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Braeriach etc ticked, but a Devil of a job on Carn a' Mhaim!

Braeriach etc ticked, but a Devil of a job on Carn a' Mhaim!

Postby bobble_hat_kenny » Sun Mar 19, 2023 6:21 pm

Route description: Cairn Toul - Braeriach traverse

Munros included on this walk: Braeriach, Cairn Toul, Càrn a' Mhàim, Sgòr an Lochain Uaine, The Devil's Point

Date walked: 10/07/2022

Time taken: 36 hours

Distance: 41 km

Ascent: 2750m

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To start with a quibble - whatever happened to the extremely useful "Draw Your Route" tool that previously featured on the Walkhighlands website as an option for Walk Reports :? ? A dinosaur like myself has no idea how to "Upload [a] gpx file" from a Garmin-type device, so the "Draw Your Route" tool used to be my only option for showing what I'd actually done on a map - something that is surely likely to be of interest / use for any readers? Is this some map copyright issue or something? If so, then it's a sad sign of the times :roll: ...
This is another Walk Report that I'm only now getting round to writing up from last summer :oops: - it was a big outing by my standards, tackling the classic traverse of the four Munros of the Braeriach group from the Sugar Bowl car park near the former Cairngorms ski resort, but going anticlockwise rather than the clockwise direction given in the website's route description, and then descending to Corrour bothy in the Lairig Ghru for an overnight stay. Since I'd then be walking back out past Carn a' Mhaim the next morning, and since that was another Munro that I still had to do, I planned to include that one too, using a path that ascends from the huge Clach nan Tailear boulder a bit north of Corrour bothy in the Lairig Ghru to head up the southwestern flanks of Ben Macdui. Well, that was the plan anyway, although I ended up with a significant unnecessary detour before I got Carn a' Mhaim in the bag! Of which, more later.
I had the whole weekend free, for once, so I drove up after work on Friday to Aviemore, where I stayed at the comfortable Old Bridge Inn bunkhouse so that I was able to get a reasonably early start on the Saturday. I'd really lucked out on the weather, with the forecast pretty much being for wall-to-wall sunshine :D !
Parking is something of an issue for this route - the Forestry Commission somewhat bizarrely doesn't allow overnight parking at the main Sugar Bowl car park (what's the point of Corrour Bothy in that case??), but I managed to squeeze my car onto some verge parking just across the road which appeared to have no such restrictions. I then set off on the good path that descends to a footbridge over the Allt Mor river (the Utsi Bridge, no less, named after the intrepid Swedish Sami gentleman who first brought the reindeer to the Cairngorms I believe!), climbs again on the far side of the river to eventually reach a T junction, and then heads off left (southwards) across the moors in the direction of the Chalamain Gap, which was soon enough visible in the distance. Before long, the path starts to descend again, to ford the Allt Mor (thankfully now a much less impressive waterway, and easily crossed, at least on a dry day).
The descent to the second crossing of the Allt Mor, with the Chalamain Gap visible in the distance:
WR1 - descending to second Allt Mor crossing with Chalamain Gap clearly visible in distance.jpg
The path then climbs again to make its final approach to the Chalamain Gap. I was eyeing this famously bouldery defile with some trepidation: I was of course burdened with a fairly hefty backpack, including my tent in case I couldn't get a space in the bothy, and I'd heard some scary things about the Chalamain boulders! Ah well, nothing ventured, nothing gained ... Let the First Battle of El Chalamein commence!
WR2 - The Battle of El Chalamein.jpg

What probably isn't obvious from the photo above, without a human figure for size comparison, is just how big those boulders are: some of them are the size of small cars, and the crossing definitely needs a bit of care. I was in high spirits because of the unusually fine weather and the prospect of an iconic walk ahead, however, and I actually rather enjoyed the prolonged boulder-hop :lol: .
On the far side, I picked up the path again easily enough - this makes a steady descent into the Lairig Ghru pass, which it eventually crosses at the deeply incised glen of the eastern tributary of the Allt Druidh burn.
Safely through the Chalamain Gap with no long bone fractures, and descending to the Lairig Ghru! The ongoing path up Braeriach is the fainter one visible over on the left on the photo below.
WR3- safely through the Gap and descending to burn crossing in the Lairig Ghru - ongoing path is the fainter one over left.jpg

