Monday, 17 November 2008

Mona Gowan and Braeriach - 15/16th Nov '08

The Scottish Mountaineering Club is going to publish a guide book to The Grahams, in the same series as their Munro's and Corbett's books and your truly might be in it (if the editor decides any of the photos of me on the hill look good enough!)
Mona Gowan is my 2nd Graham (1st was Hill of Wirral, or something along those lines) and it's a pleasant wee stroll as it starts high up on the back road that runs from past the Lecht, to Ballater.
We decided to go for a walk up there as Andy was needing photos and the weather was looking better further east and it was forecast to be really windy so we didn't want to go too high, and wanted to save our energy for Sunday, when the forecast was much better.
It was still pretty gusty up there and it was hard taking photos (hard for Andy holding the camera steady and hard for me holding myself steady!)
We walked south off the hill (having walked up from the west) and took the long way round, stopping at what looked like a newly renovated bothy on the way down.
Sunday was far more energetic! It was forecast to be one of those lovely, crisp but sunny and clear wintry days and we thought that Braeriach's cliffs might be frozen high up and the cliffs all hoared up. Seen as I'm not great on the bike, we went to the nearest of the Corries, Coire Brochain and were up at 6am, arriving at the Sugarbowl carpark at the back of 7. It was raining when we were driving up and arriving at the car park, was sleeting on a Northerly wind, a bit surprising seen as that wasn't forecast! The sleet and rain cleared shortly and we got our boots on and starting walking around 7.30ish.
Before long we arrived at the Chalamain Gap, uurrgh! Boulders! I was a wee bitty quicker than at Lochnagar the other week, but there was only a dusting on the tops of the boulders so not as bad. Then followed a bog trot and down to the Lairig Ghru where the walk in began in earnest up Sron na Lairig's NNE ridge to the top, and then down to the col between that hill and Braeriach. The clag lifted at the col and the sun came out, however it was a lot windier than forecast and a lot colder! I was contemplating just how deadly it would get up there in awful stormy weather and Andy recounted the tale of two strong and experienced climbers facing a full on blizzard and being unable to descend back down into the Corrie because of the wind, so having to crawl off the hill the long way round and back to the bothy. Thankfully it wasn't quite as windy as that and just a bit blustery!
We had wanted to do a buttress or ridge in the Eastern sector of the corrie but descending was a bit of a problem. Descending down to the east of the cliffs would have been awkward so we decided to see if one of the gullies looked OK to descend. I could see a few of the gullies and one in particular had what looked like a steep icy wall at the bottom and I was thinking, 'blimey I'll never be able to down climb that!' The gullies had snow in them, and even though I've descended a few gully type things now, I had an attack of the nerves and wasn't keen in the slightest. But it was either that or call it quits and that wasn't going to happen! Andy went down the gully for a nosy and came back up with the news that the snow was rock solid and that I could use a rope if I liked. Yes please! Turns out I was fine though, a bit slow at first but speeding up and getting into a rhythm and learning that I didn't need to kick my feet in hard to stick! The gully had a couple of steeper steps in it, and bits where the snow had collapsed and formed big holes through to the gully bed. You could hear the water running behind these bits and it was a bit tentative climbing past these.
Disappointingly so, we were faced with cliffs of bare rock once we arrived at the bottom. We had a few choices. Tool our way up a ridgy bit, climb a buttress in our boots or climb back up one of the easy gullies. There was another snowy ramp to the left but we were unsure of whether it would even be possible to get up to it, in the given conditions. And with the holes in the gully that we had descended we were unsure whether any steps in the other gullies might be impassable. Only one way to find out! We soloed up the start of Pyramus until the snow came to a steepening, then we roped up and pitched up an awkward and mixed chimney, and then moved together over easy ground until the top. The route is only a grade I but felt more like II in the lean conditions.
We nipped up to the summit (munro no 88 for me) for a bite to eat and to take some photos, but didn't hang about for ages as it was freezing and we had a long walk out to look forward to, the end bit which would be in the dark.
It seemed to take forever to get back down to the Lairig Ghru and my legs were like jelly by this point so I had to go slow or risk my knees locking and my legs giving way, on the way down. At the Chalamain Gap we decided to traverse around the side of Creag a' Chalamain rather than go through the gap as it would be much quicker in the dark and save me breaking my ankles/neck! It seemed to take a lifetime to get from the gap, back to the car park and nearing the reindeer enclosure, we could see the glare from Glenmore Lodge and it was dazzling us, and making it even harder to see! But finally, we were back at the car and even though my ankle injury flared up and was hurting like mad when I took my stiff boots off, it was surely heaven on earth to be able to sit down and to get back to Andy's for a hot cup of tea :o)

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