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Braeriach - Garbh Choire Mór

Braeriach - Garbh Choire Mór.   Photo: Scott Muir

Cornices.  That's what you think of with regard to Garbh Choire Mór.  The snowiest corrie in Scotland is usually ringed by enormous cornices, barring access to some of the appealing gullies beneath them.   Pinnacle Gully usually offers a break in the cornice, but the other gullies may only succumb with an abseil, an ascent to below the cornice, or a very late season gamble.  The lines are generally short in the upper corrie, and more than half of the total descent of each line will be below the cliffs in the corrie itself.  However, it is a stunning place to ski, and well worth the considerable effort to get there. The lower corrie, which can be found between the main corrie and Sgor an Lochain Uaine, has less defined features, but offers longer descents.

Approach

As per Cairn Toul and Sgor and Lochain Uaine, you can approach from the south via Coire Odhar, skirting the summits of Cairn Toul and Sgor an Lochain Uaine, or follow the Lairig Ghru and then into Garbh Choire Mor itself, passing the Garbh Choire Refuge.  From the North, the best approach is to cycle up Gleann Einich and ascend Coire Dhondail to the plateau.  The down side of this approach is that you must climb back out of the corrie again no matter what.

Ascents from the corrie

The easiest line through the cliffs is up Pinnacle Gully, which you may well find steeper on the way up than it felt on the way down!  Alternatively, the nose between Garbh Choire Mór and Garbh Choire Dhaidh offers a straightforward ascent.  If heading back to Deeside, and you want to get another run done on the way back (such as on Cairn Toul - recommended!), then you can ascend to just above the col between Garbh Choire Mór and Sgor and Lochain Uaine (NN947976) up a shallow ridge which is accessible from the lower corrie.  Late in the season, there should be a break in the cornice. 

The broad slope to the climbers right of West Gully offers a not too steep ascent also.  If heading for this from the upper corrie, there is a ramp line that cuts across the buttress at the level of the upper corrie floor, bringing you onto the slope of West Gully about half way up.

Other options

The South facing slope on the North side of the corrie provides a pleasant descent, particularly to salvage a trip when the cornices prohibit doing anything else.   

In 2014, the film LATE was made, and is well worth a watch.  GCM features in it (from about 29 minutes), including

  • a ski descent of a line between Col Gully and Forgotten Gully by Robert Kingsland, 
  • a snowboard descent of Forgotten Gully by Joe Simpson (but you wouldn't know it was a gully as it was so banked out), 
  • and the obvious snowfield and striking diagonal chimney that splits West Buttress (between Forgotten Gully and West Gully) was skied by Aaron McLean.  
  • a ski descent of a line just to the East of Col Gully by Amy Marwick  

Relevant Weather Forecasts

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Relevant Avalanche Forecasts

There is one relevant Scottish Avalanche Information Service forecast for Braeriach - Garbh Choire Mór.

The top of this gully can often be the only break in the cornice ringing the top of Garbh Choire Mor.  A short neck of snow to the first pinnacle provides the weakness, allowing you to slide in from skiers left.  As far as Grade I gullies go, it is very steep for the grade, but it is short.  Late in the season, it banks out to more of a slope than a gully, but even in these conditions, it will feel steep.   Pinnacle Gully is a contender for the longest surviving gully line in the country due to it's altitude and aspect.

Pinnacle Gully and Garbh Choire Mor, as viewed from the slopes of Cairn Toul  Photo: Scott Muir
Looking back up to Great Gully on the left, Solo Gully in the middle, and Pinnacle Gully on the right  Photo: Scott Muir
Might seem like a strange photo to upload, but might help if you find yourself there in similar overhead conditions!  Photo: Scott Muir
From the East  Photo: Scott Muir
The view West from Sgor an Lochain Uaine, showing the top of Col Gully.  Photo: Scott Muir
Garbh Choire Mor, showing some of the major lines.  Photo: Scott Muir
Looking towards the Northwest face of Sgor an Lochain Uaine.  The ascent line to point NN947976 is marked.  Photo: Scott Muir
After descending West Gully, late May 2013.  Photo: Scott Muir
Late May 2013.  Photo: Scott Muir
Pinnacle Gully, late May 2013  Photo: Scott Muir
Grid Reference: NN939980

