Cairngorms, 18-21 April 2014

Mountain trip to Scotland

It was only a few days since we returned home after skiing holiday in France, and we did not have any plans for the Easter break. We were going to catch up with domestic chores: cleaning, laundry etc. But we changed our minds when we realised that four days of settled weather in Scotland coincided this year with the Easter break. This is an extremely rare occurence, and we had no choice but to pack and go hiking.

We did not have time to prepare properly for the trip. We decided to climb North-East range of the Angel's Peak. According to some trip reports on the internet, this is a grade 1 scramble which is exactly what we were looking for. We knew that there was some snow left in the Cairngorms but we didn't know how much. In any case, we never ventured that far north, so we did not quite know what to expect.

Zoom in to view the topo map. The red, blue, green and brown lines show our tracks on the first, second, third and forth days, respectively. The red arrow shows the direction of travel. The tent icons indicate places where we camped, the "P" icon shows car park.

There was no way we could leave on Thursday evening, we just didn't have time to pack. Se we had to start the following morning, and of course, traffic jams were unavoidable. It took us 7 hours (including lunch) to get to Aviemore. It was around 6pm when we parked our car, hoisted our backpacks and started walking towards the mountains. The path led into an amazing pine forest, and we saw first snow-covered hills.

First snow field in Chalamain Gap. This place looks like Khibiny mountains: a narrow gap through a mountain range surrounded by steep walls on both sides. Last February, people died in an avalanche here, but there is not much snow left now.

We got to Lairig Ghru. This is a fairly narrow valley several kilometres long, with a stream at the bottom. We camped on a dry spot not too far away from the stream.

Next day we continued South. We passed a few small lakes covered with snow. The peak in the distance is the Devil's Point.

In some places the snow subsided, as if a giant drew circles in the snow. One can now see Cairn Toul next to the Devil's Point.

The snow is collapsing into the lake, just like glaciers in Norway.

The ice is turquoise under the water.

Garbh Coire Bothy is a tiny refuge built with boulders. It is so small, and the roof is patchy, we'd rather pitch a tent than stay in the bothy. Maybe it's a good shelter in a very bad weather. We climbed up to the lake passing a picturesque waterfall.

We got to the Coire an Lochan Uaine, where we camped. The lake is almost completely covered with ice.

This was a very short walking day. An alternative would have been to go down the valley and climb the Devil's Point next day. But this would have meant losing altitude and the shallow, snowless valley did not look attractive at all. We wanted to stay near the snow. So we decided to camp early at Lochan Uaine. We did not regret this, it was an amazing spot for camping.

This is Angel's Peak (Sgor an Lochain Uaine). It is quite high, 1258 m. It was only back home that we realised that we visited the 3rd, 4th and 5th tallest mountains in the UK...

As soon as we saw the snow-covered ridge, we realised that there will be no scrambling. Too much snow this year. Sonya could not climb up this steep snow without belay, and we were not prepared to build belay anchors in the snow, we did not even have our ice axes. Even if we'd had them, we wouldn't have dared to climb up the snow. So we decided to climb up the rocks for as high as we can, just for fun.

The rocks got covered with snow half way up the ridge, and we had to turn back.

The north-east ridge of Angel's Peak (Sgor an Lochain Uaine). The peak in the middle is Cairn Toul (Coire un Subhail), 1291 m. We climbed up its ridge the following day.

Our back packs by the Lochan Uaine are far below.


This is our tent. The weather was amazing, sunny, no wind, but it was getting cold.

Sonya is donning two down jackets to stay warm.

Reflection of the mountains in the lake.

The sunset was amazing. Lairig Ghru is on the left - this is where we started from earlier today.

The temperature plummeted below zero overnight.There was a lot of frost and ice in the morning, and we spent quite some time walking around. This white plate is... froth that got collected in a whirlpool and froze solid overnight. We have never seen anything like this before.

The moss and grass by the river got covered in ice. Every blade was encased.

Sonya is smoking an ice pipe.

The flanks of the stream are covered with ice, but the stream itself is flowing freely.

Ptarmigans are not scared of people. This one was too lazy to fly, so it tried to walk away from us.

The last snow field leading to the summit... It looks quite steep on the photo, but actually it wasn't bad. We short-roped Sonya just because the rope was already out of the pack - we used it to protect a short but steep snow field earlier. The crampons were handy too: the snow was quite hard in the morning. Wearing crampons certainly made us feel more confident. Sony is following the old deep footsteps - we saw two hikers climbing up here yesterday.

This was the end of our short section of relatively technical cliimbing. We probably have not had so much snow in the mountains (except when skiing...) since the mountain trips with the University club in Russia.

The visibility was amazing, you can see every mountain in Scotland (or so we were told by a passing hiker). The stripy hills looked like zebras.

From the Cairn Toul summit we went around the plateau visiting every peak along the route.

The cornices are quite impressive. One should keep well away from them!


Sun bathing.

Sonya's icy jewellery.

Our camping spot by the lake is clearly visible from here. Below are steep cliffs. We are at Braeriach, the third tallest mountain in the UK.

A panorama of the plateau.

Cornices above Lairig Ghru. We did not notice them the previous day when we were passing by.

Sunset. Aviemore is far below. The visibiltiy was very good in the evening.

Returning back on our last day, we passed by a raindeer park. The raindeers are not very keen to be touched. They roam free in the Cairngorms, but come to the park once a day for feeding. This is when the park opens to tourists.

The raindeer looks very much like a veal.

This was the end of our Scottish adventure. On the way back we also managed to visit Stirling castle. We will not forget the Cairngorms mountains! If only they were not so far away from York...

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