Date: 1st - 2nd October 2011
Distance: 32.77km (Day 1: 10.86km; Day 2: 21.91km)
Ascent: 1,384m (Day 1: 238m; Day 2: 1,144m)
Time: 22hrs 29mins (Day 1: 2hrs 2mins; Day 2: 4hrs 25mins)
Hills: Stob Coire an Lochain (Munro Top, 1,239m), Braeriach (Munro, 1,296m)
Weather: Rain on and off for the duration. Low cloud, mist, mild temperatures and no wind.
Route: Click to view on OS Map
I backed the car into the almost empty parking area at Whitewell and turned the engine off. Steam rose gently from the grill, a sign that the last puddle I’d driven through had been a little deeper than expected. The rain, which had been steady but mainly drizzly on the drive over from Aberdeen, now increased in intensity significantly. Without the windscreen wipers on my windscreen quickly turned into a waterfall, obscuring my view of the world outside. I wasn’t quite prepared for that sort of drenching so it was Jaffa Cakes and a few chapters of The Clash of Kings with the hope that the rain would at the very least ease off slightly.
Forty minutes later and not a great deal had changed outside the car. Desperate not to turn tail and return home I checked out the map and gave serious consideration to walking (running) over to the Cairngorm Club Footbridge and camping there for the night. Thankfully, a few minutes later the rain finally slackened off. I gratefully escaped the muggy confines of the car, shouldered my pack and quickly set off before it could worsen again and make me think better of the decision to head down Glen Einich.
There was water everywhere: falling from sodden leaves, falling from the sky, running down the hillsides and running down paths. It was all navigable, but not without getting wet feet. As I strode on the rain slackened off until I was finally able to take down my hood and enjoy the sights and sounds of the damp and dripping forest of Rothiemurchas. The hill tops were slowly shirking off their cloudy wrappings and birds were flitting from branch to branch.
My next obstacle came in the form of a posted notice from the Rothiemurchas Estate informing me of the ongoing deer cull (through to the 20th October) and the need for me to stick with the established hill track on the east side of Loch Einich. My original plan had been to take Ross’s Path on the west side of the glen and so attain the plateau somewhere south of Sgor Gaoith. This information changed the plan slightly, making it much more weather dependent as the idea of traipsing around the boggy plateau of Moine Mhor did not appeal if the mist was down. That would be for tomorrow though as the stalking information meant I would be camping at the north end of Loch Einich.
I wound my way along the path that heads south along Glen Einich. It’s easy terrain with the landscape getting wilder as the last of the trees is left behind. A foolish moment of map reading left me wading ankle deep through a stream that had staged a successful coup over the path. I passed a tent pitched beneath a copse of trees and wondered whether I should be thinking of stopping short of the loch.
Then I came to my next obstacle. With the dramatic north-western corries of Braeriach (amazingly cloud free) crouched low over the churning Allt Bandaidh, I came to a small side burn that had swollen to a minor torrent. The water was chocolaty brown, flecked by white waves. I tentatively stuck my pole in and whoosh, it was almost yanked out of my hand as the current caught it. I never even found how deep this particular stream was. Too wide to jump I decided to scout upstream to find a crossing place. Eventually I was successful but I then had a very steep ascent and descent over a hill to regain the track in time to cross the main river and continue on the east bank.
The rain had eased off and the cloud continued to clear, particularly from the tops which could be seen standing out starkly against the grey sky. Particularly impressive was the western wall of Glen Einich with the sharp peak of Sgor Gaoith now clearly visible. Occasionally mist and cloud blown down the valley would wreath me in fog, but by the time I reached the shores of the loch all was clear again.
I didn’t spend too much time hunting for a pitch, soon deciding to make use of the grassy area close to the outflow of the loch. It was flat and only a little stony. The speed of tent pitching was increased by the presence of the midgies. The loch surface was a perfect mirror signalling the lack of wind.
Thankfully a while later, once the tent was up and I had my things spread out to dry, a little breeze did get up, enough to ruffle the surface of the water. It drove off the midgies long enough to heat up some water on my stove for a dinner of Thai Chicken Curry and Rice (another excellent meal from Fuizion Freeze Dried Foods).