The actual burn crossing, with the northern slopes of Braeriach visible in the centre across the burn:
WR4 - burn crossing in the Lairig Ghru with northern slopse of Braeriach in centre field.jpg

The Allt Druidh crossing was straighforward enough, but the re-ascent of various loose and badly eroded bits of path on the western riverbank was a sair fecht with my heavy backpack - distinctly worse than the Chalamain boulders had been, in fact :roll: ! Eventually I made it out of the stream gully, however, and from here on in it was really just a steady albeit rather unrelenting plod, all the way up to Braeriach's summit on a reasonably good path.
This was my first time in the environs of the Lairig Ghru, and I couldn't help but be gobsmacked by the sheer scale of the thing. A stirring view south down the length of the pass, towards the distant Wells of Dee:
WR5 - a stirring view S down the Lairig Ghru.jpg

Another fine vista southwards down the LG, from a bit higher up on Braeriach's northern flank:
WR6 - another nice view S down Lairig Ghru.jpg

A steady plod got me there at last. On the final approach to Braeriach's summit now, with - yes, you guessed it - another grand view southwards down the Lairig Ghru :lol: ! Carn a' Mhaim, my target hill for tomorrow, was well seen on the left (east) side of the pass now, with Cairn Toul impressive on the other side, and with the Devil's Point visible away in the distance, although Sgor an Lochan Uaine is hidden behind the flanks of Braeriach from this angle.
WR7 - looking S down Lairig Ghru on final Braeriach approach - Carn a Mhaim well seen on left and S an Lochan Uaine on right - Devils Point in distance.jpg

Sgor an Lochan Uaine very clearly visible now from a bit further round Coire Brochan, with its lochan nestling at its feet (Lochan Uaine means "Green Lochan"), and with Cairn Toul seen more clearly now.
WR8 - Sgorr an Lochan Uaine with its lochan and Cairn Toul.jpg

"Coire Brochan" means "Porridge Corrie". There seem to be two explanations for its name: one is that if seen in cloud inversion, it resembles a huge bowl of cloudy porridge; the other is that porridge is what you'd be if you fell into it :shock: ! Both theories have their adherents...
Braeriach's actual summit cairn is perched rather precariously right at the cliff edge at the most precipitous section of Coire Brochan, as seen in this photo of the final approach.
WR9 - Braeriach summit cairn on cliff edge in distance now with very impressive cliffs.jpg

The classic view of Sgor an Lochan Uaine and Cairn Toul from a minor cairn just east of the main Braeriach summit cairn, and with the Devil just keeking round Cairn Toul in the distance:
WR10 - classic view of Sgorr an Lochan Uaine and Cairn Toul from cairn just short of Braeriach summit with Devil just keeking round Cairn Toul in distance.jpg

At Braeriach's true summit cairn now - third highest mountain in Britain, no less - although unfortunately my phone camera lens seems to have steamed up with the excitement of it all :lol: !
WR11 - Braeriach true summit cairn now I think.jpg

A rather blurry Braeriach summit selfie:
WR12 - rather blurry Braeriach summit selfie.jpg

Another stirring view down the Lairig Ghru, with the busy Braeriach summit cairn up left:
WR13 - another stirring view down Lairig Ghru with busy Braeriach summit up left.jpg

The ongoing route now makes a mildly epic traverse of the eastern rim of the West Cairngorms Plateau, traipsing round the rims of two further vast and precipitous corries en route to Sgor an Lochan Uaine. Although it's rather a long way, the sun was shining brightly and the clear ongoing path gave good going :) .
En route to Sgor an Lochan Uaine, the path crosses the higher branch of the infant River Dee, just short of where it plunges over the edge of the Western Cairngorms plateau at the Falls of Dee. Thankfully, although the river is an unexpectedly major waterway at this height (well over 1100 metres above sea level!), the crossing is straightforward in dry weather.
Approaching the Dee crossing, with Sgor an Lochan Uaine and Cairn Toul now dead ahead:
WR14 - approaching Falls of Dee I think with Sg an Lochan Uaine and Cairn Toul dead ahead.jpg

