Cairn Toul, Sgor an Lochan Uaine and Braeriach
Above the Lairig Ghru valley, to the west, you will find three of the 5 highest peaks in Britain; Braeriach (#3), Cairn Toul (#4) and Sgor an Lochan Uaine (#5). Close in the east, Ben Macdui rises from this valley, being the second highest in Britain. The hike across these peaks is a magnificient high plateau walk, where you never descend below 1100m. On a clear day, you will see the 10 highest mountains in Britain from this plateau. Ben Macdui (#2) and Cairn Gorm (#6) close to the east, and Ben Nevis (#1), Aonach Beag (#7), Aonach Mor (#8), Carn Mor Dearg (#9) and Ben Lawers (#10) in the western horizon.
The hike across these summits is a classic, but long hike. There are many variations, but a common route is from near the Cairn Gorm ski-centre (Sugarbowl parking), passing the Chalamain Gap, crossing the Lairig Ghru valley, up the Braeriach north-east ridge, across the plateau and over the summits. Descent to Lairig Ghru near the Devil's Point and return north up the Lairig Ghru valley. This route was the basis for my trip report below. The 'top' collectors will also get Sron na Lairige (1184m) and Carn na Criche (1265m) along this route. Another popular route is up the Gleann Einich valley (from the north), and up the western ridges of Braeriach.
The sharp peaks of Sgor an Lochan Uaine and Cairn Toul stand out in great contrast to the large and rounded Braeriach massive. The steep face down to the grand amphitheater below Braeriach, makes the dramatic scenery complete. From the corries below Braeriach, one will find good climbing routes.
Braeriach's primary factor towards the higher Ben Macdui is 461m. The saddle is the high pass in Lairig Ghru valley, defined as 835m on the 1:50000 map.
Sgor an Lochan Uaine's primary factor towards the higher Cairn Toul is 118m. The saddle is SE of the summit, defined as 1140m on the 1:25000 map. This peak was not originally on the Munro list, but has been included in newer revisions of the list.
Cairn Toul's primary factor towards the higher Braeriach is 166m. The saddle lies between Carn na Criche and Sgor an Lochan Uaine, and is interpolated to 1125m. The last adjacent 10m contour lines are 1130m.
The Devil's Point's primary factor towards the higher Cairn Toul is 89m. The saddle lies NE between Devil's Point and Stob Coire an t-Saighdeir (Top), near the descent route to Lairig Ghru. The saddle is interpolated to 915m, as the last adjacent 10m contour lines are 920m. This drop does not put the Devil's Point in the category of mountains with a re-ascent of 100m, which is a common classification for a separate mountain. It is my personal opinion that the Devil's Point is not a separate mountain, but nevertheless the mountain is on the Munro list. But re-ascent (or primary factor) is not a critical factor for the Munros, and I assume that it is the spectacular rise from the south that puts the mountain on the Munro list.
For trail descriptions, refer to the comprehensive and well-written Scotland mountain books. Recommended reading for those interested in exploring the Cairngorms, is "The Cairngorms" by Adam Watson (ISBN 0-907521-39-8).
The below trip report should also provide some useful information about the mountains.
Route: Ski Centre - Braeriach - Sgor an Lochan Uaine - Cairn Toul - The Devil's Point - return via Lairig Ghru
It was my second day in the mountains, and the weather was still spectacular. I had to "bag" the final 3 high mountains before any potential severe weather would set in. I chose the Sugarbowl parking near ski-centre as the trailhead. I left the trailhead 08:30AM, and headed up the trail towards Chalamain gap, between Creag a'Chalamain and Creag an Leth-choin. This trail drops down to the river early on (bridge crossing) then follows a plateau towards Chalamain Gap. This pass consists of a boulderfield, but only takes 10 minutes or so to pass. The sun was burning hot, and I had no sunscreen. As usual, I assumed that the sun would have no effect on me. I get to suffer from a couple of these fairly ridicoulous assumptions...