Whilst I was making dinner I suddenly realised that the hillside above me, in fact the whole western lip of Braeriach, was ablaze with sunshine. Somewhere to the west the setting sun had finally sunk below the cloudbase and was illuminating the landscape with remarkable clarity. It was an incredible moment, and one that almost made me wish I had been out earlier to get higher up for the views which, just at that time, must have been incredible.
Then, as the mist drifting through Glen Einich turned a subtle and beautiful shade of pink, the light show was over and the gloaming settled over the glen. Mist now drifted in to cover the loch, bringing with it a splendid silence. As darkness fell I retired to the warmth of the tent and read a few chapters on my Kindle. By the time I was ready for sleep the night was a deep black, mist filled the glen and there sadly wasn’t a star to be seen.
I checked outside a couple of times during the night. At around 2am the mist had thinned and Jupiter could be seen hazily in the south. By 5am the mist had once again thickened and it wasn’t until 7:30am that I finally crawled outside the tent to greet the day.
I enjoyed a pleasant oatmeal breakfast (actually the first time I had mixed my own and it was surprisingly good!) and took my time drying off the tent (as much as possible) and gathering everything back up. It was approaching 9am by the time I actually headed off. The weather wasn’t bad so I decided to carry on with a plan that I had formulated the night before: to walk over the Braeriach plateau and return to the car by way of the north end of the Lairig Ghru and a walk back through the Rothiemurchas.
The climb up away from the loch was on an excellent stalker’s path that didn’t seem to have suffered too badly from all the recent rain. I quickly gained height, enjoying the views back over the loch and the encircling hills. A group of DoE types passed me heading off the plateau - it looked like they had spent a dank night somewhere on the heights and all had painfully heavy looking bags.
As I climbed up into Coire Dhondail the views were lost to the mist and cloud and I marched onward, the path continuing to be excellent. After a quick snack I reached the end of the path and struck out for the nearest of Braeriach’s subsidiary summits, Carn na Criche. Once off path it was a case of taking a bearing and occasionally verifying my position with GPS. The slopes were somewhat arduous with the ground uneven and greasy but I made it to the small cairn without trouble.
There wasn’t much to be seen and once on the exposed plateau a chill wind was blowing the mists to create a saturating kind of dampness that soon had me soaked. Without much ado I turned north and tramped across the plateau to reach Stob Coire an Lochain. The views were equally nonexistent so I took my bearing and struck east until I picked up the path close by the true summit of Braeriach.
The wind had slightly abated and I took some time out to peer into the misty depths revealed by the awesome cliffs and had another snack. It was incredibly quiet on the summit and my early start meant I had the place to myself.
After this the navigational difficulties were over and I picked up the trade route, dropping east from the summit and following the path as it wound round and down the long, long arm of Sron na Lairig. I started to pass several damp day trippers who were heading for the summit. As the weather once again closed in I was glad to be dropping steadily into the relative shelter of the Lairig Ghru.
At the memorial to Sinclair I turned along the Ghru path itself. I chatted to a few people out and about but the main feature of this section was the deep water and sticky bog that had been exacerbated by the continuing rain. Despite the earlier abatement, it was now falling more steadily again. As I lost height I was glad to finally re-enter the forest, dropping down on an excellent path that wends between trees and gives great views out over the narrow gorge of the Allt Druidhe. The trees are starting to take on their magnificent autumn colours, and the mist gave additional atmosphere to this wonderful landscape.
Once across the Cairngorm Club footbridge it was an easy amble back through the forest to rejoin my outward track and then the welcome sight of my car. A final highlight on this last stretch was a quiet moment of contemplation besides the incredibly still waters of Lochan Deo.
At the car it was a pleasure to be able to change out of wet clothes, finish off the packet of Jaffa Cakes and set my sights for home. After more than three months without venturing properly into the Scottish mountains it was great simply to be out there, even if the views were somewhat lacking for much of the outing. It does mean that I shall have to return to Braeriach for a third time in order to get the views!