Cairngorms, part five

27 Sep

Sunday. Corrour bothy to the Sugarbowl. Fifteen miles walking.

Having risen late, not setting off until a quarter past nine with a mild hangover, I was lacking confidence in my ability to climb Devil’s Point, plus three of the five highest hills in the country, and reach Aviemore the same day. The decision I made was to stick to the same side of the Lairig Ghru (a grand pass through the Cairngorm massif) as i’d intended yesterday, but ignore the Devil’s Point because it is an outlier: i’d have to double back from my route if I was to reach the summit. I gave myself an hour and a quarter to reach the col where the path from the bothy arrives on the west Cairngorm plateau. It took me thirty-five minutes! So, I dropped my pack and was at the top of the Devil’s Point (twentieth munro) and back inside twenty minutes.

Still not feeling totally confident, I picked and hopped my way up through the boulder field to Cairn Toul (1291 metres) and then Angel’s Peak.

View towards summit of Cairn Toul:

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View northwards, up the Lairig Ghru from Cairn Toul:

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Nonetheless, it still looked a long way round to Braeriach (1296 metres, third highest mountain in Britain and the highest point of the day) so I trudged dutifully on past catacombs of snow many feet deep in the corries, which drop precipitously from the edge of the plateau. Looking up every few minutes, I watched cloud simmering over from the north and melting away into the vast bowls of the valleys below. It’s a starkly beautiful place.

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The unique character of this weird mixture of shingle desert and sub-arctic tundra, dotted with such flora and fauna as can survive, suffused me with fresh joy. Earlier on, a mountain hare hopped across my path through a boulder field. Up on the plateau, a flock of ptarmigan trip-tropped through the golden gravel, grasses (deschampsia?) tiny flowering saxifrage and other alpines. The infant river Dee crossed my path, its waters as limpid, cool and crystalline as any water i’ve seen. What an extraordinary environment.

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At the summit of Braeriach I scouted about in the fairy mist to find the way down, and saw sunlight glittering on the wavelets of the green loch butted against Angel ridge, a mile or so away.

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Looking the other way I could see to Aviemore in Strathspey

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Which was just where I caught up with two of the Fife contingent from the previous evening, who gallantly offered me a lift back from the Sugarbowl, where they’d left their car. There was one last surprise, which was the descent into the Lairig Ghru and out the other side through the Chalamain Gap, a pass through another boulder field, this one lined with crags that hadn’t felt the sun all day, still cool to the touch. Trickles of water and our footsteps echoed from one cliff to another in otherwise perfect stillness. So peaceful. When we got back to the car, I topless and covered in goosebumps, I didn’t know if I was warm or cold, but I was definitely happy.

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