Taking in the highest peak in the Cairngorms – [# 131 – 134]

Carn a’ Mhaim (1037m); Ben Macdui (Beinn MacDuibh) (1309m);
Beinn Mheadhoin (1182m); Derry Cairngorm (1155m)

  • Pronunciation:              Karn er Vime; Ben MacDui; Bine Veeyann; Derry Cairngorm
  • Translation:                   Cairn of the Pass; Hills of the Sons of Dubh (or Duff); Middle Mountain; Wooded Blue Hill (probably)
  • Total distance:               39.7km
  • Total time:                     10hrs 14mins
  • Total ascent:                  1907m
  • Weather:                        Overcast. Cloud level mainly above the summits. Occasional very light showers from mid-morning onwards. Mist and cloud level dropped below the fourth and last summit around 15.00.
  • Start / end location:    Forestry car-park at the Linn of Dee. [OS Map Sheets 36 & 43 – Grid Ref: NO 063 898 (Sheet 43)]
  • Map:                               A map of route can be found here – it may take a few moments to load into a separate window. The map displays on most browsers, but not unfortunately Internet Explorer.

The tors on the summit plateau of Beinn Mheadhoin - the summit is on top of the back tor on the right

After a couple of weeks of glorious sunny weather, today we were a bit disappointed that a front had now pushed through overnight to produce an overcast start to the day with light showers forecast for the afternoon. Nevertheless, as we parked up at the Linn of Dee and prepared our mountain bikes for the cycle to Luibeg Bridge some 3km to the east of Derry Lodge, the cloud level remained high above many of the peaks in the southern Cairngorms.

The track along Glen Luibeg from Derry Lodge with Carn a' Mhaim in the background (L)

Looking northward passed the summit cairn on Carn a' Mhaim to Ben MacDui in the background

Our cycle took us along Glen Lui for 4.5km to Derry Lodge, a lovely old stone “mansion” that is now sadly unoccupied and boarded up. After passing the Lodge we crossed the Derry Burn where the land-rover track gave way to a gravelly path that was dotted with boulders and crisscrossed by natural stone drainage culverts. The cycling along this next 3km was never too difficult but was quite technical in places … and as such, really good fun.

A few hundred metres prior to reaching the Luibeg Bridge (a new metal walkers bridge across the burn) the path arrived at a newish forestry plantation with deer fence surrounding it. Here the path split, with the right hand one skirting around the NE of the plantation and heading northwards following the course of the burn, whilst the left hand path entered the plantation and followed the tributary Allt Preas nam Meirleach burn instead. It was at this point that we locked our bikes to a fence and proceeded along the left hand path through the plantation.

Looking west to the Devil's Point from the summit ridge of Carn a' Mhaim

This new plantation was tiny in area and after only 500m of walking we exited it at its west end where another 300m brought us to a fork on the right with a path climbing up the SE ridge extending down from Carn a’ Mhaim. The path was quite steep but always discernable as it climbed first to the south of Coire na Poite before reaching the small top at 1014m. From this top a short drop then rise again brought us easily to the summit of Carn a’ Mhaim at 1037m or 3,402ft. The summit provided us with spectacular views of our next Munro, Ben MacDui, to the north, Derry Cairngorm to the northeast and across the Lairig Ghru immediately below our position to the west, the summits of The Devil’s Point and Cairn Toul.

[The Lairig Ghru is a huge, splendid looking glen that slices north-south through the Cairngorms massif from Coylumbridge near Aviemore to Glen Dee east of Braemar.]

Passing a derelict mountain hut only a 100m from the summit of Ben MacDui

To reach our next objective of Ben MacDui we continued NNW passed the summit on Carn a’ Mhaim and along its narrow ridge. Such a narrow ridge is actually a rather unusual feature in the Cairngorms as the mountains tend to be exhibit large, high undulating plateaus hemmed-in by deeply incised glens such as the Lairg Ghru. The ridge made very pleasant walking and gave great views to our left of Corrour Bothy far below us at the foot of the Devil’s Point (another Munro for another day).

Elaine at the summit Trig Point on Ben MacDui with the toposcope in the background

The ridge quite naturally led to a broad col due south of the Ben MacDui summit. For many other summits, standing at a col at a height of 810m would have meant a relatively modest ascent in altitude to reach the top of a Munro, but not in the case of Ben MacDui, as the second highest Munro it stands at a height of 1309m, still 500m above our “lowly” position. Slightly worse than just the height yet to be ascended was the fact that 150m above us the path petered out as it climbed through an almighty boulder field. It proved to be a stiff climb up the shallow ridgeline to the right of the Allt Clach nan Taillear to reach the broad plateau immediately to the west of the Lochan Uaine. Once we reached this point it was a straightforward walk westward to reach the summit of Ben MacDui at 1309m or 4,295ft.

