Walk 1390 - printer friendly version
Cairn Lochan via the Fiacaill Buttress from the Ski Centre Walk
Author - Andy Smith
Length - 5.7 miles / 9.3 km
Ascent - 1900 feet / 576 metres
Grade - very hard
Start - OS grid reference NH990060
Lat 57.133768 + Long -3.6702834
Postcode PH22 1RB (approx. location only)
Cairn Lochan provides a number of challenging routes to the summit, the Fiacaill Buttress arête is without doubt one of the most popular all year round to both walkers and climbers. Arguably this route almost crosses the line between "walking" and "climbing" owing to a series of short vertical climbs and a remarkable degree of exposure. But due to its popularity it has been added as in summer conditions this is a grade one scramble which should present no real problems to a highly experienced hill walker. However in winter as shown, this becomes totally different and basic rope skills would become essential as it becomes a grade two winter climb.
As this route is north facing it is always wise to check on avalanche conditions in the ranger station based in the ski centre car park. The rangers are only too willing to give a detailed report on that day. Most accidents occur in this region of the Cairngorms and this should be taken fully into consideration if unsure of your capabilities. This is not a route for the faint hearted or inexperienced.
After parking at the Coire na Ciste ski centre (Grid ref. NH990060), leave the car park to the southwest, after a few minutes the path splits, take the left option with Stob Coire an Sneachda now in view ahead. Continue until the path crosses the River Aiit Coire Sneachda (Grid ref. NH990043). Then turn hard right before the crags heading up the lower slopes of Fiacaill Coire an t-Sneachda where a path can just be seen. The ridge begins to narrow as you painfully make your way along to a short level section just before the crags (Grid ref. NH034988), which becomes a worthy resting place. Here you will probably find company where you can talk over your plans for tackling the arete. It is worth noting that this is your last escape option if the weather turns or you simply do not feel up to the knife edge climb as this is where the walking ends!
The first section is very tough but unlike many other ridge walks, should not be taken on a centre line across the top of the ridge. Instead climb up the face and bear right to avoid the grade four routes. It can be tricky to stay on target so it always helps to liaise with people below you waiting for you to clear. The footholds are well placed if you take your time. With the first section completed you can now stride along the ridge for a while before the next section.
The second section is the worst bit of the day and is sure to test any vertigo problems. Climb up the steep gully onto a very large flat slab, the best foot holds are found to the left although hand holds are not that good. Once on top you are now faced with a vertical climb of around 3 meters. The hand-hold to your left near the top is your only choice as nothing is available to your right. This should present no problems as the hold is large and firm as you pull yourself up onto the knife edge arête. The exposure to your left is now severe with a thousand foot dead vertical drop made worse in winter due to overhanging snow cornices. Again stay as far right as you can without putting yourself in danger on the other side. An axe comes in useful to pick your way along safe ground. Once over this you can pat yourself on the back knowing the hardest bit is now over!
The last section is quite simple and the ridge begins to widen once again, maintain your line to the right, away from the drop until the flat summit is finally reached usually marked with a massive sense of satisfaction. After a well earned break turn west slowly walking up the slope of Cairn Lochan. On a rare clear winter's day the views are amazing as you look down on Glenmore forest and Loch Morlich. Continue downhill and join the path heading north over Lurcher's Crag. Stay on this track for about an hour, which will lead you northeast towards the ski centre. Two great mountains and one of the finest Scottish ridge routes are completed in one day as you head for the nearest bar to toast your day!
Note - Andy used two mountain instructors for this winter route. Do use high quality mountain guides if you have any doubts. It is the safe choice.