Date: 16th May 2009
Distance: 16.5 miles
Time: 9 hours
Attendees: The Stocket Hillwalking Club
Weather: Cloud at 800m, high winds
The trundle around to Aviemore was long, and largely uneventful and, though the bus driver was dubious, we were eventually on the right road heading past Loch Morvich up towards the ski centre at Cairn Gorm. Jim was also doubtful but we turned into the car park opposite the walk start and were soon booting up under austere but definitely brightening skies (NH985073).
The paths in this area of the national park are excellent and we made good time, climbing up away from the road and walking towards the Chalamain Gap with the ski centre and funicular railway away on our left hand side. The cloud base was sitting at around 900m and with the sun beginning to shine over Aviemore there was an optimistic air.
The scramble through the Chalamain gap (always makes me want to sign Kid Charlemagne by Steely Dan…) was taken at a variety of paces on a number of routes. The jumble of boulders giving lots of opportunities for a slide, a stumble and some good scrambling but we emerged at the bealach below Craeg a Chalamain largely unscathed.
The narrow ribbon of the Lairig Ghru track was away below and this is what we made for, joining it just below the former site of the Sincliar Hut.
Whilst until now it had seemed that the sun might make a bid for freedom, at the Sinclair Hut (NH959037) it closed in and a steady rain began to fall. We had elevenses here (though it was closer to 12:30 after the late start) before donning waterproofs and heading up the good track on the other side of the Ghru. This climbed steeply up the north-eastern ridge of Braeriach although after only a hundred meters or so of ascent we were in the cloud.
Progress was slow as we tried to maintain close distance between groups. This was largely successful until I deviated from the main path (around NH964014), instead choosing to navigate using the cairns which mark the two bumps on the ridge. The following group took the path but we didn’t know this until later. There was a tense ten minutes until we were reunited at the cairn of Sron na Lairige.
After this we had an entertaining twenty minutes where we dropped off the wrong side of the hill in the mist and ended up having to turn back on ourselves. Eventually we were back on course and at the col below the main summit plateau. We contoured round and rejoined the main track which emerged from under the first of several snow fields. Following footprints and the track was easy enough despite the visibility being virtually zero, and the wind blowing the cloud fiercely into our faces.
After what seemed like an hour the terrain finally levelled off and we came across the summit cairn, poised close to the cliffs in a deep layer of snow. A little further west we found a sheltered spot to gratefully take lunch. It had been an exhausting toil up from the Lairig Ghru and was now well into the afternoon.
Given the time our original plan to continue across the plateau and then drop into Gleann Einich was abandoned in favour of returning by the inward route. Following the path the whole way this time we made much better progress, eventually dropping down out of the claustrophobic clouds. They had slightly lifted so we got raggedy views down from the final part of the ridge into the Lairig Ghru.
Back at the Sinclair Hut area waterproofs were taken off and under a brightening sky we started the long march out to Coylumbridge. At first the path was treachorous with rocks and stones but as we approached the trees lower down it improved and we cracked on at a much better pace. Into the trees and the sun finally appeared, bathing everything in the glow of a late afternoon.
As we got further towards the finish of the day we passed people cooking dinner outside their tents and the occassional family on mountain bikes. Eventually we emerged back at the main road and had a weary walk down the pavement to the Coylumbridge Hotel where the coach was waiting for us.
It had been a long trip and though the views were non-existent it was nonetheless rewarding to get to the top of the UK’s third highest peak in less than ideal conditions. The GPS earnt its bread today though it should be noted that the compass got us out of the 180 turn!
I only took photos until just after the Chalamain Gap but here they are: Flickr Photoset