However once on the plateau between Cairn Gorm and Cairn Lochan things change. Much of the landscape is featureless and paths become indistinct whilst the route hugs the cliffs above Coire an Sneachda and Coire an Lochan. In poor visibility this walk takes on a more ominous guise where real care combined with good navigational and map-reading skills are required. But on a clear day this is one of the finest walks along the Cairngorm massif with views extending hundreds of miles.
The Cairngorm range is known in Gaelic as Am Monadh Ruadh, which means The Red Mountains, because of the red granite that they are formed from. It was during the 19th century, when hillwalking and mountaineering became popular leisure pursuits, that the whole range took the name from Cairn Gorm, The Blue Mountain, seemingly because it held the most noticeable position from Speyside. Although marred by the summit observation mast the panorama across the plateau to Cairn Lochan, Ben Macdui and Braeraich from Cairn Gorm’s top are superb.
The Northern Corries is a wilder landscape, much of it featureless, paths indistinct and where the weather can change in an instant. It is an Arctic tableland, where snow can hold well into the spring – Coire an t-Sneachda translates from Gaelic as Corrie of the Snows and even the most experienced walker can become disorientated in poor weather. However when the cloud lifts above the plateau the view is extraordinary, from big brutish mountains such as Bynack More and Bheinn Mheadhoin, down by the lower foothills of the Cairngorms and across the great forests of Rothiemurchus and Glenmore to where the eye can finally rest on the sprawling upland table of the Monadh Liath.
Only the hardiest of flora and fauna survive at this altitude including moss, lichens, the mountain hare, snow bunting, dotterel and the hurried wanderings of the ptarmigan, a resident of the high mountains of Scotland and the chameleon of the bird world. Ptarmigan change their plumage during the year to reflect the changing landscape and to camouflage themselves from a variety of predators.