My first adventure in the Cairngorms National Park. My Dad and I bagged 4 Munros after passing through the Lairig Ghru – one of Scotland’s best known hill passes – and spending the night in Corrour bothy. This was a big step up from my previous trips, but being so successful, it’s given me more confidence and inspiration to plan and hopefully undertake longer and more remote expeditions to explore the most wild parts of Scotland.
Due to going back to university next month (and it also being my Dad’s birthday) we decided to go on one last adventure. I hadn’t bagged any Munros since January 2015, and with a total of 5 done I felt it was probably time I got a couple more under my belt before another year of studying. I regularly look for walking inspiration on Walkhighlands, an excellent resource for everyone, from those planning to visit Scotland on holiday to more seasoned hill walkers and Munro baggers. One walk that kept catching my eye was the Cairn Toul – Braeriach Traverse. This walk takes in 4 Munros and covers around 20 miles with a total of about 1800m of ascent. It was a big step up from anything I’d done before, but we decided to give it a shot anyway.
It took us nearly 5 hours to reach Aviemore from Ayrshire (a journey that usually only takes around 3-4 hours) due to the reliably awful Glasgow traffic combined with several stages of roadworks on the A9. We arrived at the Ski Centre on Cairn Gorm at around 1200 and left our details with the base station before retreating back downhill to the sugarbowl car park to begin our walk. We donned our boots and started walking towards what was by far the biggest and most remote area I’d ever experienced so far.
The walk starts with a downhill section to reach the Allt Mor before ascending again on the opposite side of the gully. A decent path is then met and followed all the way to the Chalamain Gap.
Before long, we had reached the gap. I wouldn’t fancy trying to cross this in winter conditions as deep snow would make this area particularly dodgy underfoot, but we made fairly quick progress despite the large boulders (this was the first of many bouldery sections of the walk).
After the gap, the path once again becomes well constructed and we made good progress towards the Lairig Ghru. Roughly a kilometre after the Chalamain Gap, another gully is reached. we crossed this again and made our way uphill towards the top of the Lairig Ghru.
This was my first experience of the Cairngorms. It was completely different to places I’ve been before. Compared to Arran, this area seemed absolutely massive, with hills almost the size of Corbetts on either side of us as we passed through the Lairig Ghru, a pass that’s aready at around 800m above sea level.
We reached the top of the Lairig Ghru and were blessed with fantastic views all the way down to the Devil’s point and beyond. The clouds were still a fair bit above the summits at this point and we could see tomorrow’s objectives. Granted, this was quite a daunting prospect as these were seriously big hills!
We stopped for a short break at the top of the pass and continued down the Glen. It was now reassuring to see the Devil’s point as our destination and bed for the night sat at the foot of this hill. We then passed a the pools of Dee, one of two sources of the river Dee which flows from the heart of the Cairngorms to Aberdeen on Scotland’s east coast.
We continued downhill towards the Devil’s Point and passed a couple of decent wild camp spots near the path. Some of these had already been taken by walkers, but this was much too far away from the next day’s objective so we pressed on down the Glen towards the bothy.
We had been walking for around 4 hours when Corrour finally came into sight. There was also no sign of anyone else nearby so hopefully that meant we would have the bothy to ourselves. We crossed the river Dee at a large bridge and made our way to the bothy a couple of hundred metres away.
The bothy was empty on our arrival, but soon after we took our packs off and began cooking dinner, we were greeted by a group of 3 walkers who had completed Ben Macdui and Cairn Gorm during the day before dropping down to Corrour. They decided to stay in tents rather than sharing the bothy, but we didn’t envy them due to the unholy amount of midges in the valley. The weather was calm and mild in the evening and unfortunately the infamous midge seems to enjoy the same weather as humans, a very annoying coincidence indeed!
We ate dinner and chatted to the group of walkers who retired to their tents around 9pm. We then got our sleeping kit sorted and tried to get some much needed sleep in preparation for the long day ahead of us. Unfortunately my dad didn’t seem to get much sleep due to a small mouse who decided to scurry around the bothy floor and play with our cooking kit during the night. I suppose that’s all part of the bothying experience though and the wee thing certainly didn’t wake me up!
My alarm went off at 6:30am to allow us to get our kit sorted and get as much time to complete our walk as possible. It didn’t take us long to eat breakfast and pack up and we were on our way again by around 7:30am. As soon as we left the bothy, however, we were greeted by the same army of midges from the previous night, so this spurred us on to make our way up to the plateau as quickly as possible and escape the wee menaces.
It took a good bit less than an hour to reach the bealach between the Devil’s Point and Cairn Toul. We ditched our packs here and made our way up the Devil’s Point, Munro number one of the day. We reached the summit at 8:40am and saw absolutely nothing. The cloud was now around 900m compared to being well above the tops the previous day. We then made our way back down to where we left our packs and filled our water bottles from the Allt a’Choire Odhair, a task we hadn’t managed earlier due to being ambushed by midges.
