Finally Popping my Monadh Ruadh Cherry - Braigh Riabhach

Route: Braeriach, circuit from Whitewell

Munros: Braeriach

Date walked: 28/09/2013

Time taken: 8 hours

Distance: 28.8km

Ascent: 1329m

Back at the turn of the year, I commented in the “2013 New Year’s Resolutions” thread with a few of my hopes for the year ahead. Now that the leaves are turning, I was conscious that although I had surpassed my goal of upping my paltry Munro collection to over 20, I hadn’t yet achieved the resolution that I was most looking forward to keeping – my first adventure into the high Cairngorms. 8)

While my experiences in the central and western highlands to date had enthralled and enchanted in equal measure, the proximity of the southern reaches of the Cairngorms National Park to the Strathmore valley in which I grew up has lent the hills of the Mounth a special significance to me – because of this my adventures on the rounder likes of Beinn a’Ghlo, Lochnagar, Mayar and Mount Keen have been just as enjoyable as the more obvious candidates of the Buachailles and my wanderings on the isle of Harris. Following my affection for these hills to its logical conclusion, the high Cairngorms represented the mountains I longed to venture into the most – all appearing to share the characteristic elements of my “home” hills (beautiful forest, unexpectedly craggy faces and long walks in) but on a grander scale. :D

Despite my best intentions, I was facing the onset of Autumn without a single blue balloon in the Monadh Ruadh. A glimmer of hope appeared in the form of a rare occurrence - a free Saturday, with a half decent weather forecast to boot. The next challenge was fitness – with the exception of the standard plod up the skiing developments at the eponymous mountain at the heart of the Cairngorms, there doesn’t appear to be a single munro which you might class as “a wee walk”, particularly when you don’t own or ride a bike. This to me seems like one of the great conundrums of the Cairngorms as a whole – an area with well developed paths and facilities suggesting an overall theme of “accessibility”, but with remote mountains whose walk-ins alone rival the length of what might be a great traverse if in the west. Becca and I had managed the long walk in and out of Carn a’Chlamain some weeks ago in the summer and, apart from Maggie (my Jack Russell) suffering a little from the oppressive heat of that day, we fared relatively well. With this in mind, I scanned various resources until I settled on what I felt could be my only introduction to this wonderful place – a circular route of the mighty Braigh Riabhach.

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I liked the look of the standard circular from Whitewell, however I really wanted to extend the walk for a visit to the Wells of Dee and to see a bit more of Glen Eanaich, so plotted my route to descend via the Coire Dhondail path. The available information on stalking suggested that my route would be less disruptive to any stalking parties to the shorter descent by Loch Coire An Lochain and, although I wouldn’t have minded a glimpse of the blue loch, I knew there’d be more than enough eye candy on my longer trek to make up for it. I set off from a depressingly foggy Edinburgh at around 06:30 and, after a very murky drive up the A9, was pleasantly relived to be pulling into a clag-free car park at Whitewell just before 09:00.

Maggie and I set off at good pace into the Rothiemurchus forest, with the excellent paths making for easy walking. This was my first experience of these wonderful old trees and I can’t emphasise enough the effect it had on me. :shock: The light and space between the endlessly interesting shapes of the ancient Scots pines had allowed the forest floor to bloom into a colourful carpet of heather and mosses, while all was saturated with a clean, sweet scent that would make Febreze a lot of money if it could be bottled. A strange thing for a lover of rocky mountains to say but even if the weather had thrown a hissy fit at that point and forced me to abandon the walk, I’d still have found it worthwhile. Thankfully, the weather just got better as the day went on, and in the far (very far) distance, the great bulk of Braeriach rose beneath the higher patchy cloud, clear to the summit.


After an hour or so, the trees thinned until I was greeted with my first glimpse of the famous mountain pass, the Lairig Ghru. A thick white cloud had settled in the base of the glen but would sadly clear before I was high enough above it to snatch a picture. After passing the steep path off to my left from which some already tired looking walkers were descending from the Chalamain gap, I started determinedly plodding up the wide ridge of Sron Na Lairige, enjoying the ever improving views into the glen, over the towering rocky wall of Lurcher’s crag and back toward Speyside and the leafy green sea of Rothiemurchus. There were a good few people out and I shared many conversations with walkers I passed, young and old, all enjoying this fantastic landscape and the clear, but still atmospherically cloudy conditions. I bumped into a couple of lad as I reached the wide summit of Sron Na Lairige and Maggie and I accompanied them from there to the summit of Braeriach. It was around here that I realised my first mistake of the day. The temperature was too cold to wear just my base layer, but too warm to wear a fleece. My answer had been to don a plaid cotton shirt – a foolish choice! Within minutes of beginning my ascent I was soaked through, my base layer cleverly wicking any sweat away from my body and depositing into the fabric of my shirt! Lovely – anyone got any recommendations for a good trail shirt which would work better in these mild conditions?

