Our blog - Cairngorm 4000s, Aug'17

A blog of our mountain adventures in Scotland, hiking, biking, rock-scrambling and more !

Cairngorm 4000ers

16-17 August 2017
Two days of guided hiking up the high mountains over 4000 feet in the Cairngorms. Emma was leading, here's the tale....

We left the Sugar Bowl car park early and with a forecast for significantly deteriorating conditions into the afternoon we made good time across the boulders of the Chalmain Gap. A short descent into the Lairig Ghru followed before we started the long pull up to the Pools of Dee. The weather was mixed and the southerly wind already brisk, however, we were rewarded with a view from the 835m high point of the pass, although the slopes above to Ben Macdui and Braeriach were shrouded in mist. Once across the Pools of Dee we pressed on keen to try to reach the Garbh Choire Bothy before 11am. Our plan to traverse the high level ridge from Cairn Toul to Braeriach gives a full day out, and the wind speeds forecast for 60mph in the afternoon kept us moving. The rivers and streams were all running high after lots of rain the day before and they provided us with a little entertainment to cross them. A pause for an early elevenses and a quick look inside the basic bothy put us at the foot of the water slide from Lochan an Uaine.

It's a steep climb up to the loch, with an ever widening panorama. We were lucky! We could see up the north ridge to Cairn Toul and follow the skyline round past Angel's Peak towards Braeriach. Although the summit of the 3rd highest mountain in the UK remained shrouded in mist all day we did see the rest of the ridge. The north ridge of Cairn Toul is little travelled, the granite boulders are rough, and the route pathless. We were completely sheltered from the gusting wind until 10 minutes from the summit though we were able to shelter by the cairn for some well earned lunch. It had taken us 5 hours from the car park to reach our first summit.

Now the wind really hit us. Traversing granite boulders whilst been blown sideways isn't everyone's idea of fun, but we were enjoying battling the elements. With an escape route from the ridge noted we headed up the less bouldery slopes of Angels Peak. The summit was in the mist, but it was an easy decision to make to continue on as the return route back through the Lairig Ghru would take almost as long as the onward Braeriach traverse. We were rewarded with some views across towards Sgorr Gaoith and had excellent views of the 2 remaining snow patches in the corrie below. The snow patches are the smallest recorded for some years and it is thought that they will melt by September, but this spot is where glaciers are most likely to form again in a future glaciation.

Heading up onto the Braeriach plateau the wind really picked up, and a few gusts caught us all off our feet. Fortunately the wind was south westerly and helped more than hindered us. We crossed the Wells of Dee and pressed onto the summit, a short stop for some more food and we were soon on our way with the wind now bellowing its way across the plateau, we didn't want to linger. Surprisingly one of the most challenging parts of the day was descending the Sron Lairig as at times we couldn't even stand up, but we were happy to be heading downhill back into the Lairig Ghru. Our route took us back through the Chalamain Gap for a very wild, wind swept walk past the reindeer enclosure and back to the Sugar Bowl. After 11 hours out in the hill we were ready to see the cars, but very happy with the day's journey.

After our efforts from Wednesday today was a much shorter outing our goal Ben Macdui and Cairngorm. The day started with some reindeer watching in the ski centre car park with the reindeer having been pushed off the plateau in the high winds of the day before, they were about 30 grazing with some calves following their Mum's too. The winds were still strong so we chose the route past Lurchers Crag to take us on to the plateau. With an 8am start there were only one or two couples ahead of us and the summit of Ben Macdui was quiet. We were rewarded with 360 degree views, and could trace the line of yesterday's journey across from Cairn Toul to Braeriach. Steve couldn't quite believe that we had gone so far!

We were lucky to see 2 snow buntings on the summit. We had a glimpse of a male with its striking black and white coat the day before on the way up Cairn Toul. This time there was a female with her chick, the chick was very bold and was soon feeding on the nuts and raisins we had scattered for them. After some photos and food we set off with a tail wind towards Cairngorm, there were more people around now, which was a complete contrast to the day before where we hadn't passed anyone else on the mountain. We enjoyed walking around the rim of the Northern Corries before the pull up to Cairngorm summit. The views were excellent especially towards Beinn Mheadhoin. After a stop at Ptarmigan we were soon on our way down the aptly named Windy Ridge back to the ski centre car park.

More photos by Emma are here on Flickr.

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