||Cairn Gorm and Beinn
|Cairn Gorm (centre) from
Beinn Mheadhoin. Stag Crags have a patch of snow above them (left of centre).
Another patch of snow is prominent in Coire Mhearad (right of
||Location: East Coast
||Accommodation: Aviemore has too much accommodation -
Youth Hostel, B&B and
hotels- in this tourist-trap town.
Loch Morich Youth Hostel
is closer and on the way to the Cairn Gorm skifield
||Transport: Train station at Aviemore. Daily buses up
to the Cairn Gorm skifield.
||Trip Date: 5 July 1993
Halfway between the cities of Inverness and Perth (both on Scotland's
east coast), is the huge mountain range of the Cairngorms, situated quite near
to the centre of mainland Scotland. Glaciers have carved 2 north-south trenches
through the range forming three high plateaus and a unique landscape. The
Munros of Beinn a'Chaorainn, Beinn Bhreac, Beinn a'Bhuird and Ben Avon's
Leabaidh an Daimh Bhuidhe are on the east side just to the north and NW of
Braemar town. The western block is the largest containing Braeriach, Cairn
Toul, The Devils Point, Beinn Bhrotain, Monadh Mor, Mullach Clach a'Bhlair and
Sgor Gaioth. In the centre is the horseshoe shaped plateau containing Cairn
Gorm (blue hill, 1245m), Ben Macdui and Beinn Mheadhoin (middle hill,
1182m) with offshoots to Derry Cairngorm, Bynack More and Carn a'Mhaim.
Excepting Ben Nevis, this area has the four highest
Munros - Ben Macdui is the second highest at 1309m followed by Braeriach
(1296m), Cairn Toul (1293m) and Cairn Gorm (1245m).
From most viewpoints outside of the range, the mountains appear to be
featureless and uninteresting with the exception of views from Speyside (e.g..
Aviemore) where the corries of Cairn Gorm and the dark cleft rising to the
Lairig Ghru provide variety. Climb onto the mountains and there is an entirely
different story. The plateaus are still featureless (and dangerous in bad
weather) but the bleak stony tundra is interrupted by many corries, cliffs,
streams and lochans. At your feet are the lichens and mosses more associated
with places much further north. There are vast views into the heart of the
hills and out into the rolling Scottish countryside.
The rounded summit of Cairn Gorm is clearly visible from Aviemore with
the dark forests of Glen More at its feet and the unfortunate scars of the
skifield making it easily identifiable. It must be the easiest and most climbed
of the Munros with the skifield road into Coire Cas rising to 625m. Of course
no self-respecting Munro-bagger takes the even easier option of taking the
chairlift or the funicular railway up to within 160m of the summit.
Beinn Mheadhoin, as its name suggests, is in the centre of the range and
is mostly hidden by its higher neighbours. Granite tors along the summit ridge
give the mountain a distinct and easily recognisable appearance in the glimpses
from Glen Derry and along Strath Nethy. Its relative remoteness makes it a
worthwhile objective. The rather easy bagging of Cairn Gorm turns into a great
day of walking with the ascent of this scenic summit.
||To Cairn Gorm via Sron an Aonaich
This is a fairly boring route with little to recommend it except ease of
The skifield pylons and snow-fences disfiguring the Coire Cas can be
avoided by heading steeply NE from the carpark to join a clear path up the Sron
an Aonaich ridge at a height of 800m. This path actually begins at the first
big bend in the skifield road (at map reference 984074 about 370m below you) -
giving a longer alternative starting point. The broad ridge is climbed to the
SE on the clear and heavily travelled path. All too soon, ski-lifts to either
side appear and the dome of the Ptarmigan restaurant looms ahead. Beyond the
restaurant, there is a broad rocky tourist route up the next kilometre to the
boulder-covered summit - an almost continuous staircase of stones with cairns
every few metres.
||To Cairn Gorm via the Fiacaill Ridge
This is definitely a more exciting route!
