Hidden corries and a scramble in the heart of the Cairngorms
by malky_c » Tue Aug 26, 2014 2:56 pm
Munros included on this walk: Braeriach, Sgor an Lochain Uaine
Date walked: 24/08/2014
Time taken: 9.5 hours
Distance: 36 km
Ascent: 1580m11 people think this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
Time taken: 9 hours, 30 minutes.
Weather: Clear and cool, some sunshine, very occasional spit of rain.
A couple of weeks away from the hills, and I was keen to get back out in more local surroundings after lapping the Southern Uplands a couple of times. As I've almost run out of new hills to go up within a sensible day trip distance of Inverness, it was back to some old favourites and a chance to link them up in new ways. It was hard to narrow down a destination, but the best weather being on Sunday made things a little more straightforward. I didn't have the car, and there are only a few early trains and buses on Sunday, so that made it a toss-up between Glen Shiel and Aviemore. Better weather in the east suggested Aviemore, so I caught the 8 am bus down there, looking forward to my first long Cairngorms wander in quite a while.
A long walk-in seemed appealing, but as I'd have to walk back out later as well, I decided to shorten my approach and get the bus up to the Cairngorm ski centre. Ideally I would have asked for a drop-off at the Sugar Bowl carpark, but being on a steep hill and hairpin bend, I didn't think the driver would want to stop there. Instead, I left the ski centre and headed cross-country (and downhill!) for a short while before meeting the path through the Chalmain Gap. Cloud was sitting on the plateau, but the sun was coming through in places and it was starting to lift. I was passed by a runner as I approached the gap.
Northern Corries – hope the cloud lifts:
The gap was moderately interesting - I had never been through it before, so it was nice to see. A bit of boulder hopping led back to a reasonable path, then it was into the mouth of the Lairig Ghru. Again, for all my walking in this area, I'd never been through the high part of the pass before.
Into the Lairig Ghru:
The weather was a little grey at times, but it was pleasant easy walking into the pass. One of the great benefits of the Cairngorms is that the going can be really easy underfoot if you pick your route carefully, making long distances feel less than they are. Being a pass, the views were a bit restricted, but there was plenty of interest to look at, with streams emerging from under boulder fields, steep crags on either sides and some clear lochans up at the Pools of Dee.
North to Strathspey:
South to Cairn Toul:
Pools of Dee:
After a couple of hours of walking, I began to get views of Cairn Toul and Sgor an Lochain Uaine, my first summit. In 2007, a friend and I had made an exciting and somewhat terrifying (for me at least) ascent of the NE ridge of this in winter conditions. The route had been a mixture of thawing older snow and ice covered by a fresh dump of unconsolidated powder, making the whole thing very unstable. Ever since then, I've been meaning to come back in summer conditions to see what was really buried under there.
Cairn Toul and Sgor an Lochain Uaine:
Carn a’ Mhaim and the Devil’s Point:
I left the crossing of the Allt na Lairig Ghru a little late. It was flowing quite high, which made the crossing slightly more awkward than it should have been. Lower down, the Allt a' Garbh Choire (really the infant River Dee itself) was even fuller, resulting in wet feet after I resorted to a quick splash through rather than balancing across on boulders.
My route up Sgor an Lochain Uaine:
I had crossed looking for the Garbh Coire bothy, but I couldn't see it. I finally spotted it further upstream than I remembered. As I had also spotted a potential way up through the crags to Lochan Uaine right above me, I didn't visit the bothy this time.
Braeriach across Garbh Coire:
Garbh Coire bothy – can you spot it?
There it is:
I probably should have gone to the bothy, as I vaguely remember a reasonable way up into the corrie above it last time. My chosen route today was a little unpleasant in places, following a steep grassy terrace passing diagonally through the crags. While the terrace itself was fine, getting onto it involved a desparate slithery heather scramble, where every decent looking piece of rock turned out to be unattached to everything else. It reminded me of the dozens of times I'd followed routes like this in the past - Cul Beag, Ben More Assynt, heading up Beinn Bhrotain from Corrour, Maol Chean-dearg and others. Would I ever learn?
Falls of Dee:
I actually hit the corrie a little above Lochan Uaine, but that was OK - a boulder hop took me over to the NE ridge of Lochan Uaine, where I stopped for lunch before heading for the summit.
Lochan Uaine and my route to the summit:
Summit of Braeriach:
Falls of Dee from afar:
Braeriach across Garbh Coire:
Back down the NE ridge:
…and up the rest of it:
Even on the NE ridge, the scrambling doesn't really start until the final 75m - almost 4 hours walking for a 15 minute scramble! Also it breaks into the middle of a handy traverse of 4 Munros. Both of these reasons probably account for the route's lack of popularity. However, to look at it a different way, it is a satisfying trek into a remote and little-visited corrie in the heart of the Cairngorms, followed by a pleasant walk and easy scramble, which ends right at the summit cairn. That certainly sells it to me .
Despite the easiness of the route, I briefly felt a bit jittery. This was daft, as there are only a couple of slightly exposed moves on the entire ridge, and the holds are always on good (mostly) solid granite. I seem to have developed a phobia to anything beyond the easiest scrambles these days - this certainly wasn't the same person who bounded across large sections of the Cuillin ridge 12 years ago, ending in an impromptu ascent of the In Pinn .
As I mentioned earlier, the top of the steep section is satisfyingly close to the summit cairn. I surprised another guy here, who was resting by the cairn and not expecting anybody to approach from this direction. We chatted for a bit - he was out with his tent for 3 nights, and had spent the previous night high on the Braeriach plateau, wondering if his tent was going to blow away.
Back down from the summit:
Top is satisfyingly close:
I carried on towards Braeriach, passing a few more folk along the way. Made a nice change to some of the lower hills, where I never meet anybody at all.
