Thursday 20 August 2015

A Night on Braeriach


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
Snow patches

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


  1. That's a great little story Chris. There is something quite special about heading up into the hills in the evening when most people have either left or are heading down. And, it's nice to reap the rewards of your special knowledge and experience when you can almost intuitively find a favourite camping spot at night.
    Dave Porter

  2. I had no idea you had reindeer in Scotland! Fantastic.

  3. Thanks for that piece Chris, and what lovely photographs. It brings back memories of a wildcamp I did with a few friends beneath Breariach a few years ago (the only time I've shared a two-man tent - I appreciated my companion's patience as I'm a legendary snorer).. We weren't lucky enough to come across the reindeer though. Ive heard they are quite approachable as they are semi domesticated? I like the photo of the tent with the reindeer in the background - that's a proper wildcamp!

    Speaking of tents, my Akto flysheet is ripped beyond repair. I'm hoping to do a walk in Greenland next year (Arctic Circle Trail) and not sure if my TN Laser Comp is up to it. I noticed you were using the new Hilleberg Enan. Do you think I'm better off buying a replacement Akto flysheet, or using my Laser Comp, or look at purchasing the Enan? A MLD Duomid is another option. Sorry to go off topic slightly.

    I hope to wildcamp in the Cairngorms again soon and hope the weather conditions are as clear as the ones in the photos of your trip.

    1. Sorry to hear about your Akto Jay. Given the choice I'd go for a new Akto flysheet or a Duomid (probably the latter). The Enan is a great little tent and lighter than the Akto - it's not as tough though (and not designed to be).

  4. The reindeer are free-ranging but not completely wild. They're managed by Cairngorm Reindeer -

    1. Yes, I did som searching after reading this post. Apparently imported from Sweden. So they might be ancestors from the ones on the mountains outside my cabin :)

  5. I stood on the Mhoine Mhor one glorious June and seeing the reindeer grazing on the flanks of Braeriach I could have almost believed that I was in Lapland. It's a lovely idea that Mikel Utsi stepped off the train at Aviemore, looked south and thought that this was a slab of Lapland adrift in Caledonia.

    Mark (Waring)