Far below Loch Coire an Lochain was pale against the dark cliffs. Far to the west the last faint glow of the sun was fading. The rocks on the broad ridge were still distinct enough that I didn’t need my headlamp though the mossy patches between them were pools of blackness. High above the first stars were appearing as the last clouds disappeared. There was no moon. I tapped ahead with my trekking poles, wary of unseen holes between the stones. Judging the height and angle of rocks became difficult and I banged against a couple then skidded off another. The ridge eased off and spread out into the vast undulating plateau of Braeriach, one of the most massive mountains of the Cairngorms. I stumbled again. It really was time for my headlamp. Instantly a cone of light made the landscape in front of me stand out sharp and clear. Outside the lamp’s beam the darkness was absolute.
|Looking across Braeriach to distant Ben Macdui|
I wandered across the plateau, weaving over the stony ground. For a camp I needed water and ground soft enough for tent pegs. I knew where that would be, beside the little stream that ran from the Wells of Dee across the plateau and then crashed down the cliffs into huge An Garbh Choire – the Rough Corrie. I heard the water long before I reached it, the sound carrying far in the still air. Beside the little stream, swollen from recent rain, were patches of grass and moss where thin gravelly soil had formed on the stones. At midnight I pitched the tent. Time for soup while staring out at the stars and the outlines of distant hills then sleep.
|The cliffs of Braeriach|
A loud clicking sound woke me. I peered out. Something large skittered over the stones. I looked again. A reindeer ambled away. In the distance I could see several more. Beyond them the first orange glow was appearing in the eastern sky. I dozed for another hour. The air was chilly and there was ice in my water bottles. In mid-August. I couldn’t remember that happening before, even at a high camp like this one. Thin streaks of cloud in the eastern sky caught the first rays of sunshine then the sun appeared and the world burst into brightness. There was no sign of the reindeer. Leaving the condensation and dew-soaked tent to dry I wandered to the summit of Braeriach and gazed down the snow-spattered cliffs – I couldn’t remember this much snow still lying in August either – across to Ben Macdui and down the long Lairig Ghru pass.
|View down to the Lairig Ghru|
|Tent with reindeer|
Back at the tent I found the reindeer had returned, a forty-strong herd slowly browsing their way across the slopes, occasionally glancing at me but overall unconcerned at my presence. They are used to humans of course and I was doing nothing to disturb them. The sun grew hot. Sunscreen, sunglasses and sun hat essential. Heading away from the summit I reached the steep path that cuts across the hillside and down into Gleann Einich. Across Loch Einich the great eastern wall of Sgor Gaoith and Sgoran Dubh Mor rose in a series of rock ribs and gullies. Rock fall had destroyed the path in places. In others snow melt or heavy rain had washed it away. For a few hundred yards the descent was quite tricky, the ground wet, loose and slippery.
|Loch Einich, Sgor Gaoith & Sgoran Dubh Mor|
Down to safer ground I followed the path to the broad track in the glen. The river, the Am Beanaidh, was rushing down, fierce and fast. Soon the first trees appeared and then I was in the lovely old pine forest of Rothiemurchus. Down here the heat was strong, the hottest weather I’d walked in this summer. Soon I was back at my car, the short but intense trip was over.
|A last view of the mountains|