the ski/foot tracks south for a while and then struck out to cross the Lairig Ghru.

Braeriach From The North

The Lairig Ghru: Sun, Snow & Cloud

Things now got tricky. Initially the snow was at least knee deep but the last 10m drop to the snowed over burn was very steep and I was up to my waist on several occasions. I crossed the burn thankful that I didn’t get wet & slumped against the up slope. Then looked around and spotted a wee lochain that I hadn’t noticed earlier. So sat there and took a few photos while I gathered by strength for the clamber out. I did think of jacking it in there and then. But if I could get out of this little gully it would surely improve and I’d reassess then. Going up was no easier but 10 minutes latter I’d got over the lip and the going did improve – only calf deep now. Just as I was moving on I heard the swish of skis behind me. A couple of cross-country skiers were following my route across the gully. I carried on for a few minutes to a rock so I could sit and take on sustenance. The skiers weren’t any quicker than me and made it out of the gully as I set off again. I headed westish to made for the foot of the ridge (Sron na Lairige) and the skiers did the same as they passed 100m from me. We exchanged waves and I didn’t expect to see them again.

Lairig Ghru Lochain

Turning south at a snow sculptured gully the wind soon picked up again. The snow was getting thinner & thinner till at about 850m old rock hard snow became exposed and it was time for the crampons. The icy snow made for good progress until around 950m where the ground was now mostly bare of snow (& what snow there was was the soft new stuff). Off with the crampons, a bite more to eat and onwards.

Sron na Lairige (View Forward)

A Bit Rocky For Skis

Lurcher's Crag

Sron na Lairige (View Back)

I could now see the wind ripping spindrift off the ridge & over the Larigi Ghru. And when I looked back I was surprised to see the skiers again, skis stowed on their backpacks. Not to sure what they been up to but I’d stopped twice since I’d seen them last. Anyway the lead skier caught up and we exchanged pleasantries. He turned out to be a German born Dundonian. His partner was lagging some way behind so he waited and I cracked on after taking some video of the deteriorating conditions (this being at 1,100m). Ten minutes later and 40m higher and things were getting worse. We were now on a plateau. The wind was up and the spindrift was now in your face. Even with ski goggles on (which I had on all day) it wasn't pleasant. Under foot the snow was incredibly fine - you only sank in 2-3 inches but it was a most peculiar feeling. A bit like soft fine dry sand. And cloud was hanging just above our heads. Any higher and it would be a white-out. Stopped at the cairn at the 1180m point and I got the GPS out. Saw there was still around 2km to go with 100m of steep ascent. By the time the first of the skiers arrived (now back on their skis) I'd decided that enough was enough. The second skier arrived, stopped and then promptly got blown over by the wind. It didn't take them long to agree that this was a high as we'd get today. So we bade your fair wells and set off back.

Braeriach Spindrift

(this was before it got bad!)

I sneaked one photo at the 1180m cairn but didn't risk pointing my camera into the wind so no video of the worst of it. But the spindrift was an incredible sight. Any rocks or prominences would send a plume of the stuff shooting upwards with long streamers trailing downwind. I don't think the temperature got below zero (as none of my water froze) but the wind-chill was pretty severe. I had all my kit on by this time so I wasn't cold but I won't have wanted to get into trouble up there.

Lower down I got nearer the drop off to the Lairig Ghru and spotted this nice snow formation. Pity the spindrift makes it a bit hazy.

Wave & Crag

Braeriach Breaker

Needed my crampons again for the short icy section and then it was a case of picking up my own tracks and tracing my way back. The steep section crossing the Lairig Ghru was a bit easier now that I had my tracks to follow. But it was clear that a melt was now in progress. By the time I'd got back through the Chalamain Gap it was getting slushy and the going got correspondingly wearying.

Braeriach Cornice

Sgor Gaoith From Sron na Lairige

The Lairig Ghru From Braeriach

Braeriach Tracks

Chalamain Gap showing the snow bank

But all in all a great day. I may not have bagged #52 but there was no doubt in my mind that I'd made the right decision. I was a bit suprised by how sanguine I was about my failure to get to the day's goal. While I've had several days where I've cut back on what was planned this was the first time that I've come home empty handed. Now I get to plan another route up this monster of a hill :D

Flickr set (to which I'll be adding to over the coming days) over here.

And the supermoon? A washout :lol:

Edit #1: added Braeriach to hills included in this walk. I now see why people include hills they haven't summited in their reports - no way to link to hill concerned if you don't. Edit #2: more photos.