We were then greeted by a small amount of rain, but we put this down to being in the clouds rather than underneath them. We donned our jackets and covered our packs and set off again to bag Munro number two of the day.
Cairn Toul was a much more strenuous affair, with a large boulderfield covering everything from the summit down to around 1000m, which slowed the pace slightly but wasn’t very physically demanding as we had to take short steps and stop often to ensure we were still going the correct direction. We had a map and compass as well as a GPS with us and these proved to be invaluable throughout the whole trip. The GPS was especially useful as it allowed us to find out our exact location as a 10 figure grid refrence and check the map to make sure we were still on the correct path (or even the correct hill!).
We reached Cairn Toul probably around 11:00, but didn’t stop to take photos as we wanted to press on and get as much of the walk completed as early as possible to give us plenty of time incase something didn’t go quite to plan (thankfully, this extra time wasn’t needed for an emergency, just two very tired walkers to get back to the car after a long day in the hills!)
We descended around 150m to the bealach between Cairn Toul and Sgorr an Lochain Uaine, catching glimpses of Lochan Uaine occasionally when the cloud began to move again, and stopped again to take in some more water before making the final ascent to Munro number three of the day. We reached Sgorr an Lochain Uaine around 11:45am and stopped for a small snack before pressing on once more to skirt round the massive Garbh Coire ahead. Between Sgorr an Lochain Uaine and Braeriach is a huge plateau, but thankfully we were able to follow the edge of the ridge to avoid getting lost. This plateau also provided easier walking than Munros two and three of the day. We stopped regularly to take photos at any breaks in the cloud, but unfortunately this didn’t happen often.
Just before we began our ascent to the summit of Braeriach – Scotland’s third highest mountain and our final hill of the day – we crossed the second source of the river Dee. It really is hard to believe that at 1200m there’s a fast flowing burn!
After crossing the river we headed straight for the summit of Braeriach rather than following the ridge and reached the summit at around 2pm. By now, we were both very tired as this was by far the longest hill walk I had ever done and the longest my dad had done in a number of years. We refueled again and took on more water before beginning our descent back to the Lairig Ghru.
Initially, our descent was fairly easy compared to the steep Arran hills we were used to. We made good progress and reached Sron na Lairige around 40 minutes after leaving the summit of Braeriach. After this, we were then clear of the cloud that had enveloped us all day, but as a result of this positive aspect, the descent became much steeper as the Lairig Ghru and the Chalamain Gap came back into view – just what two sets of tired legs needed!
Nevertheless, we were off the hill and back at the gully between Lurcher’s Crag and Sron na Lairige at around 4pm, meaning our total descent time from Braeriach to here was about 2 hours. We stopped once more for a short rest and finally got rid of our jackets as we were now well free of any cloud and the temperature was considerably higher in the valley than on the high plateaus.
We began our final ascent of the day back to the Chalamain Gap, stopping every once in a while to look back at the impressive views towards the Lairig Ghru and a distant Gleann Eanaich. The Chalamain Gap took around the same time as before to navigate (about 20 minutes from end to end) and we were back on the good path towards the sugarbowl car park.
We pressed on once more to complete the final section of our walk and reached the Allt Mor once more at 5:45pm, roughly half an hour after leaving the Chalamain Gap. We went down and up once more and returned to the car just before 6pm, meaning the walk had taken us 10.5 hours, which considering the length and total ascent of our day’s trip was pretty impressive to us.
This was definitely the best hillwalking/wild camping trip I’ve been on so far. I almost doubled my Munro total and completed something I’d been aspiring to do for almost a year. Having completed this walk, it’s definitely inspired me to look at stringing together more Munros and creating my own multi day trips across the Scottish highlands. I definitely plan to be back in the Cairngorms next year with a view to completing at least Ben Macdui and Cairngorm (I will then have completed the top 6 highest Munros), but this is all food for thought and more planning will be done closer to the time.
Also, not previously mentioned, this was my first trip out with my new sleeping bag. As mentioned in the Beinn Nuis summit camp trip, my opinion on down sleeping bags has changed somewhat and I decided to purchase a synthetic bag for multi day trips and 2/3 season mountain trips, where a working sleeping bag is vital to a successful trip. I opted for a Mountain Hardwear Hyperlamina Spark, which has a limit of 0 degrees so will be ideal for summer and late spring/early autumn trips. So far, I’m very impressed with the bag and although the only test so far was a cosy bothy, the building was still fairly cold in the morning and I slept all night with the zip undone and was still toasty and warm. I’ll hopefully get one more chance to test it before uni, so hopefully I’ve found a sleeping bag that’s as good as down but still works even if it gets damp.