walkhighlands

Exploring the Braeriach plateau

Date walked: 21/07/2021

Day 1

With good weather forecast until Saturday, I took the National Express up from Manchester to Glasgow on Wednesday night, then the Citylink up to Aviemore. This is a relatively painless way to travel such a great distance - Scotland is generally pretty good to those of us without cars.

I'd intended to head up Sgor Gaoith by its long northern ridge but as it was so outrageously hot I decided to walk in along Gleann Eanaich so I could cool down in in the river when required. As with all walk-ins through Rothiemurchus I was treated to a succession of little marvels, from steamy little lochs over which monstrous dragonflies motored and in whose reeds amorous crimson damsels entwined, to a pair of crossbills quietly murmuring to each other up in the big scots pines. One such loch was fringed with grass of quite the most lurid, brilliant green I have ever seen in nature.

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When the path finally met the river at the edge of the forest I was very hot and thirsty. I stood in the water and drank long, cool gulps, and let it splash up over my shorts. Sgoran Dubh Mor lay ahead, calling me on, but this was far too nice a place to hurry from. I lay on a rock and read while the water evaporated from between my toes.

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The farther up the glen I walked, the more of Sgor Gaoith's cliffs were revealed, and the more Braeriach showed of its ice cream scoop corries. Orchids and harebells poked through the heather and little trout darted away as I crossed streams. More than anywhere else I can think of, the walk-ins and -outs to and from the Cairngorms are as rewarding as the walking on the tops themselves.

Loch Eanaich itself was rather lovelier than I'd anticipated. From pictures I had expected a rather forbidding and dark place, but in the sun its waters were turquoise and green, its shores dotted with wildflowers. Another place to linger, more water to wade into.

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But as I got out, the insect onslaught began. Chief of my tormentors was a big horsefly with huge green eyes like a sultan's emeralds, which fairly scoffed at my attempts to thwart its advances. I set off as quickly as I could along the shore, looking for the stalkers' path that ascends towards the headwall at the back of the glen.

It's a clever little path but I had some trouble finding it, and keeping it. When it disappeared I stumbled through the heather for a bit before climbing higher until I was reunited with it. The flies kept pace with me until I reached the waterfall spilling out from the corrie marked A' Phocaid on the map, at which point they and the path vanished. I now crossed rough, bouldery ground, making for a grassy rake to the right of a gully. This was steep but eventually I found myself on the periphery of the Moine Mhor, the Great Moss, a place I had wanted to visit for years.

I made for Loch nan Cnapan, where I intended to pitch, but my eye was caught by a series of smaller lochans hidden behind bouldery mounds. Indeed, the edge of the plateau here hides numerous such little pools, and after a little exploration I selected a bit of flat ground near one of them and got the tent up.

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I had a wander over to Loch nan Cnapan - it was fortunate I had pitched elsewhere, as there were two tents on the far shore, and a dog whose barking seemed to be directed at me. I left the other campers in peace and strolled back to my tent to watch the sky turn pink over the fading rows of hills in the distance. The Moon was especially bright and as late as 11pm I was able to get a clear photo of my tent.

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Day 2

I woke up a few times after the sun had risen, but I think a combination of yesterday's heat and bites had taken a toll on me and I couldn't be bothered getting up. Indeed, as the day progressed one of my fingers and my right hand both swelled up to twice their normal size, a reaction I've never had before to any kind of bite (and I've had more than my fair share). But when I at one point popped my head round the door and saw a cloud inversion filling up Glen Eanaich I at last managed to drag myself out of the tent for a coffee. I paddled in the lochan and caught frogs by its shore for a bit until my head had cleared enough for me to set off towards Sgor Gaoith.

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The inversion had retreated far down the glen by this point but the views were good enough for it not to matter. At the spring Fuaran Diotach I perched on a rock and watched the water plummet into the corrie below, where it flowed to the same fall I had lost the path at yesterday. Braeriach looked magnificent. It's a pretty magical place, a future campsite I should think. It took another coffee before I could pull myself away.

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The approach to Sgor Gaoith is easy from this side. The view is wide-ranging, taking in the Lochaber hills and some of the ranges north of Fort William, but Braeriach and the loch still steal the show. I didn't linger too long though, as I spied a couple of parties approaching from Carn Ban Mor. It was a pleasant walk down to my lochan through the little meadows of bog cotton, and I paused to watch plump tadpoles in the little tarns.

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I sat for some time back at my tent. I felt tired far out of proportion to what I'd done, and my swollen finger was concerning me. My plan to take in Monadh Mor and Cairn Toul was out but I'd really wanted to return to the Braeriach plateau proper for the first time in five years. Eventually, at around half five, I'd packed everything and was on my way.

Even more little lochans revealed themselves as I walked. There not being any path to follow, I instead followed a stream for a while just to enjoy its little plunge pools and the big clumps of moss that adorned its banks. Bog cotton grew from bright, shallow pools which reflected the clouds. Summer is the season in which I think the British mountains look their worst - everything is too green, grassy and artificial. But the Cairngorms are as good now as at any time, partly because they retain so much flora that isn't grass.