Approximate Start Height: 1250m

Approximate Descent: 250m

General Aspect: East

Climbing Grade: I

Notes: Steep for Grade I
 

Solo Gully is another line in Garbh Choire Mór that is often capped by a horrendous cornice. The gully itself is very short, and not particularly deeply defined, but a nice satisfying steep ski. Finding conditions that permit a descent is the challenge!

When viewing from the East, the gully can form one leg of an "X" if there is enough snow to fill both branches. The main gully line, which holds snow the longest, slants from left to right when viewed from below (right to left from the top). Entrance to this can be extremely difficult due to the cornice. In May 2014, there was a break in the cornice at a rock outcrop between the branches of the gully, that allowed a short scramble down to a slumped section of the cornice. From this point, it was possible to put skis on, and enjoy a steep but uncomplicated descent. A narrowing at the base of the gully regularly has a crack in it. This was reasonably sizeable in 2014, but the landing is at a more amenable angle than the gully!

Although not attempted, the other branch of the "X" from the top may offer an alternative entry. This branch leads up to the top of Sphinx Ridge, which separates Solo Gully from the small amphitheatre containing Sphinx Gully and Pinnacle Gully. The cornice can be less problematical at this point, but you are positioned directly above Sphinx Ridge, and the gully below is much narrower with a possible awkward entry, so it carries more risk.

Looking towards Garbh Choire Mór from the slopes of Cairn Toul, May 2014  Photo: Scott Muir
Looking back up to Great Gully on the left, Solo Gully in the middle, and Pinnacle Gully on the right  Photo: Scott Muir
From the East  Photo: Scott Muir
Andy Inglis charging in Solo Gully, May 2014  Photo: Scott Muir
Approaching the crack at the bottom of Solo Gully, May 2014  Photo: Andy Inglis
Graeme Gatherer getting first turns of the day in Solo Gully, May 2014.  Photo: Scott Muir
Graeme Gatherer in Solo Gully, May 2014  Photo: Scott Muir
Scrambling down to a sensible starting point, May 2014  Photo: Scott Muir
Garbh Choire Mor, showing some of the major lines.  Photo: Scott Muir
Grid Reference: NN940979

Approximate Start Height: 1230m

Approximate Descent: 180m

General Aspect: Northeast

Climbing Grade: I

Notes: Often has a prohibitive cornice.
 

The straight corridor of Great Gully is the widest of the gullies in the upper corrie.  It offers an uncomplicated descent, assuming the cornice is not an issue.  The thing is, it often is!  After a thaw, massive blocks sit perched over the gully.  It has been known for the gaps under the blocks to be big enough to scramble down under, giving access to the gully below.  Alternatively, it may be possible to climb the gully to below the cornice, then ski/board from there.   After a very sustained thaw, the blocks eventually succumb to gravity, leaving a smooth slope to descend from the top. 

The top few metres are the steepest (in excess of 50o), but soon lie back to about 45o for the remainder of the gully.  The gully itself is quite short, as are the others in the upper corrie, but the angle is sustained to the corrie floor, so it's worth keeping going!

Great Gully on the left, Solo Gully on the right  Photo: Scott Muir
At the top of Great Gully  Photo: Scott Muir
Looking back up to Great Gully on the left, Solo Gully in the middle, and Pinnacle Gully on the right  Photo: Scott Muir
Might seem like a strange photo to upload, but might help if you find yourself there in similar overhead conditions!  Photo: Scott Muir
What you might find at the top of Great Gully if the blocks haven't collapse yet!  Photo: Scott Muir
From the East  Photo: Scott Muir
Garbh Choire Mor, showing some of the major lines.  Photo: Scott Muir
Grid Reference: NN940978

Approximate Start Height: 1210m

Approximate Descent: 150m

General Aspect: Northeast

Climbing Grade: I

Notes: Uncomplicated ascent/descent, assuming no cornice.
 

