>Ski Mountaineering in the Cairngorms – Day One


Well after a busy week working in Munich and with enough time to just about un-pack it was back up to Scotland on Thursday Night to check out the snow-conditions in the Northern Cairngorms.With less than 20 minutes to go we had a change of heart. Exploration and descents were the order of the day, not lugging big packs across flat plateaus!

Coire an t-Sneachda – Cairngorm – The Saddle. Distance 11-12 km. 1300m Ascent. 6-7 hrs.

And so 45 minutes later we found ourselves heading into Coire an t-Sneachda, skinning through a thinly veiled mist that was masking the barren snow-laden corrie floor.


Approaching Coire an t-Sneachda.

Coire an t-Sneachda.

There were plenty of climbing teams and folks on training courses buzzing around the corrie, but we were alone as we set off for the Plateau. The ground steadily steepened as we left the corrie floor, our wandering lines turning to definite zig-zags and kick turns as the ground reared up past 30 degrees. With only 50 metres or so to go, we opted to ditch the ski’s and climb up the remaining top part of the slope.

How steep is this getting?

Ski’s on the pack.

On the Cairngorm plateau.

We arrived to a calm and still plateau, only a light breeze blowing and no trace of any rocks in sight, the plateau was holding a deep and firm cover of snow. And so, with ski’s engaged into our boots once more, we continued up towards Point 1176. As things first flattened out and then began to dip away, we ripped off our skins and tore down the Eastern slopes into the heart of Coire Raibeirt.

First tracks into Coire Raibeirt

As the angle eased and we glided to a halt, at around the 1000m contour line the sun started to trickle through the cloud shrouding the plateau highlighting our fresh tracks in the slope above – which as per usual looked extremely shallow from below. With warm sunshine, blue skies and shimmering snow, we stripped layers down for the 250 metre climb up towards the summit of Cairngorm.

Rich loosening his boots for the ascent of Cairngorm.

Rich aka ‘The Fly’ in Coire Raibeirt.

There were only a few folks to share our time on the summit of Cairngorm with. From here it was decision time, it was still reasonably early in the day and so we opted to scope out the 500 metres of vertical ascent which cascade down into the upper reaches of Strath Nethy.

The Cairngorm weather station.

And so we dropped off eastwards, the slope opening up into a truly awesome descent – wide and around 20 to 25 degrees as we carved big wide turns down into Ciste Mhearad. Below this things became steeper and narrower as we picked our way through a shallow gully line, dropping the last 200 metres to bring us down next to Garbh Allt, just below ‘The Saddle’.

A ‘Brocken Spectre’ on Cairngorm.

From here it was a 500 metre climb back up towards the summit plateau of Cairngorm. The day ended in style, dropping into the NW face of Coire Cas, as we charged down towards the bustling crowds of the main ski area.

All photographs courtesy of Keith Hutcheon.


About Richard Talbot

An accomplished fell-runner as well as being a keen climber and mountaineer. Since 2005 he has worked for the UK based manufacturer Mountain Equipment and is currently Director of Product. He has worked in the outdoor industry for over 15 years.
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