Nevertheless, I struggled with the short climb to the plateau. But just as the gradient began to ease, a familiar yet joyous sight greeted me. A big herd of reindeer was grazing on the skyline. After regarding me warily for a moment, half of the herd began as one to trot down to me. A few of the bolder ones sniffed my hand; others got on with reindeerly business like stomping in mud and nuzzling.

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My tiredness disappeared and after a while with the herd I walked across the plateau with a spring in my step. I found the Wells of Dee and followed the infant river towards the fall. I love how unusual it is up here. You could almost be in some American desert, with the spiky tufts of reeds sticking out through the gravel.

Just above where the Dee drops off the plateau is a fairly well-used area of grass, big enough for a couple of tents. I'm not sure I've camped in a finer spot, save perhaps for the top of Suilven. Cairn Toul and the Angel's Peak belied the odd notion some people have of the Cairngorms as little more than big hills by looking like something from the Julian Alps.

There is some hard-to-define magic instrinsic to this place. Water springs from the earth ("For unnumbered years it has welled from the rock, and flowed away. It does nothing, absolutely nothing, but be itself" wrote Nan Shepherd of this very water), skips off the edge, and when it hits the floor of the glen 600 metres below it is a river. Perhaps it just appeals to our human need for completeness and closure, but to witness the birth of water and then in the same glance watch it at first rush, then meander, beyond sight two miles away and six hundred metres below feels like popping bubble wrap for the soul.

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The last time I was here I spent a glorious couple of hours at the summit around sunset and I was keen to repeat that now. The granite glowed pink in the late sun as I strolled easily to the top. The architecture of Coire Brochain was stunning. "Just big hills"...

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Cairn Toul and its secretive loch draw the eyes from here, and the drop down to the corrie, and the openness of the view to the north, give the top of this broad, flat mountain a sense of huge spaciousness. The first time I climbed Braeriach it quickly became my favourite mountain (only to be deposed by Suilven a month later) and the joy in being here was if anything even stronger this time around.

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I'd have been quite content with just this, but all of a sudden the air in the Lairig Ghru seemed to coagulate before my eyes and suddenly mist was sweeping up towards the rim of the corrie. It stopped short of spilling up over the edge, and so with the sun behind me shining through clear air onto the vapour before me I was suddenly confronted by a Brocken Spectre. These conditions lasted for a very intense hour, the cloud cycling through phases of choking thickness, filling the corrie like flour in a bowl, and ethereal wispiness, giving fleeting, frosted glass glimpses across to Ben Macdui and Cairn Toul.

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I sat up there until the mist had cleared and it had become dark, utterly alone and completely happy. As I walked back to my tent by moonlight the glen below filled up with cloud, promising an inversion in the morning. A movement on the skyline caught my eye: a mountain hare, silhouetted against the sky, on some cautious twilight foray.

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Day 3

I woke after sunrise again, but I felt better than yesterday. Except for my swollen finger and top of my right hand, which were even bigger now. I couldn't make a fist with either, and the hand in particular felt like it was going to burst.

The expected inversion was indeed there, though I couldn't see much of it from here. I packed as quickly as I could, forgoing breakfast (but not my coffee) and heading across the plateau. I arrived at the edge of Coire an Lochain and had my breath taken away again. I'd never seen the lochan before. It was a deep, deep blue. The Meall a Bhuachaille group stood proud of the cloud sea that filled the landscape to the north.

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I met my first human on Braeriach after having sat at the summit for an hour or so, a fella aiming to do the Lairig Ghru round in a day. He'd attempted similar on skis one winter - it reminded me of my visit to the Cairngorm plateau last month, when snow still lay on half the plateau and it felt like Winter would never relinquish its grip up here. Summer had definitely caught up now though.

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I didn't take many other photos, but just want to add: at the col between Braeriach and Sron na Lairige I fell into conversation with a man headed for Carn a Mhaim. Lovely bloke, lovely chat, and he gave me an antihistamine for my finger. He mentioned WalkHighlands - if you're reading this now, I just want to say thank you again. The tablet did nothing but it was worth a shot!

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Corbetts: Cùl Mòr
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SummitStupid


Location: North Wales
Activity: Munro compleatist
Mountain: Suilven
Place: Assynt + Cairngorms
Gear: Scarpa Oxygen shoes
Ideal day out: A leisurely, exploratory backpack through the Cairngorms, with high camps and bothy nights.
Ambition: To climb a 6,000m peak

Munros: 20
Corbetts: 12
Grahams: 3
Wainwrights: 81
Hewitts: 106
Sub 2000: 2



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Statistics

2021

Trips: 1

2019

Trips: 1

2017

Trips: 2
Distance: 10.7 km
Ascent: 660m
Corbetts: 1


Joined: Apr 10, 2017
Last visited: Oct 25, 2021
Total posts: 220 | Search posts