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Cairngorm Walk
Ben Macdui, Carn a' Mhaim via Derry Lodge from Linn of Dee

Nat Park - Cairngorm

County/Area - Aberdeenshire

Author - Andy Smith

Length - 19.0 miles / 30.9 km

Ascent - 4600 feet / 1394 metres

Time - 14 hours 10 minutes

Grade - hard

Start - OS grid reference NO063897
Lat 56.988944 // Long -3.543641
Postcode AB35 5YB (approx. location only)

Walk Route Description

Photo from the walk - Ben Macdui, Carn a' Mhaim via Derry Lodge from Linn of Dee Photo from the walk - Ben Macdui, Carn a' Mhaim via Derry Lodge from Linn of Dee Photo from the walk - Ben Macdui, Carn a' Mhaim via Derry Lodge from Linn of Dee Photo from the walk - Ben Macdui, Carn a' Mhaim via Derry Lodge from Linn of Dee Photo from the walk - Ben Macdui, Carn a' Mhaim via Derry Lodge from Linn of Dee Photo from the walk - Ben Macdui, Carn a' Mhaim via Derry Lodge from Linn of Dee
Click thumbnails for larger images.

This demanding route takes in the southern approach of Britain's number two mountain, Ben Macdui, from the south along with another spectacular Munro, Carn a' Mhaim. Although the walk only involves three summits in total, this is a tough two-day route where you should be aware of your backpacking skills along with some of Britain's most hostile higher ground. Changing weather conditions can be problematic and navigation skills are essential.

Ben Macdui, Carn a' Mhaim via Derry Lodge from Linn of Dee Ben Macdui, Carn a' Mhaim via Derry Lodge from Linn of Dee Ben Macdui, Carn a' Mhaim via Derry Lodge from Linn of Dee Ben Macdui, Carn a' Mhaim via Derry Lodge from Linn of Dee Ben Macdui, Carn a' Mhaim via Derry Lodge from Linn of Dee Ben Macdui, Carn a' Mhaim via Derry Lodge from Linn of Dee 
Click thumbnails for larger images.

Day one - Linn of Dee (grid ref. NO063897) is the gateway to the main Cairngorm massif from the south. It can either be walked from Braemar (6 miles) along a spectacular valley, or for the purpose of this walk there is a very large car park near the bridge where you can securely park for a fee. Although remote, expect this area to be packed some days as the Linn of Dee Bridge and gorge is one of the most photographed parts of Scotland and well worth seeing before you set off.

Leave the car park to the north signed Glen Lui & Aviemore which leads deep into the forest. Within 20 minutes the path meets a wide track (grid ref. NO065903). Turn left here and continue on to the Lui bridge. You are now on the famous Aviemore to Braemar right of way. The track crosses the Lui Water bridge and turns northeast with huge views towards the mountain range. After an hour and passing nothing, the Derry lodge and the surrounding forest finally comes into view. This will be your base for tonight. Camping options can be found all around the area with good flat ground next to the river, which provide a clean water supply. If this area is very busy a good camping option would be in the grounds of the nearby Bob Scott Memorial Hut 200 metres away.

Day two - After a very quiet night, depart Derry Lodge via the footbridge and turn left. You should leave here no later than 9am in order to stay on schedule. The track opens out into moorland and passes some Shielings to your left along with a derelict cottage. Continue along as it bears left alongside the river. Carn Crom towers overhead as the path winds its way into a plantation and crossing via a ford at grid ref. NO015939. Crossing the Luibeg can be tricky, even more so after heavy rain, in this case the footbridge upstream can be used (grid ref.NO013942).

Once crossed, hopefully with dry feet, climb the steps up the slope and continue to a small junction at grid ref. NO012939. Turn right here and start the ascent of Carn a' Mhaim. You are now totally alone as like many tracks in the area this is not marked on OS maps at all. The path is small but quite obvious as you climb very steeply up towards the plateau. This is extremely hard going and expect to stop on quite a few occasions. Once the flat area is reached take note of your surroundings as it can be difficult to stay on track even in good weather. The faint path almost disappears as you enter a boulder field. Stay right here avoiding the awesome drop into the Lairig Ghru and eventually a clear path returns leading you up towards the summit which is now in view.

The summit of Carn a' Mhaim is very dramatic. Often conditions are made worse by the very powerful wind which cuts down the Lairig Ghru from the north. Looking west the Devil's Point and Cairn Toul totally dominate the view with a haunting drop far below. The Corrour Bothy can just be seen on the valley floor as a faint dot in the landscape. Looking north, Ben Macdui cuts up into the sky, which is your next objective.

Leave the summit heading north along the ridge. The path is clear but at one section it narrows to only a meter wide and expect some mild scrambling, caution should be taken in high wind although to an experienced mountain walker it should not provide any problems. You now drop steeply as the path ahead can be seen turning right and up the west face of Ben Macdui. Climbing this face is very hard going once again and you should be fit enough to overcome this second helping of punishment before you consider taking on this route in the first place. After about an hour the path once again leads into a very aggressive boulder field. At this point it's impossible to locate the track, but by following a northeasterly bearing and keeping the Coire Clach nan Tailler gully in sight to your left you should not be too far off. Follow this bearing until the ground slowly starts to level off. At this point start slowly turning left and crossing the stream at the top of the gorge. Continue northwest with the drop to your left as you make your final ascent towards Ben Macdui summit, which is not yet in view.

Once on the summit expect the views all around to be stunning in good conditions. However that is very rare up here! The wind on most days is a big issue with gusts of 70-80mph quite common. Ben Macdui is Britain's second highest mountain, a great feeling indeed but unlike Ben Nevis the conditions here dampen the spirits to a certain degree! Leave the summit when ready and retrace your steps crossing the water, but this time head straight on towards the ridge high above Loachan Uaine at grid ref. NN997985. With care locate the drop and turn south keeping it to your left as you stride down Sron Riach with a distant path in view below.

Path located and the going is now clear as you make your way slowly downhill towards the river. This can take well over an hour to reach with the wind still very much an issue. Cross the river and follow along the path passing the footbridge to your right. After a while the path drops steeply and meets your inward track at the plantation, turn left here and continue back to Derry Lodge. Once back you can take a rest at base camp before packing away and starting the 90 minute walk back to Linn of Dee. A simple two-day route and Britain's second highest mountain is completed in this great National Park.

Please maintain social distancing - keep at least 2 metres away from other walkers. Travel restrictions for exercise in Wales and Scotland will be lifted in early July.

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