The Mountain's Silhouette

Hiking and backpacking in the mountains of Scotland

Into the Heart of the Cairngorms

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Date: 2nd May 2009
Distance: 21 miles
Ascent: 5000ft
Time: 8hrs 15mins (including stops)
Munros: Carn a’ Mhaim, Ben MacDui, Derry Cairngorm
Meteorology: May-like (rain, hail, snow, wind, sun in equal measure)

A typical Bank Holiday forecast promising a mix of sunshine and showers, though decidedly better on the east, meant I abandoned grand plans for a trip up to Assynt and the Far North, and instead returned to (almost) familiar ground in the Cairngorms. In fact, as I got held up behind another driver doing 45mph on the A93 at 7:15 in the morning, I reflected on the fact that this walk would very much be on new ground. I’d been over Beinn Bhrotain last year but that had been in cloud. I was hoping today to get a proper sight of Glen Dee and the giants at the heart of the Cairngorms.

After overcoming the slow traffic I finally pulled up at the Linn of Dee carpark at 8:30am. It seemed most people were ahead of me and I only found a space as I was almost out of the circle again! Booted up and with sunshine peeking over the tops of the pine trees it was with an optimistic air that I set off towards Derry Lodge. Last year I’d returned via Whitebridge so again this was new ground and a pleasant walk it is too, leaving the pine trees and then heading up the broad Glen Lui with the first and last of today’s hills, Carn a Mhaim and Carn Crom on display above the trees surrounding Derry Lodge.

The track through Glen Lui

Derry Lodge is in need of a bike shed I feel - there were many scattered here and there, some behind the Mountain Rescue hut and others by the tree near the bridge. Clearly a lot of people are tired of walking the track from the Linn of Dee. I kept on my feet though and after crossing the bridge took an immediate left to follow the Corrour Bothy expressway. It wound over boggy ground near the river before rising up around the lower slopes of Carn Crom.

Luibeg Burn

I passed a few people on the track here and it was soon clear that the pull up to Carn a Mhaim would be steep going. First of all though I had a pleasant cup of tea by the Luibeg just below the bridge.

The Luibeg Bridge

I had investigated the crossing lower down but decided it would be silly to run the risk of getting wet feet when someone had gone to the trouble of installing a bridge! Sadly, on the other side of the bridge the return path to the Corrour highway is very boggy and just as I reached the gate onto the open hillside the first of the day’s showers arrived. Waterproof jacket was on and head was down for the climb up a good track that pretty much attacked the hill head on.

Climbing Carn a' Mhaim

Behind me, views back down towards the Lui were lush and green whilst north and east, the grey slopes of Derry Cairngorm were attracting some mist.

Looking down Glen Luibeg

The initial steepness eased off as the first crags were reached. The path heads round to the left side of them giving you a sudden view over Glen Dee onto Devil’s Point rising over the ridge.

The Devil's Point

A snow slope then led up towards Carn a’ Mhaims summit. The snow was easy enough to kick through and the rewards were stunning. A clear view from the summit directly onto the Devil’s Point, down to the Corrour Bothy and north towards the Lairig Ghru.

Summit of Carn a' Mhaim (1037m)

Initially Ben Macdui and Braeriach were both in the clouds but as I stopped for a bite to eat and to take pictures the wind blew things through and I got a good sight of my next target, Macdui.

Ben Macdui

The ridge off Carn a’ Mhaim is a delight with the views ever more majestic and some little scrabbles over bumps to keep things interesting.

The Devil's Point

The Heart of the Cairngorms

Glen Dee

The only downside is the heightloss with the col between Mhaim and Macdui being around 800m. The path turned northeast climbing up Macdui but eventually becoming lost in a boulder field which was arduous going for the last 300m or so.

The col between Carn a' Mhaim and Macdui

Carn a' Mhaim

Not only was it a boulder field but it also had plenty of false summits which really shouldn’t be allowed. At this time a snow shower came in and I lost sight of the summit. However as I arrived on the icy plateau it had again blown through and I could see a few figures heading up to the summit.

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Picking up tracks across this snow and ice bound area I was soon heading up the final few hundred meters to the summit where a trig point looked over a desolate area of rocks and fresh snow. A few shelters scattered around were being used by people to keep out of the icy wind.

Summit of Ben Macdui (1309m)

Cairn Toul and Braeriach from Macdui

After taking someone’s photo at the trig point I headed slightly north to get a panoramic view of the Cairngorms.

View from Ben Macdui looking west

Sgor an Lochan Uaine (The Angel's Peak)

Coire Bhrochain, Braeriach

After eating lunch behind one of the summit shelters I descended Ben Macdui, heading east and down a long snow slope towards the main track down to Loch Etchachan.

Loch Etchachan

After the snow ran out I picked up a track that went along the top of the cliffs above Coire Sputan Dearg getting the occassional view through yet another snow shower to Derry Cairngorm.

Buttress above Core Sputan Dearg

Derry Cairngorm

The snow was heaviest as I left Loch Etchachan and crossed the bealach east of Coire Sputan Dearg. Luckily through it yet again blew through and the sun came out. The views back to Macdui were magnificent and as I followed the track up to Derry’s summit I got lovely views onto the Lochan Uaine nestled in its stunning corrie.

The Southern Top of Ben MacDui

Lochan Uaine

Carn a' Mhaim from below Derry Cairngorm

Coire Sputan Dearg and Sron Riach

Another boulder field was much better in sunshine and soon enough I was on the summit of Derry Cairngorm, once again enjoying magnificent views. Beinn a’ Ghlo had lost its cloud cover, and Lochnagar was just emerging.

The track between Macdui and Derry

Boulders on Derry Cairngorm

Southeast from Derry Cairngorm

Locan Uaine, Angel's Peak

From here I descended south, following the bumps and well worn track down from Derry and then along to Carn Crom. I met a few people coming up the way here and the sun now seemed to have settled in for the afternoon. It was a wonderfully pleasant walk. I even bumped into some local wildlife clambering down the side above Coire na Cloiche.

Derry Cairngorm from Carn Crom

Local Wildlife

The summit of Carn Crom doesn’t appear to be very popular but is worth a visit as it gives great views back up into Glen Dee and Macdui, as well as east towards Beinn Bhreach and a huge vista south with the Glas Maol group and Glas Tulaichean dominating. I had my final tea stop here, enjoying the peace and solitude before heading back to the track and dropping down into Glen Derry.

Summit of Carn Crom

Cairn Toul, Braeriach and Carn a' Mhaim

The path is well engineered and gets you down into the trees below Creag Bad an t-Seabhaig very quickly.

Approaching Derry Lodge

I crossed the Derry and sat by the bank watching a few groups of campers, loaded with kit, hitting the Courrour Expressway. It was idyllic in the late afternoon sun.

Final view down Glen Lui

Now all that was left was the stroll back along Glen Lui to the car at Linn of Dee. All told it was around 21 miles and I completed it in around 8 hrs 15 minutes with stops. It had been an epic but rewarding day. I knew that given the amount of snow showers around I had been very fortunate to get three clear summits and the wonderful views!

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