How to scramble the Fiacaill Ridge, Cairngorms

This scramble packs most of its punch in its steep tail-end, but with phenomenal views and fantastic rock. If there’s a more entertaining route onto the Cairngorm plateau, we don’t know of it!

The steep walls of the ridge are impressive, just watch your step!

by Ben Weeks |

Total distance 8.5km | Total ascent 660m | Scramble rating Grade 1-2 | Go there on a windless day after a dry spell

Coire an t-Sneachda is an intimidating place. Sheer dark headwalls that hold pockets of snow almost all year round tower over a gathering of small lochans, cupped in the bowl between lean, long ridgelines. It’s the playground of experienced climbers and winter mountaineers, but aside from the awesome scenery it offers very little for walkers.

Except that’s not entirely true…

The wind-scoured ruggedness of Coire an t-Sneachda is separated from the tracks, wires and general ugliness of the Cairngorm Mountain ski centre’s infrastructure in Coire Cas to the east by Fiacaill a’ Choire Chais – a gently climbing spur that provides a convenient if uninspiring route onto the Cairngorm plateau. At first glance, Fiacaill Coire an t-Sneachda on the western side of the corrie appears to be a twin to its neighbour; slightly steeper and slightly narrower, but otherwise a close match. And for the most part it is, but after reaching its own minor summit Fiacaill Coire an t-Sneachda goes through a Jekyll-to-Hyde transformation, becoming sharper, steeper, more exposed, and a whole lot more fun.

This is Fiacaill Buttress, more commonly known as Fiacaill Ridge – the Toothed Ridge – a solid, high-end Grade 1 scramble that will get you onto the plateau in style and with a smile on your face. Here’s how it goes…

1.

From the Cairngorm Mountain Base Station, take the path heading south-west. After 0.5km ignore the path forking into Coire an t-Sneachda and continue ahead. After crossing the Allt Coire an t-Sneachda take a turning on the left and follow this path for another 0.5km before turning left again on a track heading up the nose of Fiacaill Coire an t-Sneachda.

2.

After reaching the rocky ‘summit’ of Fiacaill Coire an t-Sneachda at around 1120m, descend gradually along the Striding Edge-like ridge to a small shingly saddle with lumpen blocks ahead. Go over or around these to arrive at another gravelly narrowing, with the main chunky ridge now directly ahead of you.

Scrambling on the Fiacaill Ridge in the Cairngorms
Getting stuck in to the rocky stuff beyond the ridge's easier ground. ©Tom Bailey, Trail magazine

3.

Clamber up stepped rock and pick your way along the lumpen shapes on the top of the ridge, bypassing any that prove too awkward on the right. As the exposure builds to the left, a sudden steepening of the ridge signifies the start of more vertical and more serious scrambling.

4.

Move around to the right to access an open groove with several rocky steps leading up to the crest. From here the onward ridge is obvious. Follow the obvious signs of traffic – polished rock, crampon scratches, and patches where the lichen has been worn away – on up the crest. The drops to the left are now huge, so take care near that edge.

5.

The gradient flattens briefly, and an obvious path on the right bypasses the last sections of scrambling. But for the most fun, stick as close to the edge as you dare, admiring the elephant-skin texture of the towering granite cliff faces as you clamber over a series of slabby steps to what appears to be a rocky summit ahead.

Scrambling on the Fiacaill Ridge in the Cairngorms
Negotiating some big drops as the top of the ridge nears. ©Tom Bailey, Trail magazine

6.

This summit is actually just a bump on the ridge, but it’s very near the end. After a few more scrambly blocks the ridge merges into the plateau just below the summit of Cairn Lochan.

7.

If this has just been the start of your Cairngorm adventure, head out onto the plateau to continue exploring; Ben Macdui – Britain’s second highest summit – is about 4km away to the south. If you’re heading straight back down, you might be tempted to take the rough track that drops into Coire an t-Sneachda. However, this is loose and steep, and can be covered in snow well into the year. A better option is to head over Stob Coire an t-Sneachda and pick up the obvious path that heads north down Fiacaill a’ Choire Chais back to the Base Station and the car park.

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**Follow this route with HALF-PRICE digital Ordnance Survey Maps for the whole of Great Britain by subscribing to Trail magazine.**

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