Winter's clinging on - Braeriach/Cairn Toul Traverse

Route: Cairn Toul - Braeriach traverse

Munros: Braeriach, Cairn Toul, Sgor an Lochain Uaine, The Devil's Point

Date walked: 14/04/2014

Time taken: 11.5 hours

Distance: 38km

Ascent: 1500m

I received a text from my cousin, Steven, a few weeks back. He had a couple weeks holiday in April and wanted to know if I fancied meeting up to head out for a day on the hills. I immediately said yes - I don't get too many opportunities to walk with other people so thought it would be great to not have to go solo for a day. It also gave me the option of looking into a couple of routes I was interested in but might not have been too confident of tackling on my own, especially at this time of year with winter still hanging on up some of the higher peaks. So I booked the day off work and started planning.

The Cairn Toul - Braeriach traverse was one I'd been eyeing for a while. I knew it would be tough - it's quite a bit longer than anything I'd attempted before - but I also knew it would be a great chance to test myself on a long, challenging route whilst having the safety net of walking with somebody else. (Of course it would also let me add four more ticks to my meagre Munro count :wink: ) I sent him the route details and within a few minutes he replied - he was in!

The two weeks leading up to it I was constantly checking for updates on weather and snow conditons. I knew we were going to be on some pretty exposed terrain so wanted to make sure we weren't taking any unnecessary risks. Safe to say that MWIS, SAIS, Met Office, BBC Weather, and the Cairngorm webcams must all have seen a bump in traffic due to me during these couple of weeks :)

I set off early on Monday morning from Inverness with the plan being to meet at the Sugar Bowl car park at 8am. The sun was out in Inverness and the wind had dropped considerably so I was feeling pretty good. I will confess to starting to have some doubts though. Could I manage this? Would I be holding Steven back? Steven is one of those strange breed of people who runs ultra-marathons for fun. Just two weeks before he ran the 55 miles Glasgow - Edinburgh Ultra and in June he is running the West Highland Way Race which he hopes to complete in less than 24 hours. Almost 100 miles in less than 24 hours? Sounds easy :roll: Would I be able to keep up? I was committed now though so no turning back.

Waiting patiently at car park.

There was only one other car in the car park, a guy from Dumfries who advised me that the machine wasn't working - free parking! Bonus! Although the route described on Walkhighlands heads through the Lairig Ghru up to Corrour Bothy first, before climbing Devil's Point and finishing at Braeriach, we decided to do it in reverse. Our thinking was that if conditions were bad once we reached the top of Braeriach, we would have the option of turning back. Coincidentally the gentleman I spoke to at the car park had the same idea but did say he was more likely just to do Braeriach. Steven turned up shortly after and we headed off.

We crossed the road and followed the path down to the footbridge over the Allt Mor. Followed the path on the other side where we would see what little snow was remaining on the Cairngorm ski centre:


And then on a little further to catch our first glimpse of the Chalamain Gap:

The Chalamain Gap and our first snow of the day.

Steven pointing out a rock?!

Having never actually been through the gap I was quite looking forward to a bit of a scramble :) It seems you either love it or you hate it and I think I may have had a bit of both as I certainly didn't enjoy it as much on my return after 20 miles :lol:

We managed to get through unscathed and headed towards the Lairig Ghru. Snow was covering the stream so we headed a little further up than the path to find a safe place to cross. From here we started to climb towards Braeriach. We passed the guy I saw in the car park earlier. He'd been ever so kind as to provide us with some handy steps through our first real snow patch :D We never saw him again after that and his car was gone by time we got back so I assume he just did Braeriach and then headed back.

FULL DISCLOSURE: Neither of us were carrying ice axes or crampons. Mainly due to the fact that neither of us own any. I know this is generally seen as risky at this time of year up on the high peaks, but we were perfectly prepared to turn back if underfoot conditons became difficult. Luckily we didn't have to and to be honest, throughout the whole walk there was only a tiny patch on the climb up to Sgor an Lochain Uaine that crampons would even be worthwhile.

Climbing slightly higher and we got some views over to Sgor Gaoith, but there was still a lot of cloud hanging around Braeriach:


As we climbed up to Braeriach conditons worsened considerably, so much so that I didn't want to pull out my camera up on the top. I did manage to snap a couple of pics with my phone though:

Me, looking a lot happier than poor Trixie there!


It was at this point that we had to make the decision whether or not to carry on or to head back the way we came. Whilst the weather was pretty bad up here, underfoot conditions were surprisingly good - nice, firm snow that offered plenty grip. Being the brash, daft things that we are, we decided to push on. Our, possibly naive, thinking being that this was the highest point so surely it can only get better :lol: The forecast was for it to brighten up in the afternoon :roll:

We pushed on, making sure to keep a very wide berth of the still large cornices which were visible along the edges of the plateau. Here's a taste of the conditons up there:

Cornices visible along the edge.

