Cairngorm 4000s

Cairngorms 4000ers, 17-18 August 2019

A blog post from one of our mountain adventures in the Scottish hills and mountains. In the Cairngorms for two days of guided hillwalking, bagging the highest peaks. With the large group on Saturday, David Murray and Steven Fallon were leading, with less people booked onto the Sunday, David was leading on his own.

Cairngorms 4000ers

Day 1 - West of the Lairig Ghru

Last weekend we were up the Lochaber 4000s, this weekend it was the turn of the Cairngorm 4000s - the five mighty summits of Ben Macdui, Cairngorm, Cairn Toul Sgor an Lochain Uaine and Braeraich.

As with last weekend, David and I were watching the weather forecasts with much interest in the lead up to this event. It was looking a little unseasonably cooler and a bit breezy, but fine to go ahead as planned (so no switching around days like last weekend). We met up with the group at the Sugar Bowl car-park, below Cairngorm and set off through the delightful scots-pine wood to the Allt Mor - lots of evidence of this river having been recently swollen with large boulders lying ontop of grass.

Walking up the fine path out of the woodland, Cairngorm came into view, the sun lighting up the green-covered slopes. Through the intricate Carn a'Chlamain gap, we pondered how this feature was formed as we carefully picked a route over the boulders. Down into the famed Lairig Ghru next, we followed the path southwards - it's interesting how rough and vague this path is considering the amount of boots (and fell-shoes) that flow over it.

We reached the highest point of the Lairig Ghru - it was now raining heavily ! After a bit of chat, David, myself and the group were convinced that this was a passing shower and hopefully it would pass as we continued on. It did pass, only for another to come in soon after. Cairn Toul was shrouded in cloud which was moving at a fairly fast pace. But this wasn't the main issue affecting our plan - the water streaming downhill around us looked significant and we would need to cross the Allt a'Gharbh-choire near the refuge and later the outflow from Lochan Uaine. We reluctantly had to change plan.

About-turn, David new of a sneaky little line up onto the Braeraich plateau, remains of a stalker's path not marked on the OS maps, but shown on the Harvey Mountain Map. We took this and were up high quickly, passing occasional scattered plane wreckage (see this for more info). Braeraich was clear, bathed in sunshine but cool and breezy. As we approached the summit, we could see down into Garbh Coire and as expected, the river looked in spate and un-crossable.

On the summit, time for a well deserved break and some photos - views were good and we picked out distant peaks. Cairn Toul and Sgor an Lochain Uaine still seemed to attract the fast moving cloud, their summits clearing only to be shrouded in mist again. It was now pushing towards 2pm - could we hike a there-and-back route to Cairn Toul ? Oh, I so wanted to, particularly for the super-keen members of the group who wanted to get their Munro-tally up. Some head-scratching and a guesstimate of around a 9pm finish time back at the Sugar Bowl was arrived at - and that was if the weather stayed fine - so alas this wasn't going to happen :(

After a decent amount of time to take in the views, we started out return along Braeraich's vast summit plateau and ridges, the wind now behind us. Over Sron na Lairige, the group gradually split with the faster walkers pulling away from us. Back into the Lairig Ghru, David told us back-markers about another little-known route that avoids the crags in the Carn a'Chlamain Gap. We of course took this - a lovely trod through heather above the northern edge of the gap and arrived back in the car-park around 5pm.

Day 2 - Cairngorm and Ben Macdui

Our group of five hardy walkers set off from Cairngorm Mountain car-park into the wind. We had decided, due to the strong gusts (gusting to 50 mph) to miss out the planned ascent via Fiacaill Ridge and instead opted to head up Ben Macdui taking the path that heads around the western side of Cairn Lochan. Heavy rain came and went, the wind was fairly strong and visibility poor. I had my work cut out, following compass bearings over the boulders trying to trace the faint and indistinct path that approaches Ben Macdui. We reached the summit and stopped for a quick photo - it wasn't a day for hanging around !

Re-tracing our steps, we had the wind at our backs as we crossed the plateau and passed Lochan Buidhe. Not only had we had the wind behinds us, but our spirits were lifted further as weather improved giving us our first view of the day. We reached a very windy Cairngorm summit and dropped down the appropriately named Windy Ridge back to Cairngorm Mountain car-park.

It was a tough day and everyone was glad to get back to the car park. Type 2 enjoyment I think !

More photos by Steven Fallon and David Murray are here on Flickr.

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