Head off along the path to the SW of the carpark. In just a few metres,
the path turns a corner and you are surrounded by wide sweeping moorlands. The
main path is left at the ford of the Allt Coire an t-Sneachda for an indistinct
path heading south along the burn. This path soon disappears (as the burn heads
more towards the west) and you make your own way up onto the spur leading to
the narrow Fiacaill Ridge. The cliffs at the head of the corries to either side
become more prominent as you climb.
When the rocky ridge is reached, there are a couple of options. Firstly,
there is a clear path to one side of the arete which avoids all difficulties.
However, the more exciting option is to gain the crest of the ridge for an
exposed and wonderful scramble. Be aware that the stepped appearance of the
ridge is deceiving - some of the steps overhang and others are dead-ends. Have
fun but take care.
A traverse east along the corrie headwall leads over great rock scenery
and wide views. The cliffs head north to a small top at point 1141m (another
path from the carpark arrives here). All that is left is a sharp little 100m
climb to the summit.
|The summit tors of Beinn
Continue from the summit of Cairn Gorm by dropping steeply to the south
over stony slopes until flatter, more grassy ground is reached NW of point
1082. This rounded hillock may be worth a detour for views down upon Loch Avon.
The grassy slopes lead further south and take you to the bottom of Coire
Raibeirt with its vigorous stream. Follow the stream for a gentle half
kilometre along a developing path. The corrie then drops abruptly down to Loch
Avon (200m in the next 500 metres) with the stream forming many interesting
rapids and waterfalls. The stream may be followed all the way down to the loch
shore and its lakeside path. However it is easier to cross the stream about 100
metres before the loch and traverse SW down the slopes to join the path further
along the shore.
The large Loch Avon basin well deserves the description of "the heart of
the Cairngorms" with it's blue-gray waters ringed by steep slopes and high
crags. As you approach the west end of the loch, note the many streams
cascading down on granite slabs from the high plateau above. Continue around
the head of the loch - crossing the Feith Buidhe stream via a ford 100 metres
from the loch or a more reliable ford another 200 metres upstream. Head back
east under the massive pillar of Shelter Stone Crag and then climb SE up an
eroded path that squeezes through a gully between Carn Etchachan and the cliffs
of Stacan Dubha. This path goes all the way to Loch Etchachan (and points
beyond). Before reaching the loch branch off east on grassy and then stony
slopes to the South-west Top of Beinn Mheadhoin (1163m). The summit is found by
continuing NE along the broad crest past several granite tors or barns (the
"Barns of Beinn Mheadhoin") and up to the largest of these on the summit
itself. To completely bag Beinn Mheadhoin, drop your pack and clamber up the
tor to its highest point.
|Beinn Mheadhoin from just above
The Saddle with a glimpse of Loch Avon.
You can return to the Coire Cas by the approach route. However there is
a better, more varied route back when the River Avon can be forded. From the
summit of Beinn Mheadhoin, walk down into the corrie to the NE - at first along
its eastern ridge and then slanting down to the corrie floor. This is the
corrie with the snowfield in the photo to the right. Head for the east end of
the Creag Dhubh crags and keep above the burn that disappears over the cliff
edge. At a point about 100 metres to the east of where the burn takes its final
fall, there is a faint zigzag path dropping steeply into Glen Avon. Reaching
the River Avon is a good excuse for a stop and giving your knees time to
Ford the river near its outlet from the loch and head north to join the
path along the loch's northern shore. If the river is high then you can either
walk all the way around the loch (quite a nice stroll) or try the Fords of Avon
1.5 kilometres to the east. Walk about 100 metres to the west and then start a
rising traverse of the slope - heading for The Saddle (an obvious pass between
Cairn Gorm and Bynack More). From the saddle (crossed by a path rising up from
the loch) take a NNW heading across and up the steep slopes. In 100 metres you
cross a burn with an interesting waterfall from the crags to the west. There
are some crags to avoid after 1 kilometre where the slope eases a bit and you
meet a second burn. Head directly north to find the third burn that drains the
Ciste Mhearad (this can contain snow well into summer) and go upstream. When
the burn peters out (or you get to the top of any snow left in the corrie) take
a course directly west. This will lead you (unfortunately) to the top of a ski
tow where a path is followed down to the Ptarmigan Restaurant and the way down
is all too obvious.