At 09:40AM, I headed down into the Lairig Ghru valley from Chalamain Gap. The drop down to the valley eliminated any vertical gain so far. The temperature at the trailhead allowed for a thin sweater. But a fierce wind was blowing through the valley, and I finally got use of the winter clothes I had brought along. Halfway up the Braeriach ridge, the temperature was yet again back to comfortable. The hike up the ridge was a long, but easy hike. Just before the summit, under icy conditions, there is a potential chance of sliding down into Coire Beanaidh, so an axe or pole could be wise to bring along.
The views from Braeriach were breathtaking. A layer of fog seemed to cover the whole of Scotland, and only the high peaks were rising above it. I could identify Ben Lawers and the Nevis range in the west. I had arrived Braeriach summit at 11:15AM, and realized that the route along the face was much longer than I had anticpated. After a short break on Braeriach, I continued along the face towards Sgor an Lochan Uaine and Cairn Toul, and had the wonderful feeling of being alone on the top of Britain. I arrived Sgor an Lochain Uaine summit at 12:30PM. I had no real plan when I left the trailhead, but by looking at the map, a route down to Lairig Ghru just north of the Devil's Point, looked like an option. If not, then I could always return the same way.
On the way to Cairn Toul, I met the first (and only) hiker of the day. He had come from the south, and was on the way to the ski-centre. After some smalltalk, I continued up to Cairn Toul, and reached the summit 13:00PM. I started to notice significant sun-burn, some fatigue and sore heels. I had only brought two oranges as food, and they were gone by now. It is yet another silly assumption I have - not needing food on long hikes. I decided to put on a headband and a fleeze neck to cover up as much skin as possible, and headed towards the Devil's Point. I had not thought of Devil's Point being a Munro, but decided to hike it anyway. The summit would probably give me some great views of Lairig Ghru. I was quite happy later to discover that the Devil's Point is indeed a Munro. In the saddle, I tried to spot the route down to Lairig Ghru, but I saw only cornices and wondered if this was a summer descent route only. I decided to worry about that later, and hiked up to Devil's Point. From the summit, I had a better view of the descent route, and was confident that going down would be easy. The upper part of this route could be potential troublesome in winter, if cornices have been built up. The trail down runs on the north side of the stream and is only steep in the beginning. Down in the valley, I passed the Corrour Bothy shelter. The view up Lairig Ghru was simply beautiful.
I crossed the river Dee in the valley floor at 14:30PM. By now, I was hot, tired and hungry. I assumed I had at least 3 more hours of hiking, and tried to motivate myself, while looking up the, apparently endless, valley. There was however no reason to complain. I had now done Britain's 9 highest mountains (incl. 2002 hikes), so the project had been a success. The weather was simply too good to be true, and I had an long, but easy cruise up the valley ahead of me. Near Corrour Bothy, I ran into a small herd of deer, which didn't seem to be particularly bothered with hikers. A number of streams came down the west slopes of Ben Macdui. A few of these streams would clearly be somewhat troublesome when large amounts of water come down the mountain.
I reached the top of the Lairig Ghru valley at 15:30PM. The pass consisted of a long boulderfield, and a couple of ponds. The steep faces of Braeriach and Creag an Leth-choin were revealed, now that the fog in Lairig Ghru had burned off. I reached the trail junction where I came down from Chalamain Gap at 16:30PM. In the pass, I met the hiker which I met below Cairn Toul. The climb up to Chalamain Gap was tiresome, but from the Gap I could finally see the trailhead in the distance. At 17:30PM, I reached the Sugarbowl trailhead, and called for a taxi to pick me up. A wonderful but strenuous hike. Total vertical ascent was 1869m. I am not sure about the length, but a rough estimate is 35Km.
Move cursor to read notes, and click on the images to see full version.
Some of the thumbnails may have been cropped to fit the format.
westcoastpeaks.com Scotland 2003 Scotland 2002