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Cairngorm Walk
Cairngorm & Ben Macdui from the ski centre

Nat Park - Cairngorm

County/Area - Highland

Author - Peter Smyly

Length - 11.0 miles / 17.9 km

Ascent - 2900 feet / 879 metres

Time - 8 hours 20 minutes

Grade - hard

Start - OS grid reference NH990060
Lat 57.133768 // Long -3.670283
Postcode PH22 1RB (approx. location only)
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Walk Route Description

Photo from the walk - Cairngorm & Ben Macdui from the ski centre Photo from the walk - Cairngorm & Ben Macdui from the ski centre Photo from the walk - Cairngorm & Ben Macdui from the ski centre Photo from the walk - Cairngorm & Ben Macdui from the ski centre Photo from the walk - Cairngorm & Ben Macdui from the ski centre Photo from the walk - Cairngorm & Ben Macdui from the ski centre
Click thumbnails for larger images.

Of the nine mountains in Scotland and the United Kingdom that are over four thousand feet in height, this walk includes two of them. Cairngorm (4,084 feet) is the sixth highest and Ben Macdui (4,295 feet) is exceeded in height in the UK only by Ben Nevis.

Despite the altitude of these mountains, this walk is not a particularly strenuous one for the average fit mountain walker. There are no knife edge ridges, vertiginous drops or mercilessly steep slopes. The walk up the Coire Cas Route (access road) to the right from the ski centre car park to the top of the funicular station is, in my view, a bit of a trudge, or at least that was how it seemed when I did the walk in the summer of 2010. This impression may have been due in part to cloud cover which for the most part blotted out views until reaching the top of the funicular. An unsurfaced road winds its way up, quite steeply in places. The route does get more interesting after the funicular station at a height of 3,599 feet. The top station has a shop and conveniences.

From the top station, it is a straightforward walk to the top of Cairngorm, following a very clear, rocky path, making Cairngorm probably the easiest Munro in the whole of Scotland to "bag" if using the funicular railway to gain height first. As the top gets nearer, a series of cairns at intervals appear in a line as if guiding you to the top. The top is marked by a very large cairn and, looking back, Loch Morlich can be seen way below.

There is no path at this point but next, head due south west and walk down the rocky hillside. A couple of similar looking corries are passed on the right, each containing a pair of small lochans. Firstly, the route passes quite close to Coire an t-Sneachda and, a kilometre to the south west, Coire an Lochain, the latter of which is passed on the return route later in the walk on the opposite side of the corrie. At this point, the route heads more or less due south west, broadly following the ridge ahead and steering clear of the corries to the right, though they are worth a closer look.

Following the ridge ahead, a clear path is reached and gradients are generally gentle. As a result, progress tends to be relatively quick and the dome shape of Cairngorm can be seen in retrospect. The granite tors of Beinn Mheadhoin appear as humps on the ridge of this mountain to the left and, a small sheet of water, Lochan Buidhe, is passed on the left of the path before the gradient steepens. Ben Macdui is about a mile further on as the gradient eases off and a line of cairns similar to the ones on Cairngorm, instead of announcing the arrival of the next summit, appear to be there to indicate the right general direction. The lead-in to the summit is a rock-covered plateau and there is no mistaking the top due to the sizeable cairn. Potentially this could be a disorientating place in mist due to the rocky terrain of the ridge looking similar in every direction. Even in summer, at this altitude, weather conditions can be cold and wet, therefore it is unlikely that this will be a spot for a break of any length. On the occasion of our visit, there were a couple of men asking fellow walkers if they had seen any wild birds in the vicinity. I was reminded that I had noticed one dark coloured bird on the approach to the summit of Ben Macdui that seemed to be having difficulty getting off the ground and flying. From my description, he thought it had probably been a dotterel, one of the hardy birds that can survive the cold at these high altitudes.

For the walk back, retrace your steps back as far as Lochan Buidhe. This is a key landmark to look out for, because it is at this juncture that the return route differs from the outgoing one. Now take the path that veers to the left. Follow the path ahead as the Lairig Ghru valley appears below on the left with Braeriach above on the other side of the valley. Head more or less due north with the path as your guide as it veers to the right and thus the Lairig Ghru disappears from view. Then the path passes the other side of Coire an Lochain (now appearing on the right) with its twin lochans and as you lose height following the ridge down, eventually you rejoin the start point at the car park after crossing the burn (stream) Allt Coire an t-Sneachda.

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