The Big Four

By Colin Hogarth

After a comfortably quiet night in tiny Corrour Bothy, the peace and tranquility of the morning was smacked square in the face by the pounding beat of an RAF Sea King rescue helicopter cruising up and down the Lairig Ghru.

With a swift breakfast consumed, we set out at 7am up the path behind the bothy into Coire Odhar. There was not a breath of wind in the calm morning air and it was sweaty work as we rose above the glen below. The helicopter circled back into view, setting down beside the bothy for a moment, a tent pitched nearby straining to fight the stormy downdraft from the rotors.

Zig-zagging in its quest for height, the path finally emerged on to the wide crest above the coire and, hidden by a heavy mist, we made the short detour up on to the top of the Devil's Point. The clouds parted slightly, offering a tantilising glimpse of blue sky high above, but it wasn't enough to reward the effort with a view of any sort from the first peak of the day.

The trek back down to the col was savoured by legs still not fully awake but they were soon in for a shock as the ascent of Stob Coire an t-Saighdeir began in earnest, picking its way through rocky terrain towards the summit cairn. Then the most remarkable thing happened. We emerged through the cloud line into glorious sunshine, the triangular point of Cairn Toul - topping out at over 4000 feet - poised like a volcanic island in the sea of white across the coire, wavy wisps nibbling at its perfectly straight slopes. The world below was lost beneath the wide carpet of white cotton wool spread across the Cairngorm massif and here we were, basking in the sun above all else, the only souls on earth.

Powered on by tanning rays, we skirted the craggy top lip of Coire an t-Saighdeir and climbed on to Cairn Toul. The flat bulk of Braeriach - another 4000 foot-plus mountain - was in full view across the rocky chasm, the route there taking us on over Sgor an Lochain Uaine -the Angel's Peak - and Carn na Criche to the Wells of Dee, an oasis on this arid plateau where we drank thirstily to cool fevered brows. With all but the final few metres of height in the bag, the climb on to Braeriach was remarkably relaxing but once there we fell back in the clutches of the demon mist which denied us a stomach-churning peek into the cliff-lined cauldron of Coire Bhrochain below. Descending east into the col before the outlying top of Sron na Lairige, we left the ridge here and dropped down into the Lairig Ghru, passing by the scattered remains of an old aircraft which must have come to grief on the eastern flank many years ago. A vague path skirted over the moorland to join the Lairig Ghru's main thoroughfare below the Pools of Dee. From here we turned south and hiked down the glen to Corrour Bothy, arriving in time for lunch. The bothy is a fine base for bagging Cairngorm Munros but it can be exceptionally busy, particularly at weekends, so there's no guarantee of a space to kip on the concrete floor. Having walked into the bothy the previous evening from Linn of Dee with full kit, it was now time to pack everything back up into the rucsac and embark upon the trek out. Tired but nourished once more, the walk took us through Glen Luibeg to derelict Derry Lodge and then on down the track to the car park.


Distance The walk in to Corrour Bothy is 12kms from Linn of Dee. The mountain circuit, returning to the bothy, is 19kms.
Maps OS Landranger 36 or Harveys Cairn Gorm.
Start/parking Linn of Dee
Grading A fine upland expedition taking in four Munros, The Devil's Point, Cairn Toul, Sgor an Lochain Uaine and Braeriach. The walking is straight forward enough in good weather, but care is needed in the mist due to sheer drops into coires on the east side and in winter snow ice-axes and crampons are a necessity.
Accommodation Corrour Bothy is a small mountain refuge which can be very busy. There is space around it to camp. Please don't leave your rubbish in or around the bothy - take it home with you.