Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Ben Macdui

In my youth I was always wary of the Cairngorms. Tragic tales in the media each winter of exposure and death, and the description of the 4,000ft high plateau as 'sub-arctic tundra' gave me and my early walking companions a healthy respect for the Cairngorms. It was not a place to mess around with in bad weather, as you were a long way from shelter should anything go wrong. Not an unhealthy attitude - but it probably meant that I spent less time in the Cairngorms than I should, preferring the sexier (and except for Knoydart or Fisherfield, more escapable) western peaks to the long walk-ins of the Gorms.

Glen Feshie from An Scarsgoch (note herd of deer in bottom left):

However this autumn has been unseasonably mild, and there was no snow at all on the Cairngorms last weekend, with none falling over the week. Under such conditions the Cairngorms are much less of a challenge. Perhaps Ben Macdui would make a good, hard, November walk?

At Derry Lodge:

I parked at Linn of Dee at 9am, and marched along the track to Derry Lodge, overtaken by a couple of mountain bikers. The sun came out briefly at Derry Lodge, then it was a tramp along a boggier route alongside the Lui. It had been a disappointingly cloudy start to the day, but the cloud seemed to be lifting, so I decided to forgo the bad weather option of a Corbett and press on for Ben Macdui, the highest and most central point on the Cairngorm plateau. A good prize for late November.

Heather gave way to pink granite, a type of rock I had not seen since our summer holiday in Brittany, as the cliffs ringing Lochan Uaine came into view. The summit plateau lay above, and cloud rolled over the edge, vast galleons blowing in against Derry Cairngorm, burst dams of cloud spilling over Carn a'Mhaim, the wind buffeting and chilling me as I climbed higher on Sron Riach towards the cliffs. However the sun had come out between the clouds, and these 40-50mph winds were gentle zephyrs compared to the typical winds that blast the plateau at this time of year. An exhilaring place to be.

Rock and cloud on Ben Macdhui:

Devil's Point:

Entering the cloud at the edge of the plateau:

By the top of the cliffs on Sron Riach the cloud cap was permanent, and despite waiting at the top the cloud did not clear. A recent TGO magazine has described a superb viewpoint a short distance west of the summit, but as you can see there was not much point in going there!

Summit viewpoint indicator:

With the exception of the mountain bikers, the only other walker of the day appeared at the top, drank a can of coke, and left. "I wasn't sure I would come this far today," I said. "It's not that far," he said. Hmphm. It felt like an achievement for me, more used to the Corbetts these days.

Compass work led off the top, all gravel and moss, a fragile landscape that looks like it could withstand a nuclear explosion, and down towards Loch Etchachan. I had come up this track on a previous visit to Ben Macdhui, and had thought perhaps this would be the best ascent route. In fact it was better in this direction - as described in Cameron McNeish's 100 Best Walks - Cairngorm visible across Loch Etchachan and the hidden trench of Glen Avon as I descended.

A snow-free Cairngorm:

After Loch Etchachan's misty shores, all that was left was a descent to the Hutchison hut and a long tramp out via Glen Derry in gathering gloom, ravenous with hunger and delighted with getting one good hard day on the hill.

Hutchison shelter:

The next day I met a friend from Aberdeen for an easier walk and we climbed Morven, a Deeside Corbett at the edge of the Highlands, and the light was even better - but perhaps that should be another post?


Andy - Cheap Tents said...

Simply awesome pictures, really superb. Great write up two, but I am somewhat in awe ... oooh I want to go hiking now!

blueskyscotland said...

That was a great day out you had Robert.I,ve never been lucky enough to see cloud formations like that over the Cairngorms.

Robert Craig said...

I was lucky, just one weekend later the weather took a turn for the worse, and last week the winds were recorded at 165mph.