Location The Cairngorms
Distance from home 8 miles
Route Cairngorm and Northern Corries tour with or without ski access
Time 4-6 hours
Backcountry guide and former Olympian Lesley McKenna tours the epic Cairngorms
One of the most majestic-looking backcountry snow tours in Scotland is easily accessible from the car park of Cairngorm Mountain, or even from the top of the M1 Poma ski lift, if you have a lift pass.
A tour of the Northern Corries takes in the northern most area of the Cairngorm plateau with stunning views south towards Loch Avon, west towards Ben Macdui and over the Lairig Ghru pass to take in the peaks of the Braeriach plateau, with the Devil and Angel, pyramid-like points of rock, standing guard over Garb Coire. It’s a favourite tour of mine, and I’m lucky enough to have it on my doorstep.
On a clear day, you can make out the spine-like ridges of the Sgoran Peaks above Glen Einich, like a mini Alaska, and on, over Glen Feshie – and if the air is especially clear, all the way to the highest peak of the British Isles, to Ben Nevis in the far West. These are formidable mountain environments. Harsh landscapes full of hidden secrets, deep history and potent mythology, born from the adversity of life through the ages and from the wisdom that comes by way of living in and with the land.
The tour starts from the beginning of the Cairngorm Summit path, whether accessed via the M1 Poma lift or from the Cairngorm car park. Cairngorm Mountain has long been the beating heart of the Aviemore and surrounding area, where the percentage of population with a connection to outdoor living, either in an outdoor sports capacity or land-management capacity, must surely top pretty much anywhere else in the world.
Armed with the latest information from Scottish Avalanche Information Service, the Northern Corries tour route follows the summit path up to the top of Cairn Gorm Mountain (1,200m), where skins can be changed to ski or ride mode for the first descent section.
Taking in the views south and west, the first descent is in a southwesterly direction for around 700m towards the top of Coire Raibert, where the slope flattens out before rising up towards the peak of Stob Coire An t-Sneachda on the same bearing.
To our left is the Coire Raibert burn line, where you can drop all the way down to Loch Avon. But a 30-45 minute ascent sticking on the route takes us to the rim of Sneachda where, on a fine day, and being very careful of corniced edges, you can peak over into the impressive, cavernous cauldron of Coire An t-Sneachda, ‘Coire of the Snow’.
Moving back from the Coire rim 100m and setting the route slightly more westerly towards the summit of Carn Lochan takes us down a short ascent on the western side of the Sneachda plateau and up to the summit of Carn Lochan, allowing for changes in touring mode and time to take in the views and snap a few pictures.
The journey from the summit of Sneachda (1,171m) to the summit of Carn Lochan (1,216m) takes around 45-60 mins. The curved rim of Coire an Lochain can be deceiving and is usually heavily corniced. Care must be taken to keep a safe distance from the edge, especially if the visibility is not clear, so a safe bet is to keep tracking southwesterly until the slope starts to descend and you can see the Coire shoulder open up on the right.
From here you have the option to bare west towards the Larig Ghru, for around 600m, or to change into descent mode and follow the coire round to the western shoulder of Coire An Lochain and ride or ski the ridge line to drop into the coire. There are often pockets of good snow to be found on this route with stunning views towards Loch Morlich and Glenmore. From the coire floor, the route out is a ski tour via the walking path route back to the Cairngorm Mountain car park.
This is a really special tour that changes every time I do it. A great one to do in a group with the right experience and knowledge – it can easily take all day with stops for lunch, pictures and space for contemplation.
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Thanks for sharing this season of Backyard Epics with us. Our aim was to champion the local communities that we are working passionately to support and protect our UK snow playgrounds for generations to come.