Our blog - Cairngorm 4000s, 7-8 Aug'18

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

Cairngorm 4000ers

7-8 August 2018
Two days of guided hiking in the Cairngorms aiming for all the peaks above 4,000ft. Christine Menhennet was leading....

CAIRNGORM 4000s: Vine leaves, a fly past and posh coffees

Day 1

'Please leave the wood - the tree has been here longer than you'; this sign is barely 100 meters along the pretty, well made, wooded path that was the start to our Cairngorm 4000s adventure; it's placed at the foot of a bleached tree skeleton and raises an early smile; it could also have provoked cutting philosophical discussion but at 8.00am with 29K and 3 summits ahead, the group's mind was on other things! This path continues across a moor of tinted grasses, heather and creeping berries, dotted with dwarf pines trees, and slowly rises to the start of the narrow rift in the landscape that is the Chalamain Gap. The 'rift' is the remnant of an under ice glacial overflow and stuffed with boulders of all shapes and sizes - mainly very large!

There were no prizes for artistic merit or athletic agility but everyone successfully teetered their way through this impressive feature to descend into the Lairig Ghru. No one can fail to be impressed by this most famous of all passes and luckily for us, although the light was a little flat for dramatic photos, the imposing cliffs and gullies were cloud free and we had a real sense of its glacial grinding out! A mother ptarmigan warned us off approaching her four fluffy chicks but otherwise the Lairig was silent and still.

Cairn Toul was our destination, but well hidden as we progressed up to the watershed with a growing sense of anticipation, before passing the Pools of Dee and then descending slightly as the Lairig opened up and our craggy ridge ascent came into view. Four hours and we arrived at the very recently restored An Garbh Coire bothy - akin to a remote hobbit hut and our chosen Lunch No.1 stop. Its restoration provoked a chat about the history and principle of shelter in the high Cairngorms. Gordon took the 'most original lunch' prize - stuffed vine leaves - there's a first for everything!

Here the hard work began - up a faint, steep track to the stunning Lochan Uaine and then on up a fierce looking but actually quite tame, very rocky ridge to Cairn Toul summit. High fives all round for our first summit of the day after 5.5 hours, when suddenly, an increasing roar, boom boxed by the narrow glen and a jet burned up the Lairig; the skilled pilot saw us on our summit, tipped his wings to vertical and circled us, then shot down into the corrie and exited down the Lairig; so impressive. I told everyone Steve had booked the stunt - they humoured me but knew they hadn't paid enough for that!

Not far from Cairn Toul our next summit was Sgor an Lochan Uaine after which we were blessed with an afternoon of increasingly lighter skies as we traced the serrated, buttressed rim of An Garbh Coire with its arctic desert like landscape and panoramic views. At one point we noticed the temperature must have dropped because our two hardies - Stewart and James, donned a single fleece each when most of us were already in 3 layers! Lunch No.2 was taken by the only wee burn on the plateau - a chance to fill up the bottles and see the burn tumble over the coire edge. Our third high five of the day was the broad summit of Braeriach where we commented on how few people we had seen on these hills that day - one man only; our solitude was one of the plusses of the day. In an increasingly golden light we descended steadily back to the Lairig, battled briefly with midges at a toffees and water stop, and then made our way back up towards the Chalamain Gap. Spirits were high and although tired, everyone rose to the 'under 12 hour' challenge that 'we' had set ourselves and we arrived back at the Sugar Bowl car park with 16 minutes to go!

Day 2

a slightly later start, a slightly cloudier sky and some tired legs. So, we decided on a relaxed approach and took a leisurely pace from Cairngorm Car Park across the base of Core an t-Sneachda and made our way to the ridge west of Coire an Lochain, discussing as we went, how different the place had looked in the deep snows of last winter. It was a gentle plod up the ridge and, until a sudden gusty wind and severe rain shower hit us, a gentle, chatty stroll across the plateau towards Ben Macdui summit. This rain squall however woke us all up; this was no ordinary rain shower it was was serious and persistent so we donned waterproofs, hunched shoulders and plodded on inside a cloud. Despite the weather, we had four times the company we had had yesterday with many hellos muffled from hooded passing groups! The Macdui summit is dotted with shelter walls so we picked the most bijou and out of the wind one for an early lunch stop. As we left to head back across the vast plateau, the dark clouds melted away revealing stunning views across to our yesterday triumphs and down to Loch Morlich.

The final high fine of the trip was on the summit of Cairngorm; if this was n't cause enough for celebration, one of our party announced that he had now finished his training for Mount Elbrus (5,642m) to be ascended at the end of this month; this was an added excuse to celebrate with posh coffees and shortbread at the Ptarmigan Restaurant (1,097m). Our descent down the well named Windy Ridge was enhanced by close up views of the resident reindeer herd and lower down a meeting with a hardy path maintenance team whom we praised and thanked. It's a delicate balance - preserving this wonderful, fragile wilderness and allowing thousands each year to enjoy it - path work is at its core!

More photos by Christine Menhennet are here on Flickr.

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