Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Winter Holiday Part 2: Braeriach, Cairn Toul and Sgor Gaoith

Part 2 is what it is all about for me- this mountain climbing thing- one of those trips where you know there is nowhere else on Earth you would rather be than where you are right now. Fine weather, great conditions and stunning mountains coincided in a shining three day expedition on and around the Braeriach Plateau.

Day 1 gave very little hint of the stellar days to come. We set off from Loch an Eilein in drizzle, sheltering amongst the trees of the Rothiemurchus estate, until we emerged at the entrance to Glen Einich where a gloomy mist hung low over the peaks. We stopped for a bite and watched a small flock of crested tits feeding in the fringes of the forest. Further up the glen, we dumped our packs at a suitable camp spot, and continued upstream to Loch Einich, a moody lake flanked on all sides by looming cliffs. The rain turned to sleet and then briefly to snow. 

Even in gloomy weather Glen Einich is a dramatic place to be.

Sgor Gaoith and the craggy Cailleach tower over the loch at the head of the glen.

We returned to our bags as dusk drew in to pitch our tent by the burn that flows from the coires on the north side of Braeriach.

Day 2 dawned as misty as the previous day, but the sun began to break through the clouds as we set off. We followed the burn up stream until we could easily gain the ridge of Sron na Lairige

 Once we had gained the shoulder, there were impressive views of Ben Macdui and south into the Lairig Ghru. 

 Braeriach itself is a huge lump that rises up on the west side of the Lairig Ghru. In good visibility it was possible to follow the dramatic rim of the plateau.  In bad vis, hidden gullies and cornices would present serious hazards here. 

 Beyond the summit a vast plateau seems to go on forever. We followed the rim around and over Sgor an Lochain Uaine (The Angel's Peak)

 Eventually as the shadows lengthened we reached the summit of Cairn Toul, guarding the southwestern flank of the Lairig Ghru. 

 We retraced our steps back to Angel's Peak, and descended towards the plateau as the moon rose and the sun set. 

Catching the last rays of sun before dropping down to our camp above the Allt Luineag.

Our second night was a cold one, we camped at over 900m with clear skies.  To keep our water from freezing we heated it up and then used our water bottles as hot-water-bottles in our sleeping bags.  I put my boots in my bivy bag to stop them from freezing too, but the one on the outside still froze solid in the night.  It was quite eerie listening in our tent to what was probably only a gentle breeze whistling over the tops in the silence of the plateau. The moon was almost full and the plateau shimmered in the darkness even in the tent it was quite bright.

Dawn on the plateau. Probably the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.

 Day 2 and we continued to descend in to the maze of rivers and lochains around the Allt Luineag. Unsure of how solid the snow cover would be, we navigated as best we could around the hidden hazards and boggy traps beneath our feet. We had great views back in to Glen Einich.

Climbing up on to Sgor Gaoith,  we watched as an inversion crept slowly over the plateau to our south. It sped up as it crossed the Allt Luineag and spilled in to Glen Einich.  We sped up too!

Beginning our descent from the ridge, looking back towards Sgoran Dubh Mor and Sgoran Dubh Beag. 

We dropped down to Coire Follais, where a path is marked on the 1:25K maps. Its not a great option, as the path is barely visible in places and in others badly eroded above a ravine. The woodland at the bottom was wonderful though! From there it was an easy stomp back to Loch an Eilein and the van.

1 comment:

Fraser said...

Lovely. If only it was always blue skies! Thanks for sharing.