The Cairngorms are a mountain range in the eastern Highlands of Scotland closely associated with the mountain of the same name—Cairn Gorm.
The Cairngorms consist of a large elevated plateau adorned with low, rounded glacial mountains.
Although not strictly a single plateau, the Cairngorms give the sense of being a single plateau, because the passes that cut through them are not very deep.
Adam Watson gives the summit of Lairig Ghru as 835 metres, and the summit of Lairig an Laoigh at 740 metres, and The Sneck at 970 metres. Topographically, this means a walker could cross between the Cairntoul (1293m) – Braeriach (1296m) massif to the Ben Macdui (1309m) – Cairn Gorm (1245m) massif and onto the Beinn a' Bhùird (1196m) – Ben Avon (1171m) massif without descending below the 740m summit of the Lairig an Laoigh.
The Cairngorms became part of Scotland's second national park (see Cairngorms National Park) in 2003.<ref>http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/highlands_and_islands/7294786.stm</ref> The national park is in the Scottish council areas of Aberdeenshire, Moray, Angus, Perth and Kinross and Highland.
The Cairngorm National Park is 4528 sq kilometres (1748 sq miles), which is twice the size of the Lake District and Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Parks, comprising 6 percent of Scotland. <ref>http://cairngorms.co.uk/the-park/facts-figures (accessed 25th June 2014)</ref>
The Cairngorms feature the highest, coldest and snowiest plateaux in the British Isles and are home to five of the six highest mountains in Scotland:
- Ben Macdhui (1309 m)<ref>http://www.go4awalk.com/uk-mountains-and-hills/the-munros/walk-the-munros.php?area=3080</ref>
- Braeriach (1296 m)<ref>http://www.go4awalk.com/uk-mountains-and-hills/the-munros/walk-the-munros.php?area=3080</ref>
- Cairn Toul (1293 m)<ref>http://www.go4awalk.com/uk-mountains-and-hills/the-munros/walk-the-munros.php?area=3080</ref>
- Sgor an Lochain Uaine (1258 m)<ref>http://www.go4awalk.com/uk-mountains-and-hills/the-munros/walk-the-munros.php?area=3080</ref>
- Cairn Gorm (1245 m)<ref>http://www.go4awalk.com/uk-mountains-and-hills/the-munros/walk-the-munros.php?area=3080</ref>
These mountains are all Munros, and there are a further 13 mountains with this categorisation across the area, of which another five are among the twenty highest peaks in the country.
After she had climbed to the top of Ben Macdui on 7 October 1859, Queen Victoria wrote: "It had a sublime and solemn effect, so wild, so solitary — no one but ourselves and our little party there . . . I had a little whisky and water, as the people declared pure water would be too chilling."
The Cairngorms represent a major barrier to travel and trade across Scotland and helped to create the remote character of the Highlands that persists today. Passes through the hills such as the Lairig Ghru were extensively used by drovers in the 19th Century herding their cattle to market in the Lowlands, from their smallholdings in the Highlands. The region is drained by the Rivers Dee and Spey; and the latter's two tributaries: the Rivers Feshie and Avon.
The Cairngorms hold some of the longest-lying snow patches in Scotland. The area is sparsely populated due to the extreme nature of the climate. Snow patches can remain on the hills until August or September, while in the Garbh Coire Mòr of Braeriach the snow melted just five times in the last century. In the last few years, however, the quantity and longevity of Cairngorm snow patches has declined significantly.
The lowest recorded temperature in the United Kingdom has twice been recorded in the Cairngorms, at Braemar, where a temperature of -27.2oC, was recorded on 11 February 1895 and 10 January 1982. The greatest British wind speed 150 knots (173 mph or 278 km/h) was recorded on Cairngorm Summit on 20 March 1986, where speeds of over 100 mph (160 km/h) are common.<ref>http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/climate/uk/extremes/index.html</ref>
Although The Cairngorms are within the Cairngorms National Park, they are only a part of it. Watson (1975) delineates the main Cairngorm massif as being between Aviemore in the north-west, Glen Gairn, Braemar in the south-east, and Glen Feshie in the south-west.
The approximate southern-boundary of the range runs from slightly east of Braemar, west along Glen Dee to White Bridge, through Glen Geldie to the head of Glen Feshie. The western-boundary runs down Glen Feshie (northward) and the River Spey to Aviemore. The northern-boundary runs roughly eastward from Aviemore through Glen More to Glen Avon. The eastern-boundary then runs (southward) up Glen Avon, and over Am Bealach Dearg to slightly east of Braemar.
Gordon (1925) draws the area of the Cairngorms even more tightly: the end-papers show a map where Aviemore, River Feshie, River Dee and Creag Choinnich just make it onto the map, and Glen Geldie, and Glen Gairn do not.
The Cairngorms were formed 40 million years before the last ice age, when slight uplift raised an eroded peneplain based on an exposed granite pluton. The highest present-day peaks represent eroded monadnock hills. During the ice ages the ice caps that covered most of northern Scotland remained static, frozen to the ground for long periods and actually protected the rounded summits and valleys and deep weathered granite of the mountains of the area.<ref> Cairngorms, A Landscape Fashioned by Geology, SNH 2006</ref>
Glacial erosion is represented in deep valleys which dissect the area. Many valleys are littered with glacial deposits from the period of glacial retreat. The most famous valley is the Lairig Ghru pass, a gouge through the centre of the mountains—a u-shaped valley, now partly filled with extensive scree produced by intense frost action during ice-free periods. Many parts of the Cairngorms exhibit classic periglacial weathering which occurred during cold periods in ice-free areas.<ref> The Quaternary of the Cairngorms Neil F. Glasser and Matthew R. Bennett, Quternary Research Association 1996</ref>