West Gully is the wide open basin that divides the upper and lower corries.   It offers an easier angled ski to the gullies in the upper corrie, and can provide a gentler warm up/warm down. 

There are a few possible entrances, all cornice dependent, and these can provide access to the corrie rim from the corrie floor.   The one marked forms a small funnel at the top of the cliff, and before you know it, the angle lies back considerably.

A choice of ascents and descents are possible off to the left of the line marked.  Photo: Scott Muir
Ascending the slope on the far (climbers) right, looking across to the top of West Gully.  The gully to the left may actually be the line of West Gully itself - a steeper and narrower proposition!  Photo: Scott Muir
Looking into the top of West Gully  Photo: Scott Muir
From the East  Photo: Scott Muir
The view West from Sgor an Lochain Uaine, showing the top of Col Gully.  Photo: Scott Muir
After descending West Gully, late May 2013.  Photo: Scott Muir
Grid Reference: NN942977

Approximate Start Height: 1190m

Approximate Descent: 250m

General Aspect: North

Climbing Grade: I

Notes: Only just Grade I at the very top, then the angle eases.
 

As the ground rises towards Carn na Criche from the col with Sgor and Lochain Uaine, a shallow gully bounds the East side of "West Buttress" (which is bounded on the West side by, yes you guessed it, West Gully).   In a reasonable snow year, this gully is virtually obscured, and capped by a massive cornice.   In lean times it becomes more distinct, and is definitely worth doing if you can get to it.  It is steeper and narrower that either Col Gully or West Gully.

Climbing guidebooks are a little vague in this area, and appear to only refer to 2 gullies in relation to the area of the lower corrie that includes Col Gully, this line, and West Gully.  As a result of this, and the regularity of it being buried, i've given it the name "Forgotten Gully"!


It's worth noting that on the day of the descent pictured, the gully was completely ascended, but the top few metres were icy, so a return was made from the corrie floor, putting the skis on a few metres below the top.  

GCM in lean times, April 2017  Photo: Scott Muir
From the East  Photo: Scott Muir
Heading up Forgotten Gully in lean, and slightly firm conditions  Photo: Scott Muir
Lean and firm conditions in Forgotten Gully  Photo: Scott Muir
Grid Reference: NN943977

Approximate Start Height: 1150m

Approximate Descent: 180m

General Aspect: Northeast

Climbing Grade: I

Notes: If not banked up, average for Grade I. Cornice can feel steep and exposed.
 

The top of Col Gully is located at the col between Carn na Criche and Sgor an Lochain Uaine.  It starts on the Sgor an Lochain Uaine side of the col.  Other than a potentially sizeable cornice, the gully lacks the character of other lines higher up in the corrie, but is a worthwhile descent if you are looking for something a little less steep than Pinnacle / Solo / Great Gully, for example.  There is a small rock fin on skiers left which defines that side of the gully.  

Looking up to Col Gully, May 2013  Photo: Scott Muir
A little air time entering the gully.  Photo: Scott Muir
Heading up into Col Gully, May 2014  Photo: Scott Muir
High up Col Gully, with the rock fin on the right.  Photo: Scott Muir
Looking East towards Sgor an Lochain Uaine, showing the location of Col Gully.  Photo: Scott Muir
Skiing Col Gully, May 2014  Photo: Scott Muir
Skiing Col Gully, May 2014  Photo: Scott Muir
The view West from Sgor an Lochain Uaine, showing the top of Col Gully.  Photo: Scott Muir
Grid Reference: NN946976

Approximate Start Height: 1120m

Approximate Descent: 180m

General Aspect: North

Climbing Grade: I

Notes: Straightforward, other than the cornice!
 
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