Re: Not Quite Braeriach

PostPosted: Thu Mar 24, 2011 10:39 am
by Border Reiver
Excellent photos and report. Reaching the top is only secondary to having a good day out and you certainly had that. You got farther than my last attempt at Braeriach - my girlfriend and I set off in a gale which promised to get worse, much against my advice, but she wanted to get as far as possible. While I was leaning against the wind near the reindeer enclosure, I watched my girlfriend suddenly lift off the ground and be thrown a few yards away - end of walk. Being new to hillwalking she'd never realised that could happen. So we sat in the car a while further up the road and watched other walkers try and fail at around the same place - very funny at times.

Re: Not Quite Braeriach

PostPosted: Thu Mar 24, 2011 11:02 am
by ChrisW
Fantastic report Alastair and some truly spectacular photo's, the short video certainly brings home how windy it was. Love the 'Braeriach Breaker' photo....stunning :D

Re: Not Quite Braeriach

PostPosted: Thu Mar 24, 2011 12:42 pm
by Stretch
Despite the drastic change in conditions you managed to put together a nice report Alastair, some slick photos as usual!

Re: Not Quite Braeriach

PostPosted: Thu Mar 24, 2011 2:01 pm
by rockhopper
Enjoyed reading this Alastair - very nice report. Sounds a lot of effort and very hard going in the deep snow - you did well to get as far as you did. On the plus side, you've got some great photos though. My first thought was that going thrugh the gap in snow could be easier than the boulder/rockhopping in summer but then I saw our comment about the snow and the deep bank. :D

Re: Not Quite Braeriach

PostPosted: Thu Mar 24, 2011 3:57 pm
by Paul Webster
Never mind the summit, that's a superb report - you come back with photos like that it must be a successful day.

Re: Not Quite Braeriach

PostPosted: Thu Mar 24, 2011 4:22 pm
by kevsbald
Nice one Al.

Re: Not Quite Braeriach

PostPosted: Thu Mar 24, 2011 4:46 pm
by monty
Excellent Al...
Tremendous pictures of waves of snow that you could almost surf :lol: :D

Re: Not Quite Braeriach

PostPosted: Thu Mar 24, 2011 4:50 pm
by yokehead
Sounds like you turned around at just the right time. No matter, you obviously had a great day out. Looks as if you saw these great snow conditions just in time, before the thaw set in.

Your photos beautifully capture the different types of snow surface, atmospheric nature of the clouds and the light. A worthwhile day for that alone, superb ! 8) :D

Re: Not Quite Braeriach

PostPosted: Thu Mar 24, 2011 6:48 pm
by kinley
Some really nice pics there 8)

A favourite hill that one - cheers :)

Re: Not Quite Braeriach

PostPosted: Thu Mar 24, 2011 7:18 pm
by Alastair S
Many thanks all :oops:

It was a good day although when I was struggling down in the bottom of the Lairig Ghru I was put in mind of kevsbald's most excellent The Graph of Pain (albeit inverted) :lol:

kevsbald wrote:Image

The wind and spindrift quite something and pretty exciting. No regrets turning back - I knew I'd got the last of the good snow for this winter and some good piccies. What I didn't mention was that I was quite surprised that I didn't come across any other walkers - the 2 skiers were the only people I meet all day. I did spot a couple of walkers on the sky line making their up Braeriach as I made my way back to the Chalamain Gap. Not sure where they had come from. I wonder how they got on.

Re: Not Quite Braeriach

PostPosted: Thu Mar 24, 2011 9:43 pm
by LeithySuburbs
You got a bit further than I did a couple of years ago on a similar route but starting from Whitewell. That time it was unconsolidated snow on Sron na Lairig that did for me - just too much hard work. Despite your travails, your photos are again brilliant and probably make it seem like a better day than it was :lol: .

Re: Not Quite Braeriach

PostPosted: Fri Mar 25, 2011 10:40 am
by Alastair S
LeithySuburbs wrote:Despite your travails, your photos probably make it seem like a better day than it was :lol: .

Yer, you don't get the wind-chill from a photo :lol:

Re: Not Quite Braeriach

PostPosted: Sun Mar 27, 2011 10:36 pm
by Merry-walker
Wow Alastair....

Looked a fantastic day for you and these are such beautiful pictures :D

Love that graph of pain :lol: :lol:

Re: Not Quite Braeriach

PostPosted: Mon Mar 28, 2011 8:25 pm
by Alastair S
I've now added more piccies to the report (the last three) and my Flickr set (which has a few that aren't in the report). This one was taken on the way back from the middle The Larigi Ghru showing the view south.