Battling Angels and Devils to reach the Source of the Dee

Hills: Devil’s Point, Cairn Toul, Sgor an Lochain Uaine (Angel’s Peak) and Braeriach
Date: Friday 7th June 2013 and Saturday 8th June 2013
Company: Myself and Rachel
Distance: 44km, Ascent: 2,110m
Time: 17Hrs


With a trip to the Indian Himalaya coming up in two months time, involving lots of camping, I decided that it would beneficial to get my tent out this weekend for a bit of practice.

The MWIS Cairngorms forecast for the weekend was excellent: greater than 90% cloud-free Munros, extensive sunshine and negligible wind. The only minor concern was, ‘small risk of thunderstorms’.

Focusing in on a Cairngorms plan, I needed to visit the Devil’s Point, Cairn Toul, Sgor an Lochain Uaine and Braeriach for my second round of Munros and also Carn na Criche, a Munro Top I had not visited previously. Rachel needed Cairn Toul, Sgor an Lochain Uaine and Braeriach for her first round of Munros.

We ruled out a traverse through the Cairngorms owing to the logistics of getting a car positioned at either side. I therefore considered circuit options starting from i) Linn of Dee, ii) Cairngorm Car Park, iii) Achlean and iv) Coylumbridge.

Starting and finishing from Coylumbridge was the option involving the most distance but it was the most appealing. My initial idea was to approach via Glen Einich and return via the Lairig Ghru with a high-camp near the Devil’s Point. However, I reversed this idea to approach via the Lairig Ghru and return via Glen Einich such that we could camp above 1200m at the Wells of Dee on Braeriach; a nice grassy area with a good water supply (the source of the River Dee).

On Friday morning, after picking-up Rachel en-route, we arrived at Coylumbridge and set off walking by 09:15.

Click here to see a map of the route undertaken

The last time I traversed the Lairig Ghru, I was both younger and fitter; I jogged through in a little over 6 hours. This time it was good to walk at a pleasant pace enjoying the stunning Rothiemurchus woodland.

Walking along initial section of Lairig Ghru, near Coylumbridge:


Rothiemurchus:


After walking a little over three kilometres, we arrived at the Cairngorm Club footbridge. This bridge was built in 1912.

Cairngorm Club footbridge:


Footbridge sign:


The good track through the Lairig Ghru made for fast progress despite carrying considerable weight in our packs.

Looking back towards Aviemore from Lairig Ghru:


It was nice to see Creag an Leth-Choin, a.k.a. Lurcher’s Crag, in the distance. I had yet to summit this Munro Top.

Looking towards Creag an Leth-Choin and Sron na Lairige:


The section of the Lairig Ghru below Lurcher’s Crag was still holding a reasonable depth of snow.

Snow covering the Lairig Ghru path:


Lurcher’s Crag is impressive when seen from below.

Creag an Leth-Choin:


Looking up at Creag an Leth-Choin:


Rachel on the Lairig Ghru:


We reached the high-point of the Lairig Ghru circa 3Hrs 45Mins after setting off. The Devil’s Point still looked a fair way off.

The Lairig Ghru can be a big undertaking in itself. Rising to a height of 835m, effectively Corbett height, it is not really a low-level walk. While the sections of track at either end are high quality, the mid-section involves crossing trackless boulderfield.

Looking towards Devil’s Point and Cairn Toul from the high point of the Lairig Ghru:


A short distance beyond the high-point of the Lairig Ghru, we passed the Pools of Dee, the start of a tributary of the River Dee. Later in the day we would hopefully be camping at the Wells of Dee, the source of the River Dee.

The Pools of Dee:


It was a bit disheartening to lose >200m in height as we descended towards Corrour Bothy. However, it was nice to traverse below the peaks that we would soon be traversing over.

During the descent, I stopped to try out a new toy. I used a Steripen to sterilise some water taken from the River Dee. We soon found ourselves on the opposite side of the River Dee from the track. We were however able to jump over the River Dee, something that would be much more difficult to do in Aberdeen!

Looking up to our forthcoming hills from the Lairig Ghru:


Looking towards Carn a’Mhaim and the Devil’s Point:


A short distance before Corrour, we passed Clach nan Taillear. The nice slabs on Carn a’Mhaim above are more impressive than the clach.

Nice slabs above Clach nan Taillear:


The Devil’s Point is a really impressive hill when seen from below. From above, it is not much more than a minor top of Cairn Toul.

The Devil’s Point:


The Devil’s Point and Corrour Bothy (zoom):


On reaching Corrour Bothy, we stopped for a brief rest. This bothy is now much nicer than it used to be. It even has a composting toilet.

Corrour Bothy:


Rachel having a seat in Corrour Bothy:


After our brief stop at Corrour, the hard work was about to commence. The ascent of the Devil’s Point was arduous given our heavy packs.

Ascending Coire Odhar towards the Devil’s Point:


During the ascent I stopped to photograph a Meadow Pipit which was singing melodiously.

Meadow Pipit:


It wasn’t long before we reached the top of Coire Odhar. We left our rucksacks here while we took a short detour to the summit of the Devil's Point.

Heading for the Devil’s Point:


Rachel a short distance below the summit of the Devil’s Point:


At the summit of the Devil’s Point we stopped to take some photographs before returning to the top of Coire Odhar to collect our packs.

Stob Coire an t-Saighdeir and Cairn Toul from the summit of the Devil’s Point:


Looking back along the Lairig Ghru:


Before continuing on, I collected and sterilised some water from the Allt a’Choire Odhar. This would be our last water source before reaching the Wells of Dee in a few hours time.