Incidentally, let's not have any of this "Angel's Peak" nonsense. That name seems to have been dreamt up relatively recently - to balance the rather spurious English name of the Devil's Point - and Sgor an Lochan Uaine appears to be the older and more authentic term. After all, the Devil's Gaelic monicker - "Bod an Deamhain" - actually means The Devil's, um, Willy rather than "The Devil's Point", and the standard English translation is just a rather pallid euphemysm. The story goes that Queen Victoria asked her ghillie John Brown for the name of the striking hill that she could see down at the bottom of the Lairig Ghru... Poor John was understandably a bit stumped as to how to translate it from Gaelic without failing to amuse Her Majesty, but eventually came out with "Och, thon's the Devil's, um, Point, ma'am." A good story anyway, and who knows, it may even be true.
Anyway, the 130 metre climb to Sgor an Lochan Uaine's boulderfield summit was a bit of a trudge with my heavy backpack, but when I eventually got there, the views made up for it. This was the prospect back to Braeriach, with the Falls of Dee visible on the left:
WR15 - looking back to Braeriach from Sgorr an Lochan Uaine summit - Falls of Dee on left.jpg

To the south-east, the Cairn Toul ascent was looking intimidatingly bouldery ... as, sadly, it would indeed prove to be!
WR16 - Cairn Toul ascent looking intimidatingly bouldery.jpg

Anyway, I girded my loins and got on with it. The boulder-hop up to Cairn Toul's summit cairn was a real slog in the afternoon's building heat, and it was a relief to get to the top. Once again, however, the views were epic.
At Cairn Toul's well-built cairn now, with Sgor an Lochan Uaine on the far left, and with the massive bulk of Braeriach filling most of the background. The Falls of Dee are visible again in this shot, too.
WR17 - at well built Cairn Toul cairn with Sg an Lochan Uaine on far left and Falls of Dee and Braeriach filling most of background.jpg

Just one more Munro to go for today, then, and it was a fair old distance onwards south to the Devil's Point, with some minor re-ascent en route over Cairn Toul's rounded southern Top, Stob Coire an t-Saighdeir. The good path thankfully continued all the way, however, and the final re-ascent to the Devil's point proved to be unexpectedly gentle.
The onwards route to the Devil, with Carn a Mhaim looking enticing across on the other side of the Lairig Ghru:
WR18 - onwards to the Devil with Carn a Mhaim over across the Lairig Ghru.jpg

BHK Beats The Devil! (Although sadly he will get his revenge tomorrow :lol: ...)
WR19 - Kenny Beats the Devil although he will get his own back tomorrow.jpg

Ben Macdui and the Carn a' Mhaim arete as viewed from the Devil's Point cairn, giving a good idea of my Sunday morning issues - the path starts out well enough from the Clach nan Tailear, but then becomes indistinct higher up, with no clear link-up to the Macdui / Carn a' Mhaim bealach at the northern end of the arete. I should have paid more attention :oops: !!
WR20 - Macdui and Carn a Mhaim arete from Devil cairn giving a good idea of my Sunday morning issues.jpg

Now I just needed to get down to Corrour Bothy. Actually it wasn't far at all from the Devil's Point, with some very minor backtracking northwards along the western edge of the Lairig Ghru followed by an initially steep and loose descent on an obvious path, with the bothy clearly visible most of the way down.
I'd brought my tent along, since the bothy is small and apparently fills up quickly, but I was hoping that because I was just on my own, I might just about squeeze in. Thankfully, so it proved - although several larger parties had already started to pitch tents around the bothy, there was just about room to squeeze one more in to the bothy itself, so I didn't need to get my tent out. Quite a relief, to be frank, since I was fairly knackered by now. I spent a very sociable night at the bothy, with a large and friendly group of people about half my age - mostly students, and a thoroughly erudite and pleasant gathering they proved to be :D .
As per forecast, Sunday dawned even brighter and sunnier than Saturday had been, and I set off in good spirits northwards on the main Lairig Ghru path towards the Clach nan Tailear boulder. Looking back towards the bothy, the Devil's Point was truly impressive from this angle:
WR21 - The Devil and Corrour bothy at its foot on the Sunday morning.jpg

