WHEN it comes to winter walking, the prevailing thought can often be to avoid big mountains, never mind the highest Munros in the country, once the clocks have gone back.
But if the snow holds off or disappears for a while, it is always worth venturing out and up. Of course, if you can use ice axes and crampons, all the better because frozen conditions can then be overcome – do make sure you really know how to use them in case you need to use them to save yourself from a fall.
Braeriach, in the Cairngorms, is one mountain you would think better to go up in summer, when the days are long. It’s true that you will probably need a head torch for the start and end of the walk, as you walk along forest drives and low-level paths, but the idea of beginning at dawn and ending at dusk is surely a wonderful way to make the most of short days.
This route avoids the stamina-eroding Chalamain Gap, meaning big boulders do not have to be negotiated. And once you have walked out of the deep chasm of the Lairig Ghru and up to the top, one of the best view points in Scotland is reached.
What immediately grabs the attention are the pointed Munros of Sgòr an Lochain Uaine and Cairn Toul, across a huge corrie – this place is straight out of a big-budget movie, with the added attraction of being real.
Further afield, you can gaze over the Cairngorm plateau and further, all the way to Ben Nevis, to the south-west, and Morven to the north. n
DISTANCE 15 miles. HEIGHT CLIMBED 3,500ft. TIME 8 to 9½ hours. MAP OS Landranger 36. PARKING Take the B970 from Aviemore, through the Rothiemurchus forest to Loch Morlich and park at its western end – the first part you see. There is a £2 fee.
IN SUMMARY Go back to the road and turn left, then left again after a little more than 100 yards, to cross a bridge. Follow a forestry track to a junction, where you go straight on, following a sign for the Lairig Ghru.
Keep going on the main track, ignoring another signpost pointing right for the Lairig Ghru, to reach Rothiemurchus Lodge. At the lodge buildings, go right at a large bell, on to a path, then veer right just before reaching a small reservoir. This path is joined by a stony one from the right. Go left at the junction and continue high above the Allt Druidh, up the Lairig Ghru. Nearly a mile and a half further on, after you have dropped to the side of the burn, you are at the Chalamain Gap turn-off, on the left.
Don’t cross the burn coming down the Lairig Ghru at this point. Instead, continue on the main path to cross the burn at the point where it comes from beneath rocks. The path rises up and you should take a built path to the right, which leads to the bottom of Sròn na Lairige’s long north-west ridge, which you follow up.
Bear left to avoid the very top of Sròn na Lairige, then descend to a bealach. Start the final climb on a wide path up to the edge of the cliffs that plunge down Coire Bhrochain. In poor visibility, take great care to keep the edge well to your left, and in snow beware of the danger of cornices.
Bear right and continue along the edge. The ridge narrows, then continues up to the 4,252ft summit cairn of Braeriach with a huge plateau beyond. Return the way you came.
REFRESHMENTS: The Glenmore Mountain Shop (at the other end of Loch Morlich from where you park) serves great food and even has showers and a sauna.
WHILE IN THE AREA: There is a wide range of activities on offer at Rothiemurchus (www.rothiemurchus.net), from archery to Land Rover safaris, clay pigeon shooting and mountain biking.