A FRIEND contacted me recently asking me if I could identify the mountain in an old picture he had picked up in an antique shop.
You wouldn’t think that would be a problem, but my initial thought turned out to be wrong. Thanks to the wonders of social media the mystery was soon solved and he had his answer.
The picture showed the classic view of mighty Braeriach across Loch Einich from the top of the crags on Sgor Gaoith. But the reason I felt particularly embarrassed about getting this wrong was that this view had been in my mind for years.
Many a time I had sat on the summit of Sgor Gaoith longingly looking down the trench of Gleann Einich and the path that led up to the loch before cutting up into Braeriach.
My experiences of Braeriach had always been from the Sugar Bowl car park in the east, coming through the Chalamain Gap and then climbing to the summit via the Sron na Lairige ridge or tackling it from a lot further south on the Lairig Ghru. It had always just been easier to start from these points. But here was a route I had never done, and it looked spectacular.
So 17 years after my first ascent of Braeriach and with much anticipation, I decided to drive to Whitewells near Aviemore and come in from this northern approach.
I was like a wee boy getting the birthday present he’d always wanted. Only it turned out not to be so special as I thought. Now let me clarify this. It wasn’t a bad day. In fact, it was a great day - just not as great as I had been hoping.
The weather was perfect, the views immense and the whole trip was a great adventure. But as is often the case when you have built up a picture in your mind, it proved vastly different to what I had expected.
For a start Gleann Einich was a lot more open than I had thought. From above it looked like I would be walking down a tight, narrow trench, with the massive cliffs pushing in from both sides but the reality was much different. The surrounding land was much greener, almost pastoral, and the river flowed gently and evenly from the loch, no spectacular falls, no roaring rapids fighting to get through tight spaces.
Then there was Braeriach itself, a far more spectacular mountain from the other side where its towering cliffs make it seem like a rock theatre of the gods, and the view over to Sgor an Lochain Uaine and Cairn Toul is never less than sensational.
This was its gentler side, a path up easy-angled slopes taking you slowly into its heart where the best bits were still miles away lying in wait. This was amplified when I reached what I thought was the crest of the mountain only to be faced with yet another long pull on lichen and sodden ground.
The monotony of the ascent was briefly broken by a family of reindeer following in my footsteps, possibly hoping for some tidbits, possibly just mistaking me for a fellow member of their clan.
The walk had its own beauty but it was certainly not the one I had envisaged so many times from thousands of feet up on the other side of the glen. It seemed a long, long way to get to the big reveal.
My false perspective had left me feeling a little cheated, but it’s not the first time it’s happened and it probably won’t be the last.
(First published Daily Record, June 26, 2014)