Monday 4 September 2017

Navigation & Wind on Braeriach

Braeriach from Gleann Einich. My route went up the ridge second from the left.

Clear skies, a moon approaching full, warm weather. That combination tempted me into my first ascent of Braeriach this year. My plan was to photograph sunset and moonrise from a high camp. The last idea was abandoned before I even set out as the forecast was for strong winds increasing overnight and maybe gusting to 60mph by morning. A lower camp and an evening ascent and descent seemed a better ploy.

Braeriach and Rothiemurchus Forest

I approached via Gleann Einich and the north side of the mountain. I love this way to Braeriach, climbing gently through lovely Caledonian pine forest onto open moorland with corrie scalloped Braeriach rising in the distance, huge and brooding. Leaving Gleann Einich I followed the rushing Beanaidh Bheag. There are remnants of an old rough path here but mostly this is tough going through heather, long grass and bogs. At this time of year with the vegetation at its height, hiding rocks and holes, it’s particularly rough. Down here the wind was already strong and I sought a sheltered campsite lower than I’d intended, eventually pitching my tent below a bank some 700 metres below the summit. 

My camp by the Beanaidh Bheag

Setting up camp, having a hot drink, checking the map, repacking my rucksack for the summit, suddenly two hours had gone. Time to set off if I was to make the top for sunset. The going slowly eased as I reached more stony ground with thinner vegetation. Ahead I could see clouds thickening. Loch Coire an Lochain appeared below me, a bright lozenge of shining water. The rocky ridge narrowed. The wind was very strong now though and I needed my poles to stay upright.

The light was going, the cloud sinking, as I reached the summit plateau. Half a kilometre to the cairn. The cloud swept over me. No sunset, no moonrise, no visibility. Just cold damp mist and the roaring wind. A cairn appeared. The summit? Maybe. It would do. Time to turn back before the wind flattened me. I needed to find the top of the ridge I’d ascended – no point going down a longer way – and avoid the very steep craggy corrie walls either side of it. Braeriach’s summit plateau is vast. You could wander in circles here for hours. I looked at the OS map on my phone, the quickest way to check I wasn’t wandering off route too much and much easier than trying to handle a map in this wind, even one in a mapcase. Fifteen minutes later I checked again. Oops. A bit too far west. Head north now. Another look. Should be at top of the ridge now. I continued down, warily. Then a slight gap in the cloud and there to my left was Loch Coire an Lochain, just where it should be. Now I could concentrate on not being blown over or stumbling over rocks.

Loch Coire an Lochain appears during the descent

Eventually the cloud thinned. Soon I was out of it. The sky was clear and bright with stars, except over Braeriach, above which the moon was hidden in the cloud. It didn’t appear until I was almost back at camp. Now on the broad moorland slopes below the northern corries of Braeriach I checked the phone map a few more times just to pick out the most direct way back to camp. High on the mountain the pale granite boulders stood out in the gloom. Lower down the dark vegetation just looked black. Out came my headlamp, the first time I’ve used this for walking since spring.

Back at camp the tent was thrashing in the wind. Several pegs had pulled out of the soft ground. I restored it to stability and crawled in for supper and a night of broken sleep as the wind came in great gusts. 
View across Gleann Einich to Sgor Gaoith & Sgoran Dubh Mor
By dawn the wind was as strong down here as it had been on the summit. I wobbled back down to Gleann Einich, staggering seemingly drunkenly in the wind. Ahead the great broken rocky wall of Sgor Gaoith and Sgoran Dubh Mor rose impressively into a haze, cloud-streaked sky. The track in the glen was very welcome, as was the shelter of the forest. And finally so was lunch in Aviemore. An exciting trip, though not in the way I’d expected.

1 comment:

  1. Challenging conditions Chris but proof-positive that GPS has its place. When the cloud comes down before you can take a bearing, knowing where you are can save an awful lot of time and stress!