Through the Ghru.JPG
Through The Ghru

Lairig Ghru.JPG
Lairig Ghru

Lurcher's Crag.JPG
Lurcher's Crag

Moisture aside, a little respite was offered as were collectively awestruck upon reaching the eastern rib of Braeriach and the view down to the southern end of the Lairig Ghru is opened up. For me, this is up there along with the summit of Stob Dearg for “wow” moments, with the broken crags of Braeriach sweeping down into Coire Bhrochain before rising again in the volcano like Coire An Lochaine Uaine, cradled by the shapely forms of Cairn Toul and Sgor an Lochain. To the east, the arête from Carn a’Mhaim up to Ben MacDui looked particularly fine, although given that this is a route I’ve been considering for the future, I was pretty surprised at just how much climb there appeared to be from the ridge up to the summit! Despite still having a fair ol’ chunk of ascent to go, we practically skipped up the final metres to the summit, spurred on by those wonderful views and the fact that the very localised white cloud that had briefly clung to the 1296m point had dissipated. The final summit of Braeriach was, to me, a truly magnificent sight where the contrasting views of the massive pink granite cliffs falling away in front of you were offset by the vastness of the bleak, tundra-like plateau which seemed to stretch for miles around. The cloud was obscuring the views to the more distant western and central highland hills but the experience was no worse off for it – the summit of Braigh Riabhach is truly a spectactular place.

Best view yet.JPG
Best View Yet?

Carn a'Mhaim.JPG
Carn a'Mhaim

Pink Granite.JPG
Pink Granite

Southern Ghru.JPG
The Southern Ghru

Maggie's highest point.JPG
Maggie Summitting Braeriach

MacDui in the Clouds

Coire Bhrochain Cliffs.JPG
Coire Bhrochain Cliffs

Stunning Cairn Toul & Sgor An Lochain Uaine.JPG
Cairn Toul & Sgor An Lochain Uaine

As my impromptu walking companions sat down for some food, I bade them farewell and set off towards the west, conscious that I still had a long way to go and that I wanted to find a more secluded spot in which to refuel. I hugged the cliff edge for a time before retreating a little when the boulderfield became a little more awkward. A short lived clump of clag emphasised how tricky navigation would be up here in worse conditions, however my route straightforwardly would follow the cliffs until the falls of Dee, thereafter following the infant river across the plateau to its source before cutting west toward Glen Eanaich. This proved a good plan and, boulder sections aside, the plateau made for good walking and was far less boggy than I’d have thought. After a brief refreshing stop at the Wells of Dee, we continued west until the steep drop down to Glen Eanaich was revealed, buttressed impressively by the imposing crags of Sgor Gaoith. With only a small crowd of deer cautiously from the distant expanse of the Moine Mhor, we stopped for a proper break in what truly felt like remote wilderness.

Falls of Dee.JPG
Over the Falls of Dee

Infant Dee.JPG
4000ft Dee

Maggie at the wells.JPG
Maggie at the Wells of Dee

trying to steal lunch.JPG
Lunch Thief

Moine Mhor.JPG
Moine Mhor

Down into Glel Eanaich.JPG
Down into Glen Eanaich

After shamelessly replacing my many lost calories, we followed the stream downhill to where we would eventually pick up the path down into Coire Dhondail. Except we didn’t, and this is where I made my second mistake of the day by trying to take a short cut. As so often happens in the hills, I thought I could see a clear path heading down the flanks of Coire Dhondail to join the “proper” path and thought this might save a few minutes. When my so called path turned out to be, well nothing really, I quickly realised that the sheer steepness and stupidity of this “short cut” would actually negate any kind of time saving. I gingerly edged my way down the intensely steep grass until I found myself back on the main path, managing to experience a slightly terrifying and seemingly unstoppable bum slide as I did so. Short cuts have now been banned from all future hill walks.

Loch Eanaich.JPG
Loch Eanaich

Glen Eanaich.JPG
Glen Eanaich

Back to Braeriach.JPG
Back to Braeriach

Distant Sgor Gaoith.JPG
Distant Sgor Gaoith

Wonderful Pines

Once on the path, i was free to admire the sweeping views up to Sgor Gaoith and chums, into dark Loch Eanaich and, somewhere in the very far distance, the forest I would eventually re-enter on my way back to the car. On any other day, in any other place, I might have angrily recounted this part of the walk as a “relentless slog”. I was admittedly tired, but the wonderful views up and down the glen, along with back up to the mighty mountain I’d descended, prevented me from doing anything but enjoy the walk. After a few hours, I was re-entering the Rothiemurchus, in a section which seemed even more captivating than the walk in., entertained for the length of the walk by sunshine, dragonflies, nasty looking wood ants, wonderfully twisted ancient trees, and Maggie trying to chase every pine cone I accidentally kicked. We completed the walk in a fairly respectable 8 hours, returning to Whitewell at just before 17:00. I know I tend to gush too much in my TRs but this has been the tastiest icing yet to have adorned my munro cake. I’m definitely coming back to the Monadh Ruadh to taste some more. :D

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Comments: 6

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User avatar
Location: Edinburgh
Activity: Hill Bagger
Pub: 52 Canoes
Mountain: Braeriach
Place: Glen Doll
Camera: Iphone 5c, Instagram

Munros: 60
Corbetts: 3
Grahams: 2
Donalds: 3
Sub 2000: 5


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