"It's clearing up!"

It was difficult to navigate without anything of note to aim for and visibility so poor, but we managed alright by using a combination of OS map, compass and Steven's GPS watch which we used to get our grid co-ordinates. We did head a bit further west than we planned along the plateau, partly due to trying avoid the edges of the corrie, but we corrected ourselves and eventually descended slightly and out of the clouds.

The clouds finally broke and we caught a glimpse of our next destination - Sgor an Lochain Uaine and Cairn Toul:

I was blind and now I can see!

Looking splendid!


Still carrying the same stone from the beginning of the walk

Probably best to avoid these!

Yup, it's that way!

We stopped for a quick bite to eat while the sun was out and then headed off round the corrie edge to climb the Angel's Peak. No sooner had we started then the clouds set in again. This was made all the more difficult by the patch of icy snow I had mentioned earlier that crampons might have came in handy for. But we persevered, sticking to the rocks when we could and keeping a safe distance from the edge and made it to the top. No views to speak of up there - far too cloudy :( But this would be the last of the clouds we would see all day!

We made the short descent from Sgor an Lochain Uaine and the clouds cleared and the weather only got better for the rest of the day. We were speaking rubbish on the climb up to Cairn Toul and before we knew it we were on the summit. Managed to grab some good pics up here:


Couldn't find my sunglasses so snowboarding goggles were the eyewear of choice!

Cracking views all around. Spent a bit of time up here before heading for the last Munro of the day - the Devil's Point.

Ben Macdui

From up on Cairn Toul this actually looked like it was gonna be a nice easy descent across some powdery snow and along a nice flat bit of land to the summit, but I was actually surprised at how much of a climb there was once we got down. The snow was pretty deep on our way down but not that bad to walk on. We spied some other tracks which suggested we weren't the only other dafties that had been out recently.

Approach to the summit of Devil's Point

Photo of the day

Obligatory summit pic

We ran down through the snow to Corrour bothy. Couldn't find the path here until quite far down and there were a couple of unstable looking slabs of snow, but we managed to get down no problem.


We stopped at the bothy for a bite to eat and a beer. There were 3 guys there already who were planning on staying the night. They'd been up Ben Macdui that day and were planning on doing the route we'd just done in reverse the next day. Hope they got some decent weather for it! When we were sitting out in the sunshine the Mountain rescue helicopter was flying around the Lairig Ghru and over a few of the tops. They must have been doing some training or something because they were covering a large area and circling round often. Snapped a few pics:



We tried to get Trixie to pose for some photos but she wasn't having it. Here's the crazy mutt and the Devil's Point:


And here's a behind the scenes look at how we got the shot! :lol: :lol: :


We then began to make the return journey back to the start/finish. This was my first time walking in the Lairig Ghru and it really is absolutely gorgeous. My Dad is desparate to walk up through there so I'm sure he's feeling very jealous right about now :D .

Two of the day's summits!

One last look down the Lairig Ghru.

We set off at a fairly decent pace knowing that we still had a fair few miles ahead of us. After about 2 miles I hit the proverbial brick wall and found it pretty tough for the last couple of hours. This wasn't helped by Trixie rubbing it in about how good she felt by still running about like mad. I wonder what her mileage was! The Chalamain Gap was a particularly draining exercise at this point, although the rocks had dried quite a bit making them a bit easier to get over. We got back to the car just after 8 o'clock, not long before the sun came down, my phone dying just as I saved the route (very lucky!). According to my, questionably reliable, phone we walked 23.75 miles. A fair trek I would say.

I won't lie, I was absolutely exhausted by the time I got back to the car but it was 100% worth it. Great company, great challenge, and some of the greatest views I've ever witnessed firsthand. All in all it probably ranks as the best day I've ever had on the hills. :D

First report and it's a big one but hopefully there is enough pics to keep it interesting :)

I need a lie down now :)


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Location: Culloden, Inverness
Occupation: Music Tutor
Activity: Walker
Pub: Fox and Hounds Inn
Mountain: Meall Fuar-mhonaidh
Place: Glen Coe

Munros: 29
Corbetts: 1
Grahams: 1
Donalds: 3
Wainwrights: 5
Hewitts: 9
Sub 2000: 14

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Trips: 1
Distance: 38 km
Ascent: 1500m
Munros: 4

Joined: Jul 16, 2012
Last visited: Sep 09, 2019
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