Cairngorm and the Northern Corries Walking

With its bustling pistes and ever-popular winter climbing, Cairngorm can seem a busy place. While the ski centre is great for a convenient high start, this ugly development is unlikely to appeal if your idea of a decent day on the hill is something quiet and unspoilt. Skiers and climbers are well catered for, but is there anything here for walkers who prefer scenery and solitude? Well yes. On this massive hill it's surprisingly easy to get away from it all. From its little-trodden northern tops, to the drama of the Northern Corries, this extended circuit gets the best out of Cairngorm.

Above the cliffs of Coire an Lochain  © Dan Bailey -
Above the cliffs of Coire an Lochain
Fetching Map

Detailed description

NH9976907403 From the far end of the car park take a footpath over the Allt na Ciste. The engineered path now climbs steadily up the heathery hillside overlooking Coire na Ciste. Beyond the ridge of Creagan Dubh bear roughly east-southeast across open slopes. Pass just left of a snow fence then climb quite steeply above Coire Laogh Mor before the angle eases, to reach a cairn marking the top of Sron a' Cha-no at 1028m on the broad spur overlooking the dramatic trench of Strath Nethy (winter climbers may be familiar with the adjacent Cha-no crag).
Strath Nethy from Sron a Cha-no  © Dan Bailey -
Strath Nethy from Sron a Cha-no
© Dan Bailey -, Nov 2019

NJ0163105996 Head southwest and then south-southwest for an easy ascent onto a mini summit on a well-defined spur. Continue more south to climb onto the tabletop of Cnap Coire na Spreide, where a big cairn crowns a prominent rock. Here turn roughly west-southwest over a broad featureless saddle to reach the top of the resort's highest ski tow. Now go uphill towards Cairn Gorm, soon joining a path for the ascent past Marquis' Well spring. Rocky slopes lead to the cairn and weather station on the summit.
Venus? No, the Cairn Gorm weather station  © Dan Bailey
Venus? No, the Cairn Gorm weather station
© Dan Bailey

NJ0052304055 A path descends roughly west-southwest to the wide shoulder above the head of Coire Cas. In poor visibility this area can be confusing, so if you need clarity aim for the big cairn on spot height 1141m (this marks the top of the Fiacaill a'Choire Chais ridge, a handy escape option in bad weather). Now go south to gain the edge of the steep flank of Coire an t-Sneachda, following the cliff edge as it curves right for the rocky climb onto its high point on Stob Coire an t-Sneachda. In winter the crags below may be busy with climbers.

NH9961402959 Continue along the spectacular cliff edge (take care to steer clear of cornices), before making a gentle descent to the saddle at the head of Coire Domhain. From here it's possible to descend the Goat Track into Coire an t-Sneachda (caution: it's steep and can be either icy or avalanche prone in winter; rockfall is a hazard in summer). Those looking to extend the day can also take this opportunity to branch off the described route and head for Ben Macdui. To continue with the round as described, climb due west up to the rim of Coire an Lochain. This second of the Northern Corries is just as impressive as its neighbour, and the edge may be equally heavily corniced. Follow the clifftop, giving a wide berth to The Vent, a gully that bites into the clffs, to reach the cairn marking the broad summit of Cairn Lochan.
Carn Etchachan from the eastern flank of Cairn Lochan  © Dan Bailey -
Carn Etchachan from the eastern flank of Cairn Lochan
© Dan Bailey -, Jan 2013

NH9851302547 From the summit head west-southwest for about 500m (distance) to safely skirt the corrie cliffs. Now bear rightwards down a steep slope – care needed in icy conditions. This soon eases out onto the wide featureless shoulder of Meadan Creag an Leth-choin. Continue north on a path overlooking Coire an Lochain then take the clear path down the well-defined lower spur. The trail now heads east-northeast across the slopes below the Northern Corries to reach the ski centre at Coire Cas. Follow the road back down to Coire na Ciste.

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