The question had been burning in the back of my mind for some time now. When was I going to get the opportunity to go for a combined skiing/biking/hiking trip in the morning before work, in the middle of July... Fortunately enough, yesterday morning I was finally able to put this question to bed.
With some reliable info that the snow in Great Gully, a deep cleft on the western headwall of Garbh Choire Mór on Braeriach, was still intact, Blair Aitken and I set off from Coylumbridge at 12am to cycle the six miles to Loch Einich. It took less than a hundred yards for me to realise that heading out on a new bike, whilst carrying skis, boots and camera gear on my back, and under the cover of darkness was probably not the smartest of ways to reintroduce myself to mountain biking, however despite a lot of frustration and colourful language vented off at both the bike, the track, and the rocks that decided to occasionally announce themselves out of nowhere by nearly sending me hurtling over the front of my handlebars, we still made decent pace onwards.
Reaching the Loch we ditched the bikes to continue on foot to the headwall above Garbh Choire Mór and the top of the gully. We'd planned our timings in order to reach this point in time for the spectacular sunrise that the weather forecast had promised. Of course being Scotland we instead arrived to thick clag engulfing the gully. "Shall we give it half an hour to see if it clears up?"... "Nah f*** it, let's just get on with it"...
The snow in the gully was solid. For whatever reason, we'd both had it in our heads that any snow holding on this late in the summer would be soft and forgiving. Not even close... Combined with narrow sections that banked out at around 50 degrees and, this felt like a committing, high-consequence ski, which you could never really relax and enjoy. If you'd treated the outing solely as a ski day, then I think you would have been relatively disappointed. However as a day out in the mountains combining multiple disciplines, it was well worth the effort.
Soon after climbing back out to of the gully (again a sketchy experience as we'd chosen to travel light without crampons and ice axe) we were finally rewarded for our efforts with the clouds finally breaking, allowing us to enjoy a downhill cycle back out to Coylumbridge in the morning sun (apparently cycling in the daylight when you can see is a hell of a lot easier - who knew). Jumping in the car, I raced back down the A9 to Perth and headed straight to the office, exhausted, but satisfied with the morning's work.