Walk-run: Five of Scotland’s 4000fters – and an extra Devil’s Point
I have no idea how a chat with my husband, G, progressed from “let’s do the Bareriach traverse” to “let’s do five of Scotland’s highest mountains and throw in the Devil’s Point, too”. But that is what I found myself doing on Saturday in the Cairngorms.
Option 1 or 2. What is the difference?
With 25 Munros in my first round still to bag, I had my sights set on four in the Cairngorms, The Devil’s Point (1004m), Cairn Toul (1291m), Sgor an Lochain Uaine (1258m), aka The Angel’s Peak, and Braeriach (1296m).
The first option for this adventure would be to start with a mountain bike ride of around an hour. There are a few suggested start points, such as Whitewell, Glenmore Lodge or even Linn of Dee. Then a walk of the high ridge, taking in the four Munros, followed by an exit on foot via the Lairig Ghru to reclaim the bike and a cycle back out.
This seemed like a big day but fairly reasonable for someone who is used to being in the mountains and doing multiple peaks in one day.
But there is also an outing known as the five 4000fters. This comprises five of the highest UK mountains, all at more than 4000ft (1220m) tall. This option starts from Cairngorm Mountain ski centre. First you bag Cairn Gorm (1244m) and the UK’s second highest mountain of Ben Macdui (1309m).
After descending to the Lairig Ghru, a superb and wild mountain pass, and reaching Corrour Bothy, the route then climbs to the ridge to take in Cairn Toul (1291m), The Angel’s Peak (1258m) and Braeriach (1296m).
That’s the five mountains over 4000ft. But we would also need to add in The Devil’s Point, a relative “baby, at 3293ft (1004m), because I still had that Munro to bag. The finish would be back at Cairngorm ski centre after walking out via the Chalamain Gap (CM Gap), which is a bouldery narrow pass on the path that links the Cairngorm Mountain ski road to the Lairig Ghru.
In total, we reckoned this route on foot would be 20-odd miles and about 2000m of ascent. (Note, it was more!)
For some reason, and with our friends Rob and Stew egging us on, we decided to go for option 2.
Walk-run: 5 of Scotland’s 4000fters – and an extra Devil’s Point
There are positives to this route:
Going faster and lighter (in terms of kit) allows you to cover more distance and a greater number of summits in a shorter time. You might choose instead to overnight at Corrour bothy in the Lairig Ghru, or a wild camp, but this means you need to carry more kit and this will generally mean a slower walk.
The route starts fairly high at the ski centre top car park around 645m. This means the first summit is “only” 599m of ascent. It offers a good warm up for the legs. (A tip if you have more than one car is to leave one at the top car park and another at the lower, Sugar Bowl car park, for your return. This saves you walking more ascent up the tarmac road.)
The tracks from Cairn Gorm to Ben Macdui are mostly fantastic and runnable. Apart from a few bouldery sections, the trails can mostly be seen etched on the landscape and there is plenty of flattish terrain to offer a gentle run. This is brilliant in good weather.
It feels amazing to be covering so much distance when you are run-walking. I loved that by travelling a bit faster than normal we could aim to bag so many summits in one go.
It was a great opportunity to pass through the CM Gap. This is an impressive gorge and one that G had been keen to visit for years.
The route takes you through an incredible mountain scenery. Huge corries, fabulous lochs, the Lairig Ghru, sparkling clear rivers, the high source of the River Dee and fabulous wild flowers.
There are some negatives to be aware of:
Going fast and light requires experience and know-how. It also means you are at a greater risk if you fall or the weather closes in. It’s important still to have safety kit and essentials with you.
Descending Ben Macdui to the Lairig Ghru is disheartening when you can see the ridge rising up high above you on the other side. You know you need to go back up and while the landscape is stunning, it feels like a big challenge to descend so far after two Munros, faced with four more on a high ridge.
The terrain is very rocky and hard going in places. It’s vital that you concentrate at all times. This means that if you are fast walking and running you are less likely to see the views as you journey. (We made up for this by stopping to take photos.)
The route is long. It turns out it is 24 miles and includes 2749m of total ascent. See OS Maps route.
The route to the final Munro of the day is long. While the three summits of the Devil’s Point, Cairn Toul and Angel’s Peak seem to come relatively quickly one after the other, the push to Braeriach felt very long. I could not believe how far on the horizon it appeared to be.
The route back to the start seems even longer. It’s about eight miles from Braeriach summit to the Sugar Bowl car park on the ski road. I had thought this would be all downhill. It has a fair amount of up, especially one long-ish climb just when your legs are screaming for no more ascending.
We had to walk back uphill on the tarmac ski road. We had left a car at the top car park and another at the middle car park. That meant there was another ascent from the Sugar Bowl car park at the end to the middle car park.