Garbh Choire Mhor and Carn na Criche:
Ben Nevis to the west:
…and Bidean a’ Chabhair and Sgurr na Ciche:
I had made the right choice weather-wise, as showers were sweeping across the western hills. The summit plateau of Braeriach is massive, and feels more like a beach than a mountain top, covered as it is with dry gravelly deposits. I stuck to the edge mostly, and made sure to have a look over the Falls of Dee - surely one of the most impressive waterfalls in the Cairngorms.
Falls of Dee:
Looking back to Sgor an Lochain Uaine and Cairn Toul:
Lines in the sand:
Heading towards the summit of Braeriach:
Falls of Dee close-up:
Cairn Toul and Sgor an Lochain Uaine:
River Dee starting its journey – above and below:
Back to Carn na Criche:
Then more crags on the approach to the summit. A group of half a dozen or so were just leaving as I arrived, and I could see more similar sized groups approaching. It was a fair bit busier than I expected, although it was bank holiday weekend. I suppose the walk from the Sugar Bowl isn't that difficult, even though it is quite a long way. Maybe the draw of being the 3rd highest mountain in Scotland exerts a pullon people as well.
Approaching the summit of Braeriach around Coire Brochain:
Classic view of Lochan Uaine:
Plenty more people on the way up:
I could have headed back the same way as everyone else, benefitting from the good path and taking in a new Munro top (Sron na Lairige), but I was more drawn to the little-visited northern corries. I've seen very little mention of Loch Coire an Lochan anywhere, yet it is perhaps the most recognisable feature of the mountain when seen from Aviemore and the A9. It deserved a visit, I felt.
I took the more westerly of the two spurs heading off this way. Initial boulder hopping soon turned to easy walking as far as the corrie. From here, my planned route following the Beanaidh Beag down to Glen Einich looked like a return to the boulders for much of its length, so I opted for a shorter drop into Glen Einich nearer the loch. First I had a break, as the loch was very pleasant. The cliffs were much more broken and crumbly than on the south side of the mountain, but they also had their own miniature version of the Falls of Dee.
Loch Coire an Lochain:
I was just sitting around minding my own business and the camera went off:
Coire an Lochain:
The sun made much more of an appearance on the walk-out - typical! Much of the descent into Glen Einich was on easy ground, making use of an old stalker's path in places. However this disappeared before the floor of the glen, leaving some steep heather bashing. The views across Loch Einich to Sgor Gaoith more than compensated for this.
Sgor Gaoith and Sgoran Dubh Mor across Glen Einich:
Sgoran Dubh Mor:
Back towards the Northern Corries:
All that remained was a long walk out to Aviemore, which I thought could be done in about 3 hours. I didn't mind this as I hadn't worn myself out on the hills too much. In fact it was really nice, reminding me that the southern Cairngorms don't have a monopoly on long, picturesque approaches.
Head of Glen Einich:
The track down the glen splits into two. Logic dictates that the lower one is the easier option, but I went for the high one for the last views up Glen Einich. I wasn't disappointed. It also reminded me to go up Carn Eilrig sometime, something that has been way down the 'to do' list for years.
Sgoran Dubh Mor:
Meall a’ Bhuachaille and Carin Eilrig:
Meall a’ Bhuachaille:
Back to Braeriach and Carn Eilrig from Rothiemurchus:
At the attractive Lochan Deo, I diverted from the quickest route to visit Loch an Eilean. The sun was now a little low to get the best photos of it, but it was much more attractive without the extortionate parking fee .
Shambolic cottage – still lived in:
Loch an Eilean:
…with island castle:
Easy paths and tracks now to Inverdruie. I have mixed feelings about Rothiemurchus. The pines are really attractive (particularly compared to a typical sitka plantation), but the area is so flat that it is hard to get any views.
Nearly stood on this:
Almost back now … looking back to Braeriach:
Soon I was crossing the Spey, and in front of me was a view I had been looking forward to - the Old Bridge Inn!
When I had booked my return bus (at 8:20 pm), I wasn't sure if it would allow for a pub stop, but here I was with over an hour to spare. I could pay for a ticket on the 7:30 train or spend the money on a few pints - I opted for the latter . Except with the prompting of my wife, I headed to the station after one, still having time to catch the train. Some nice views from the platform.
Braeriach from Aviemore station:
As it was the train from London, and was only stopping at Inverness, the ticket guy had given up trawling for new passengers, giving me a bonus free journey home
by dogplodder » Tue Aug 26, 2014 5:17 pm
I love reading your reports of unusual routes round places I've been - and your photos are always so good.
by weaselmaster » Tue Aug 26, 2014 8:24 pm
Heading up to the cairngorm in a couple of weeks on Tops business, will be incorporating the path from loch Einich as part of the route, so good to see some pics of the terrain/views.
by rockhopper » Tue Aug 26, 2014 11:51 pm
by oldknees » Tue Jul 07, 2015 7:37 am
I was up Braeriach last week ( 30 Jun 2015) via Coire Dondail from Glen Einich. 28 degrees in Aviemore, but the whole Braeriach plateau was shrouded in damp mist while large dangerous snow cornices ready to avalanche anytime were still present on the rim of the Garbh Choire(s)
- Mountain Walker
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- Joined: Jul 22, 2011
by gaffr » Tue Jul 07, 2015 9:13 am
Angel's Ridge is more of a winter route especially so when the water coming out of the Coire an Lochan Uaine is frozen...a good day out in winter.
by Huff_n_Puff » Tue Jul 07, 2015 6:21 pm
by ancancha » Tue Jul 07, 2015 6:23 pm
by Cairngorm creeper » Tue Jul 07, 2015 7:07 pm
by scoob999 » Tue Jul 07, 2015 9:29 pm