Braeriach - 1296m
Creag a' Chalamain - 787m
Saturday 6th August 2011
Weather/Conditions: Cloudy settled weather all the way - there were midges on the summit of Braeriach! The rain switched on during the drive home and it was torrential.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 21.8km / 1350m / 7h 25m
Accompanying: Michael (plus friend - Richard?) and Pete
Michael Kerrigan invited me on this trip. He was doing it as a day-walk, Glasgow and home in a day. It called for an early start. Braeriach is a big hill and the approach is long. The car park is at 450m, but the total ascent is mean for a single Munro.
Michaels work colleague came along, as did Pete Swales. We met in the car park, where the midges were having a feast on the humans unfortunate enough to be standing out in the open. And thus we got going as soon as possible, walking through the pines by the Sugar Bowl car park.
The track opens up onto open hillside, and we saw across to Coire an t-Sneachda and Coire an Lochain. Both looked unassuming today, defying their reputations as severe winter climbing venues. Ahead, we had to Chalamain gap to pass through, a slot of jumbled boulders. The Gap is like a window into another place - you suddenly leave the hustle of Aviemore and the Ski Centre behind. On the far side, a wild landscape awaits. But I'm of the opinion that the Sugar Bowl car park as a starting point isn't as useful as it seems to be: you descend 100m on the other side and regain that height on the way out - adding 200m ascent all in. I thought it would have been nicer to come in from Balvattan, through the pines, leaving the ski centre well alone.
Anyhow, we started the long plod to Sron na Lairige, and I hadn't realised how long it would be. I was also very tired, and hadn't slept much the night before. It's a climb of 600 vertical metres to Sron na Lairige but things seemed to get better the higher we got. I thought it was a shame to see the Cairngorms as so underwhelming, but the Lairig Ghru wasn't what I'd expected. It was smaller than I'd imagined and a bit dank in the weather. Claustrophobic. I imagine the Sinclair hut might not have been a very nice place to stay either. But the weather had much to do with this, it wasn't the sunniest of days.
But Braeriach really came into it's own higher up. Michael and I went to the top of Sron na Lairige first then we all set off up Braeriach which has a very eroded path climbing it's flank - a sad sight. There was some aircraft wreckage strewn about, and then we hit the ridge. The reality of how high we'd climbed kicked in when we found ourselves atop the great cliffs of Garbh Choire, the Lairig Ghru and the hanging valley which cradles Lochain Uaine across the valley. It was a huge scene, we were at 1200m. My day was made to this sight!
Why Braeriach is a great hill:
The summit followed shortly afterward. Until we joined the summit ridge, I couldn't understand why a friend had said they'd loved Braeriach for it's airiness. To add to my growing joy, I began to work out what all the little mountains on the horizon were. Most prominent were the Ben Alder/Geal-charn massif and all the Nevis Range. These two regions dwarfed all other mountains in size. I saw the distinctive paps of Ben More and Stob Binnein and my jaw dropped. Ben Lawers clicked into place, as did Beinn Achaladair (The Wall of Rannoch), distinctive for it's steep north face. I looked north and sitting on the horizon, unmistakably and undeniably was the steep pyramid of Knoydart's very own Sgurr na Ciche. I realised, with no small sense of awe, I could see from one end of Scotland to the other.
I saw essentially a cross section of Scotland, looking through the ripples of the western mountains - everything from Crianlarich to Monar. That's a hell of a distance. It doesn't matter how many times this sort of thing happens, I love it every time. The air must have been remarkably clear, especially for a summers day. The air was so still that we swatted midges on the summit. Midges at nearly 1300m - that mustn't happen very often.
We descended the way we came. Pete went off to climb MacDui and the rest of us went back to the Chalamain gap. The weather closed in a bit - it rained at bit on the way down Sron na Lairige, but it had turned off by the time I dropped my pack and knocked off Creag a' Chalamain.
We'd done well for the weather - we arrived back at the car dry and Michael and I headed home to Glasgow. By the time we arrived at Drumochter, the rain was coming down in sheets and a cold wind swept up the valley. The driving was a little long and Michael must be thanked for giving me a lift back to my front door. If it were me, I'd prefer to stay the night up in Aviemore, but it was also fun to try the one-day strike. To add to that, Braeriach was my last Munro of that west/central group of six. The previous five were knocked off in one swoop with Pete a year previously.
Braeriach 140° Detail: Loch Earn + Tay, Atholl, Crianlarich, Etive, Glen Coe, Nevis, Monadhliath, Knoydart, Shiel, Monar
(0.00) 8.40am Sugar Bowl car park
(2.55) 11.35pm Sron na Lairige
(3.40) 12.20pm Braeriach
(4.10) 12.50pm Braeriach (left)
(6.25) 3.05pm Creag a' Chalamain
(7.25) 4.05pm Sugar Bowl car park