The Blue/Green Hill : how I got on trying to get up the Cairngorm

The Cairn Gorm mountain in Scotland is the sixth highest mountain in the UK, topping out at 1245, as it towers over its smaller brothers and sisters in the Cairngorm range. It also dominates the skyline to the East of the A9 around Aviemore and boasts stunning views on a clear day. The North-West slopes of the mountain were converted into a ski centre in the 1960s and there is a funicular railway which starts half-way up, along with a visitor centre near the top and a weather centre on the summit plateau.

All this development on the Cairn means there is a very good access road up to the funicular, where you will also find a carpark for all the skiers, and a ranger station.

So much for the touristy info.

Where there is a road there is a cyclist…

I was passing through Aviemore last week with my bike in the boot and I thought why not give the Cairn a go. So I did.

Unfortunately the Cairn gave me a going over.

The road from Aviemore to the base of the climb is rolling, but you gain some height all the way. After about 6 miles of mainly forest, the view opens out across Loch Morlich and the climb becomes clearer.

Up until now I had felt ok. I was not going at any great pace (but then I never do) and I could feel the combined effect of a slight uphill gradient and a bit of a cross/headwind. Upon clearing the Loch and rounding a bend I started to feel the pain. The gradient had doubled from 2% to 4%, and my speed had dropped considerably, yet the gradient wasn’t even visible and at the time I felt a right eejit for going so slow on a ‘flat track’.

But if I thought I knew what pain was, I needed to think again. After a short downhill the road reared up to a switchback at about 1500ft and the gradient was getting serious, averaging about 7% and at times rising above that.

I huffed and puffed my way up to the hairpin, while the temperature dropped: there was still a lot of snow at the side of the road. By now I was struggling and stopped few time for a breath: not due to lack of training, but lack of training at altitude (aye right!). And by the time I got to the bend I had to admit defeat.

Did I mention Cairn Gorm is Gaelic for blue/green hill: blue for the cold and green for how sick I felt.

So at about half way up the mountain I called time and turned around to head back to the car, hitting speeds above 50mph on the downhill which was a lot of fun!
I did feel some shame at not finishing the climb, but it means I know what I need to do next time, and there will be one. I have some unfinished business with this beast of a climb.

You can see a Strava file on this ride here.


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