Soon enough, I reached the huge and obvious Clach nan Tailear boulder, where an equally obvious path (initially, at least!) forks off on the right to make a slanting ascent of the eastern side of the Lairig Ghru, towards Ben Macdui. Unfortunately, I did something rather stupid here, and decided to leave my heavy backpack - and my map! - down at the Lairig Ghru, thinking that I'd make quick work of Carn a' Mhaim and that I didn't really need the map, did I...
...And that's of course when things went a bit pear-shaped. As I'd have seen if I'd paid more attention to the map (the good Harvey Maps one of the Cairngorms), the path up from the Clach nan Tailear eventually becomes indistinct high on the southern bank of the Allt Clach nan Tailear burn, and there isn't any side path linking it to the slightly higher path that runs along the Carn a' Mhaim arete from the Macdui / Carn a' Mhaim bealach. I'd thought that the bealach would become obvious as I got higher, but in fact it is completely hidden because the path stays low in the stream gully of the Allt Clach nan Tailear. So, not having seen the bealach, I just kept on climbing on vestiges of path, which actually keep going for much higher up the Allt Clach nan Tailear than the map would suggest ... and I kept going and kept going ... it seemed much further than I'd expected, and I was starting to get knackered ... surely it couldn't be far now??
Eventually of course, I found myself all the way up on the boulderfield northwest of Sron Riach, which is Ben Macdui's southeast Top, and in fact not that far short of Ben Macdui's summit. I had overshot the Carn a' Mhaim bealach by some 400 metres or so of completely unnecessary ascent . D'Oh :oops: ! There was Carn a' Mhaim clearly visible now, away back down there; oh oopsy!
WR22 - looking down on Carn a Mhaim and the Devil from near Macdui summit - oh oopsy.jpg

Also, it was bakingly hot and I had no water with me. I resorted to scooping water with my hands out of the very top of the Allt Clach nan Tailear burn, rehydrating as best I could before tackling the prolonged boulder-hop back down to the bealach.
At least I didn't have my backpack, which made the boulder-hopping just about feasible without injury, and suffice to say I did make it down to the bealach, after which the plod southwards along the shapely arete to Carn a' Mhaim's summit cairn was straightforward enough.
At Munro Number Five's summit cairn at last, with the Devil looking a tad diminutive from this angle:
WR23 - Carn a Mhaim cairn with the Devil looking rather diminutive from here.jpg

I headed back northwards down the arete to the Macdui / Carn a' Mhaim bealach, then made a pathless descent downhill to pick up the Allt Clach nan Tailear path easily enough (to my considerable relief), bringing me back down to the Clach nan Tailear boulder on the main Lairig Ghru path, where I was reunited with my backpack with a rather heavy heart.
All of that completely unnecessary ascent had really knackered me, to be honest, and the long, long traipse back northwards up the Lairig Ghru was sheer purgatory, particularly in the steadily building heat of the afternoon. Although the Wells of Dee (source of the lower origin of the River Dee, which joins the higher Falls of Dee branch away south down the Lairig Ghru) provided a bit of short-term interest, the Lairig Ghru just seemed to go on for ever, and I was utterly exhausted by the time I got back to the point where the side path climbs from the Allt Druidh towards the Chalamain Gap. The steep re-ascent to the Gap almost had me beat, and I was really dreading the boulders of the Gap itself. To my relief, however, the Second Battle of El Chalamein wasn't actually as bad as I'd feared - I could almost have enjoyed it if I hadn't been so knackered - and from there it wasn't that far back to the Sugar Bowl car park, although I'd be very late home to Glasgow tonight, and probably not up to much at work tomorrow...
An epic and iconic route, however, and I have no regrets :D !
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Re: Braeriach etc ticked, but a Devil of a job on Carn a' Mh

Postby gammy leg walker » Mon Mar 20, 2023 8:22 pm

Very nice write of an epic traverse in my favourite area, I would happily walk the Cairngorms all day long.

PS on a side note,there is no need to tackle the Chalamein Gap at all , there is a very lovely path on the right hand side of the Gap that misses out all the boulder field. :) :)
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