Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Braeriach and the Rothiemurchus Pine Woods

Monday 30th September 2013 

A very windy walk up Braeriach from the Sugar Bowl before descending to the Rothiemurchus woods 

Distance: 26.5km; Ascent: 1300m; Windy, low cloud and sunshine; Solo

Braeriach is a mountain that I've been thinking about climbing for some years now but had never quite got around to it.  Whilst backpacking over Ben Macdui in August last year I got my first decent views of Braeriach's impressive SE facing coires and concluded that I definitely needed to investigate further!  Therefore given I was spending this week just about within walking distance of the summit I decided to spend today climbing it.

Looking into Coire Cas
I caught the 07:20 bus from outside Aviemore train station up towards the Cairngorm ski area, getting off at the Sugerbowl car park.  I followed a good path through the woods and down to cross the Allt Mor by way of a footbridge.  This ascended on the west side of the burn, past some reindeer, heading towards the obvious gash of the Chalamain Gap.  There were excellent views from this path into Coire Cas and back towards Meall a'Bhuachaille in the morning sunshine.

The path heading towards the Chalamain Gap
Looking back towards Meall a'Bhuachaille and the Pass of Ryvoan
Soon I reached the bottom of the NE side of the Chalamain Gap, where I stopped for a quick break to admire the views.  Continuing through the very bouldery ground of the gap itself, the view to the SW started to open up towards Sgor Gaoith.

In the Chalamain Gap
Sgor Gaoith from the Chalamain Gap
I now got my first glimpses of my planned hills for the day and annoyingly they were covered in cloud!   Nevertheless I continued along the path, descending into the Lairig Ghru where I stopped for another rest before beginning the main ascent of the day.  Whilst I was resting here another walker, Steve, passed me and he was also on his way up Braeriach - in fact he would be one of only three other hillwalkers I would encounter today.

Sron na Lairig from the north
In the Lairig Ghru
Soon after passing the memorial plaque to Angus Sinclair, I began ascending up the slopes on the west side of the Ghru on a good path.  Higher up the path looked to have been improved quite recently and soon my suspicions were confirmed by the two signs below.

Path work signs
There were excellent views from up here, including back across the Lairig Ghru towards Lurcher's Crag.  However straight ahead Sron na Lairig and Braeriach still looked to be covered in cloud.

Lurcher's Crag from Sron na Lairig
By now the wind was pretty strong, which made crossing the boulder fields quite interesting!  Around here I met a backpacker coming the other way, who told me that he'd spent a very windy night in his tent in the bealach below The Devil's Point.  I continued to ascend up into the mist and soon met up again with Steve where he had stopped for lunch.  After skirting round the east side of Sron na Lairig in the cloud, a view down into Glen Dee suddenly appeared for a few minutes - but it didn't last for long and soon I was surrounded by cloud again.

Carn a'Mhaim and the River Dee from Sron na Lairige
On the summit of Braeriach
A short ascent brought me to the extremely windy eastern ridge of Braeriach, where I met Steve again.  The wind was noticeably less strong ten metres or so away from the coire edge so we carefully continued westwards for a kilometre to reach the summit cairn of Braeriach (Munro, Marilyn), the third highest peak in the UK at around 12:30pm.  Surprisingly it wasn't actually that windy at the summit cairn itself - although a few metres south of the cairn there was a howling gale!

Summit cairn of Sron na Lairig
We didn't linger on the summit for very long and soon retraced our steps to the bealach, from where we ascended to the summit of Sron na Lairige (Munro Top).  Returning to the path we descended the north ridge and soon dropped out of the clouds to be greeted by the spectacular views northwards and across to Lurcher's Crag on the far side of the Lairig Ghru.

Descending Sron na Lairig in the sunshine
Looking across the Lairig Ghru towards Lurcher's Crag
There were also good views from the tops of the crags down into the impressive high pass of the Lairig Ghru itself.

Looking down into the Lairig Ghru from Sron na Lairige
Descending Sron na Lairig
Once back down in the Lairig Ghru I bade farewell to Steve, who was heading back through the Chalamain Gap whereas I was planning to descending through the Rothiemurchus forest to the road at Coylumbridge.  I followed the Lairig Ghru path NNW and after around 2km I reached the first trees.  There were excellent views of the forest ahead and the Monadhliath Mountains in the distance on the other side of Strathspey.

Looking across the Rothiemurchus forest towards the Monadhliath
It was quite warm in the afternoon sunshine - very different conditions to a couple of hours earlier on the summit of Braeriach!  There were good views back towards the Lairig Ghru, which seemed to where all the clouds in the sky today were gathering.

Looking back towards the Lairig Ghru from the edge of the Rothiemurchus pine woods
Entering the Rothiemurchus forest
Walking through the pine woods of Rothiemurchus was a delight on such a lovely afternoon, and I appeared to have them pretty much to myself!  I had walked this way previously on the 2009 TGO Challenge, but that was on a wet and grey day so it was nice to be back in better weather.  I continued along the good footpath to reach a junction.  Here I toyed with the idea of walking to Loch Morlich and catching the bus from there, but in the end I decided to stick with my original plan and walk to Coylumbridge (mainly because if I missed the bus, Aviemore would only be a few kilometres walk away).

Rothiemurchus forest
Allt Druidh
The path ran near to the Allt Druidh before crossing the burn at the Cairngorm Club Footbridge, which is now 101 years old.  Plaques on the side of the bridge give distances and times for walking through the Lairig Ghru.

Cairngorm Club Footbridge
Cairngorm Club Footbridge
Soon after crossing the bridge I forked right at a path junction and continued, initially through an area of denser woodland, to reach a car park and the campsite at Coylumbridge at around 5pm.  After wandering along the road for a few minutes, I gave up looking for a bus stop and just opted to flag it down outside the campsite, which luckily seemed to work!  It had been a good long walk of contrasts in the Cairngorms :-)

Track junction on the way to Coylumbridge
See also my Social Hiking live map from the walk.


  1. Braeriach was my first Munro. I was pleased with my choice :-) Looks like you had a good time.

    1. Thanks, I was very impressed with Braeriach - it is a fine mountain :-)

  2. Super duper hike that one. Any ptarmigan about?

    1. Thanks, it was an excellent day out :-) I don't remember seeing any ptarmigan that day though - perhaps because of the strong winds.