For our ascent of Stob Coire an t-Saighdeir (1213m top), Naismith’s rule went completely out the window. We stuck to the edge of the cliffs during our ascent crossing lots of boulderfield. It would have been possible to avoid much of the boulderfield by ascending further to the West.

Boulderfield ascent of Stob Coire an t-Saighdeir:


Looking back towards the Devil’s Point:


View during ascent of Stob Coire an t-Saighdeir:


It was nice to eventually reach Stob Coire an t-Saighdeir, a Munro Top of Cairn Toul.

At the summit of Stob Coire an t-Saighdeir:


The ascent and subsequent descent of Cairn Toul was trickier with almost continuous boulderfield.

Ascent of Cairn Toul:


We met a man with his dog at the summit of Cairn Toul who was also intending camping out somewhere.

Large cairn at the summit of Cairn Toul:


Descent from Cairn Toul towards Sgor an Lochain Uaine (Angel’s Peak):


On reaching the col before Sgor an Lochain Uaine, I was a bit surprised to find that it had taken almost a full hour to traverse a single kilometre.

Looking back at descent from Cairn Toul:


We could see Lochan Uaine during our ascent of Sgor an Lochain Uaine.

Braeriach and Lochan Uaine:


Ascent of Sgor an Lochain Uaine:


On reaching the summit of Sgor an Lochain Uaine, we stopped for some more photos before continuing on across what was now new territory for me.

Rachel at the summit of Sgor an Lochain Uaine:


I was seriously impressed with the sheer size and scale of Braeriach. It is a massive mountain with great coires and cliffs.

An Garbh Choire and the Falls of Dee:


Coire Bhrochain below summit of Braeriach:


After crossing a fairly large section of snow, we began our ascent of Carn na Criche, a Munro Top of Braeriach.

Heading for Carn na Criche:


Looking back to Sgor an Lochain Uaine:


At the summit of Carn na Criche:


After nearly 11 hours of walking, we reached the Wells of Dee, the source of the River Dee.

The Wells of Dee are several pools. Unfortunately, I could not photograph the pools as they were still covered in snow. We were however able to get plenty fresh water just a few dozen metres away from the source.

After pitching the tent and cooking some tea we both pretty-much collapsed into the tent. At around 21:00, the mist starting rolling in across the summits and was still there at 07:00 the next morning. By 07:30, we had packed up the tent and were on our way.

1220m camp at the Wells of Dee:


Initially, we ventured over to Einich cairn which would likely have been a superb viewpoint had it not been misty.

Einich cairn:


From Einich Cairn, we then traversed across to Stob Coire an Lochain (1235m). Stob Coire an Lochain is a demoted Munro Top.

At the summit of Stob Coire an Lochain (1235m):


I managed to get fairly close to a Dotterel to take some photos. During this trip, I had been wondering if it was worth carrying a 1.5kg camera. Getting the photos of the Dotterel confirmed that it was worth the effort.

Dotterel:


Dotterel:


Literally within two minutes of the Dotterel flying off, we also saw a Wheatear.

Wheatear:


As we approached the summit of Braeriach, it was back to good old granite boulderfield.

Approaching the summit of Braeriach:


The summit cairn seemed surprisingly small but we reckoned that was due to it still being mostly buried under deep snow.

At the summit of Braeriach:


We saw a Snow Bunting sitting on the rocks circa 10m from the summit. I only managed to get one quick photo before it flew off.

Snow bunting:


During the descent from the summit of Braeriach, we had to cross several patches of snow and had to walk on top of a bank of snow at the narrow part of the ridge.

Looking down into Coire Bhrochain:


Bank of snow covering path from summit of Braeriach:


It was nice to look across to Cairn Toul and Lochan Uaine during the descent.

Looking across to Lochan Uaine:


During the descent we passed a couple of pieces of aircraft wreckage located right next to the track.

Aircraft wreckage:


As we made our descent towards Sron na Lairige, the low cloud began to burn off. It was going to become a seriously hot day! We visited both the 1184m and 1180m tops of Sron na Lairige.

At the 1184m summit of Sron na Lairige:


From the 1180m top, we abandoned the path to take the wide North-West ridge leading down to Glen Einich. The descent was pleasant; grass and heather instead of hard track and boulders.

Descent to Glen Einich:


During the descent, Rachel took a photo of myself.

Myself:


We skirted round to the left of Carn a’Phris-ghiubhais to pick-up a footpath which was marked on the OS map.

Descent towards Carn a’Phris-ghiubhais:


Sgor Gaoith and Sgoran Dubh Mor:


On reaching the landrover track in Glen Einich, we stopped for a good long break. We still had >8km to walk out to Coylumbridge.

Rachel crossing the bridge over the Am Beanaidh:


The walk out through Glen Einich was really nice. I had not previously walked in this glen. My feet were aching with every step.

Am Beanaidh:


Before reaching Coylumbridge we had one last break at Lochan Deo. The lochan which was full of tadpoles.

Lochan Deo:


Despite enjoying the walk, it was GREAT to reach the car in Coylumbridge. Well done and thanks to Rachel!

Postscript: During the walk, we also had the good fortune to spot a bird that I did not recognise. I took some photos which were subsequently confirmed by the BTO as being that of a Purple Sandpiper; one of only circa 3 breeding pairs in the UK. The BTO confirmed that the pair successfully raised young there that year. We were advised not to disclose the location of where we saw it.