THIS SERIES CELEBRATES THE AWESOME SKI ADVENTURES PEOPLE EMBARK ON LOCALLY.
FIRST UP, GEAR EDITOR SOPHIE NICHOLSON HITS THE CAIRNGORMS ON A FAT BIKE SKI MISSION….
AS AN AVID BACKCOUNTRY SKIER AND MOUNTAIN BIKER, THE OPPORTUNITY TO COMBINE TWO OF MY FAVOURITE SPORTS TO FACILITATE A LOCAL WILDERNESS JOURNEY IS A GUARANTEED RECIPE FOR AN EPIC ADVENTURE.
The simple act of using a bike to access a ski line immediately transforms a pretty remote objective like Braeriach (1296m) in the Cairngorms National Park from a super-exhausting prospect requiring a crazily long walk in into a totally achievable and mega fun local adventure.
It also injects a whole load of freshness into one’s regular ski touring routine, as you have to figure out new ways of doing things (skis on bike or pack?), learn new skills (how to actually control bike when pedaling with skis on back/bike!), and remember to bring all sorts of random bits of kit that never normally make it into your touring pack (hello bike pump, bike lock, spare drybags, extra socks and multiple ski straps).
This bike/ski route to the summit of Braeriach begins at the end of Upper Tullochgrue Road just outside Aviemore. Around an hour’s drive from my house just north of Inverness, it’s well-known among committed local skiers and most often done towards the end of the season when the main faces are bare and you’re sniffing out the last remnants of spring corn snow.
Having parked up, we loaded up our bikes with all our touring kit. We found the best way to carry gear was to attach our skis to our bike frames with straps (protecting the frame from edges with old inner tubes and duct tape) and clipping boots into bindings. It feels less cumbersome than carrying skis attached to packs on your back and it makes it easier to pedal – especially if it’s windy!
We followed the land rover track up Glen Einich in the direction of Loch Einich. After around 1km, the path split. We took the ‘high road’ for the ascent (which involved a few steep climbs) and stayed on the low road for the return journey which made the descent super-whoop-tastic rapid.
After two river crossings (the first via a bridge and the second by foot – hence the spare socks!), we arrived at the bottom of Allt Buidheannach or ‘The Escalator’ as it’s known by backcountry skiers.
Located about half a kilometre before Loch Einich on the left as you head up the glen, The Escalator offers the most direct route to the summit of Braeriach – the UK’s third highest mountain at 1296 m. It holds snow late in the season and is basically a ribbon of snow that leads up to the plateau from Glen Einich. Time to lock up the bikes, stick trainers and wet socks in a dry bag and transition to ski mode!
If you’re heading out in typical spring conditions, the snow in The Escalator may be a touch hard first thing, so it’s a good idea to have ski crampons in your pack.
We skinned up to the plateau following the most obvious line then ENE towards the summit. It’s worth bearing in mind that navigation can be difficult on the plateau so be sure you have the necessary skills/experience and equipment for such a remote objective.
On a good day however, it’s 360 degrees of pure Scottish mountain awesomeness from the summit. The views really are spectacular. It’s a true Cairngorm National Park panorama that takes in all the classics: Ben Macdui, Cairn Toul, Sgor an Lochain Uaine and Cairngorm itself.
From here you can make laps of Braeriach’s three northern coires that often hold snow well into early summer or simply retrace your route back down The Escalator as we did.
If you get your timing right you’ll get excellent surfy corn snow for the descent back to the bikes. We lucked out big style, ripping The Escalator from top to bottom in total solitude as an eagle soared overhead.
Safely back down, it was time to get back on the bikes for the return journey. As we sped off down the track under the warmth of the setting early spring sun, we paused to watch the burning of the heather taking place on the opposite side of the river bank. Carried out to provide fresh growth for game and livestock, it’s a pretty dramatic process designed to rejuvenate and re-energise.