Cairn Gorm is a worthwhile climb in itself, as well as the first step to Ben Macdhui, the second-highest mountain in the British Isles. The best starting and finishing point is the car park of the Ski Centre at the foot of Cairngorm: from Aviemore there is a long, sinuous road eastwards through the forest (which is of great interest in itself) and which climbs to the Ski Centre and no further, at 2,030 feet above sea level. The Ski Centre is manned in the walking season as well as the skiing season, and a helpful mountain ranger hut can guide newcomers on such useful points as where to find the start of the path (up past the toilet block and turn left at the arrow), points to be careful, and not to do it in flip-flops (I know, I know, but some people…)
One thing is out: the ski lift is not available to walkers. Although it operates throughout the year, passengers are not permitted to ride it to the highest station and walk from there, as this could mean too much wear on the upper slopes of the mountain by the lazy: to reach the summit you have to be a serious walker and start from the bottom of the hill.
The path starts as a long haul straight up the flank of Cairn Gorm until the path reaches the top ski-lift station, where it flattens somewhat and the views are spectacular down over the forest and Loch Morlich, and over to Aviemore in Strathspey.
From this point the top of Cairn Gorm rises apparently as cone above you, with a clear, straight path upwards, marked with cairns. It is another, inviting hike upwards. In clear weather the path is plain if precipitous path. In a hailstorm (as when I first climbed the mountain) the cairns are a guide which are much needed.
It is not the top you see though: that is further on as the slope curves away. The first haul up the summit dome is a rewarding, steep push, which later calms down and the line of cairns leads eventually to the massive cairn at the summit of Cairn Gorm.
The summit areas is broad, and away from the summit cairn stands a weather station (abandoned? I could not tell). When the weather clears a fine view extends over the north, to the green forest of Rothiemurchus and The Queen’s Forest, and to Loch Morlich, and to the west over the threatening ridge of Stob Coire an t-Sneachda (which you soon realise with trembling is your next destination), and to the south rise the unearthly, trackless peaks of the inner parts of the Cairngorm Mountains.
The climb is worthwhile on its own. Next though, we will follow to Ben Macdhui itself.