A Journey into the Heart of the Cairngorms: The Quest for Angel’s Peak (August 2016)

Route: Whitewell – Gleann Einich – Coire Dhondail – Braeriach Plateau: Carn na Criche (1265m) – Sgor an Lochan Uaine (1258m). Return via outward route; Distance: approx. 30km; Height gained: approx. 1100m

Sgor an Lochain Uaine (trans. Peak of the Small Green Lochan), more commonly known as Angel’s Peak, requires a lengthy journey from any direction and is not for the fainthearted.

Angel’s Peak (1258m) is in the midst of the Cairngorms, its nearest neighbour being Cairn Toul (1291m). Both summits dwarf Devil’s “Point” (perhaps I’ll leave you to look up the proper translation of the Gaelic Bod an Deamhain) to the south, which at a mere 1004m hardly serves to balance its counterpart if anything resembling normal morphology is at play. The logical move is to bag Angel’s Peak (1258m) from Cairn Toul, but the weather hadn’t been kind when Elaine had climbed the latter. This, together with time constraints, meant that her group had decided to turn around and head down, leaving Elaine with an unclaimed Munro right in the heart of the Cairngorms. Some of the obvious route choices were to either return via Cairn Toul, to approach via Angel’s Ridge (which is a Grade 2 scramble) or to park at Achlean in Glen Feshie and cross the Moine Mor. A fourth option (and quite possibly the longest distance-wise) was to approach from the north, via the very beautiful Gleann Einich, which was what Elaine chose to do.

The lower reaches of Gleann Einich

Beginning from Whitewell, the weather was initially not encouraging. The previous day had been somewhat wild in the Cairngorms and, as we set off, the sky was overcast and brooding. The wind had dropped which meant that the Rothiemurchus midges were out in full force, no holds barred. Stopping simply wasn’t an option until we reached Gleann Einich and even then any pauses were brief and taken only where we agreed that there was something resembling a breeze. On reaching the stalker’s path to Coire Dhondail, we started a steady ascent. Sgor Gaoith (1118m), to the west, was enshrouded in cloud when we began our climb, but the day was gradually becoming brighter. We negotiated the landslip near the headwall of the corrie and, emerging at the top of this section, finally took  a proper break as there was now enough of a breeze to keep the dreaded midges away.

The cloud resting on Sgoran Dubh Mor above Loch Einich

However, having ‘topped out’ above the corrie did not mean that we were close to our goal: the Gleann Einich approach is deceptive because after having a lengthy walk-in and then a fair climb up the stalker’s path, you tend to think that you’re ‘nearly there’, but in fact there is still another 265m of climbing to go before you reach the rim of Braeriach’s Garbh Coire, let alone start the final approach to Angel’s Peak (a further 120m of ascent). And so we began the seemingly never ending haul up Carn na Criche (1265m).  The cloud base was lifting and, as we climbed higher, wisps thinned and thickened in front of us, but the ambience steadily brightened. Just after arriving at the rim of the wild and very beautiful Garbh Corrie, the cloud cleared to present us with some amazing views of the central Cairngorms.

Cloud clearing from the Central Cairngorms

I pointed out Angel’s Peak to Elaine. She wasn’t allowing herself to become complacent about bagging, given the time constraints of her previous attempt: She asked me with a slightly anxious expression, ‘When’s turn-around time?’ By that point, we were up to 5 hours. It was mid-August, there was plenty of daylight available to us, and even if we had been later to walk out along a track in the dark in benign conditions would have not been an issue. We kept going and within another 45 minutes we were standing on the summit of Angel’s Peak: Elaine’s 207th Munro well and truly bagged! By now the weather had cleared to offer us some stunning views. That feeling of being a very, very long way from anywhere is a very special one, but any mountaineer worth their salt knows that the summit is only the halfway point.

Elaine and Angel’s Peak

After drinking in the views and taking a short break we started to retrace our steps. There were other return routes open to us (like heading over Braeriach and then heading down Sron na Lairig and into the Lairig Ghru), but on balance our outward approach seemed the most straightforward choice and anyway, walking a route in the opposite direction always offers a different perspective. So back we went. It took slightly less time on the way back, but because this route was all about sheer distance, it isn’t possible to make up a lot of time on the return journey ‘because of going downhill’. But nonetheless we maintained a very steady pace, arriving back at Whitewell while there was still plenty of light and bang on the nose of the upper end of my estimated time for the day. Many, many congratulations to Elaine for bagging Angel’s Peak. We had a wonderful day in a very special part of the Cairngorms!

[Note: The title of this post is based on Elaine’s original Facebook post. Thanks also to Elaine for some of the photos that feature in this account.]