My last walk of the trip would be up to the highest point of the trip (in altitude at least) from the highest starting point too.
Whether you love it or hate it, the ski centre has two things going for it. Firstly, good parking, and secondly, relatively easy access in to the Cairngorm plateau, which I think is Britains only arctic landscape. Wild, remote and desolate beyond the tourist hotspot. I think it also boasts one of the most expensive railway journeys (per yard) in Britain too. The Snowdon train tickets may be more expensive but the journey is significantly longer too.
I know there are other routes, but I start my slow and steady trudge up the main track that weaves its way through ski lifts and the funicular to the Ptarmigan cafe. Questioning my route choice, I was happily joined by two chaps also ascending but they were there to check on the concrete blocks that form the basis for the railway and the ski tows. This, and any subsequent repairs, are essential after the winter to ensure visitors are safe for the following ski season. It is laborious work, but not something anyone would really want to rush and miss something. It was very nice to chat to them and took my mind off the laborious trudge too….
As I plodded on I passed a couple of solid banks of snow lying taller than me.
I finally turned the corner to be greeted by the cafe, and suddenly felt the need for a bacon sandwich. However, it was just about 10.20 am and they don’t serve meals until 12noon, so I contented myself with a cake and a latte. It would be rude not to.
Caked and coffee’d I continued with a couple of options. On to the summit and then continue on across the top of the corries to the west, descending Miadan Creas an Leath-choin, the ridge to the west of Cain Lochan, or return the way I had come up. As I reached the summit and, as Cameron McNeish accurately describes in his excellent and gloriously pictured book ‘The Munros – Scotlands Highest Mountains’, its “grossly enlarged cairn and weather station”, I looked across at Cairn Lochan with heavy legs, and decided not.
I was also not ready to go down just yet so took his advice and headed a little way south beyond the weather station to take a few snaps of the “great glaciated hollow that houses Loch Etchachan, one of the most atmospheric parts of the Cairngorms” (C. McNeish).
I wandered a little way east, over Ciste Mhearad (the foreboding Margarets Coffin) where the snow lies which and heavy still, and shows where the winter skills participants had been digging snow holes) to Cnap Coire na Spreidhe to photograph into the the depth of this great wilderness.
Finally, now ready to descend I made my way back to another path, past a small throng of assembled ornithologists, and down a very good footpath along Sron an Aonach. This path takes you all the way back to the ski centre and car park, and is infinitely preferable to the track I had trudged up earlier. Note to self…
All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable day, and a pleasant finish to a week of sensational Scottish sunshine!
Total height gain: 630m / 2,066 feet