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Cairn Gorm from Beinn Mheadhoin
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 centre).
Country: Scotland
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.
Maps: OS Outdoor Leisure 3 (scale of 1:25,000) or Landranger Map 0036: Grantown, Aviemore & Cairngorm Mountains (1:50,000).
Trip Date: 5 July 1993
Also See:
The Fiacaill Ridge (Cairn Gorm) by Paul Kennedy.
The Cairn Gorm Weather Station: weather conditions on the summit with pictures from lower down.
Introduction

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 access.

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.

Beinn Mheadhoin
The summit tors of Beinn Mheadhoin

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 recover.

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.


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