Cairn Toul – straight up

Cairn Toul showing the east ridge of the south top

Cairn Toul. Corrour is visible just right of centre at the foot of the hill. The ridge in question is the straight, grey ridge, bounding the left side of the small hanging coire below the summit

Haven’t been up to much recently, so I’ll use it as an excuse to tell you about a favourite wee route up a big hill.

There’s no reason to avoid the ‘voie normale’ up Cairn Toul, up the back of Corrour Bothy into Coire Odhar and up the zig-zag to the plateau: it’s a lovely way up a great hill. Once you’ve done the first steep ascent at the back of the bothy, Coire Odhar is a lovely, green, open coire – and who can fail to enjoy the way the slope eases off as you enter it. The zig-zags are fierce, but over with quickly and, in any case, give good views into the cascade of water from the plateau. On the plateau itself…? Well you can’t fault the views, but it does go on a bit, at a particularly thigh-burning gradient. (Or is that just me?)

But if I’m going up Cairn Toul from the Corrour side, I do like the East Ridge of the south top. It’s the sharp(ish) ridge bounding the left (or south) side of the wee coire (‘wee’ being a relative term here) just below Cairn Toul’s twin tops – Coire an-t Sabhail.

Wine-coloured moss in a stream on Cairn Toul

Beautiful win-coloured moss has overcome a stream on the way up to the Coire an-t Sabhail ridge

You can head for it directly from Corrour, which is a bit of a beast, over bog, stream and tussock, or you can follow the normal path up to where it levels out, then cut across Coire Odhar and scramble up through outcrops to the mouth of Coire an-t Saighdear (I’m writing this without a map, for forgive the spellings!). It’s a marvelous coire: looks (and is) huge as you cross the mouth of it and is worth exploring in its own right.

Looking up the east ridge of Cairn Toul's south top

The first of the scrambling: looking up the ridge

Whichever route you’ve chosen, you end up at the foot of the ridge. It’s mostly scree, often with a semblance of a path, but has several sections where you need to haul your hands from your pockets and scramble up clean granite. There’s nothing too hard, and much of the scrambling is avoidable (if you really must). It’s only just below the top that you are finally left with no choice but to climb, where the crest narrows dramatically and offers a fair degree of exposure if you’re not used to that sort of thing. The holds are good, though, for hands and feet, and it’s well worth the effort.

What makes the ridge such a good route isn’t the quality of the scrambling – it’s entertaining, but not exceptional – but the line of the route, teetering between two magnificent coires, looking across to skyline all the walkers ascending Devil’s Point, and looking back over your shoulder to Carn a Mhaim and Ben MacDui.

Nearing the south top of Cairn Toul

Ridges converging. Near the top of the ridge, climbers can be seen coming up the normal route

And, of course, it’s a route that comes to its dramatic and sudden end right at the summit. Perfection.

(Well, it would be if it was the north top, but only a pedant would argue the point: the south top is just a few yards and hardly any height from the main top and has all the characteristics of a proper mountain peak, something people don’t often associate with the Cairngorms.)

Cairn Toul ridge - the ascent route

Looking across to the ascent route: those rocks are steeper than they look, but easy

And now that I’ve got you up there, I might as well take you back down. You can go back by the tourist path, but in the interests of symmetry, why not go down the east ridge of the main summit, down the other side of Coire an-t Sabhail. You do have to watch where you’re going to get the easiest way down, but just use common sense and you get back down to Corrour in about an hour – probably less than half the time it takes to get down by the normal route, which is important if you have a dram waiting.

Garbh Choire snows

Last time I was up there was July 2, and I had a wander over to Angel’s Peak (Sgorr an Lochain Uaine). And, because I know there are those of you out there who just love to know how the ‘everlasting’ snows of Garbh Choire Mhor are getting on – you know who you are – I took a couple of photos.

Longlasting snowbeds in Garbh Choire Mhor

The 'everlasting' snowbeds in Garbh Choire Mhor, July 2, 2011


Garbh Choire Mhor and Garbh Choire Dhaidh

Garbh Choire Mhor (left) and Garbh Choire Dhaidh, showing the extent of snow remaining on July 2, 2011

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