The toposcope on the summit of Ben MacDui

On the summit plateau, but just before reaching the summit cairn, we came across a stone enclosure, complete with a fireplace and chimney, of what can best be described as a “mountain hut”. As well as this derelict dwelling, the plateau was home to a profusion of more recently constructed round stone “shelters”. May be the British desire to own “ones own detached home” has extended to the top of the Cairngorms where everyone successful in summiting has to fashion his or her own stone shelter. Such excesses weren’t for us and we made do with sheltering in someone else’s creation to eat some snacks, as well as pull on our waterproof over-trousers in anticipation of the forecasted afternoon showers.

Loch Etchachan from SW slopes of Beinn Mheadhoin with Ben MacDui (far L) and Carn Etchachan (R)

Our route off Ben MacDui was to return to the broad plateau to the west of Lochan Uaine and then to head north down the ridge that forms the NW rim of the corrie above the Lochan and Coire Sputan Dearg. Our objective was to reach the col just to the west of Creagan a’ Choire Etchachan and then turn SSE to climb our third and final Munro of the day, Derry Cairngorm. However, as we descended this ridge towards Loch Etchachan our gaze was drawn to Beinn Mheadhoin to the NE with its strange collection of granite tors adorning its huge summit plateau: with the tallest of these tors actually constituting the mountain summit.

The tor that sits on top of Beinn Mheadhoin - there's an easier scramble up on the other side

So as we neared the point on the ridge where we should sweep round east to begin the climb of Derry Cairngorm a quick confab ensued along the lines of me saying: “Look we wouldn’t have to drop down too much further from here and then it looks like there is a good path up the other side to reach the summit plateau. It is only another 1.5km after that to then be able to stand on the summit tor – with another Munro in the bag. What do you think?” “Hmm, I suppose that it seems sensible given we’re here and it isn’t raining yet” – well, I’m pretty sure that was Elaine’s reply – but it was fairly windy and I may have misinterpreted. Still, we were on our way to bag Beinn Mheadhoin – an unexpected addition!

Our slight detour now required us to drop right down to the eastern shores of Loch Etchachan and then to climb up a path of fine scree to reach the first top at 1163m before embarking on the 1.5km walk across the plateau to reach the principal tors that cluster around the summit one. The landscape up here has been likened to an American Far-West prairie with shingle sandy soil and the occasional tufted grass poking through and these high granite tors standing serenely in majestic isolation above the plateau “floor”. Perhaps it does lack any cacti to really seal the analogy.

Derry Cairngorm (L) from the SW slopes of Beinn Mheadhoin

The largest of the tors constitutes the summit of Beinn Mheadhoin at 1182m or 3,878ft. From our direction of approach climbing up to stand on the top of the summit tor looked like it could have been quite a rock climbing challenge, which was fortunately avoided by an easier scramble to the top around the NE side. We would probably have lingered on the top longer but the threatened rain showers had now begun so we clambered off the tor and made our way back over the plateau and down the scree path to the shore of Loch Etchachan.

Cameron at the summit of Derry Cairngorm

Given our slight detour to “take in” Beinn Mheadhoin we now skirted around the NE of Creagan a’ Choire Etchachan, just above the rim of the cliffs. From here we soon managed to pick up the path SE leading up to the summit of Derry Cairngorm where two cairns, separated by 50m, are located. We visited both, obviously, but believe that the one furthest to the SE is the true one at 1155m or 3,789ft. We continued over the summit and began our descent down the SSE ridge, passing over the minor top at 1040m en route. From this minor top we began to veer south following the line of a very broad flank, which was covered in large boulders that made progress quite tough. The line of this flank quite naturally brought us to near the top of a small tributary burn that fed into the Luibeg Burn below. In following this burn the gradient became quite steep and the boulder-strewn ground was replaced with thick heather terraces. These too proved to be quite tiring for our descent and we were both very glad to reach the floor of Glen Derry and a descent path all the way back to where we’d locked our bikes earlier. All that remained was our 7.5km cycle back to the car. Once again, the technical bits of the route proved to be great fun and most of the other stretches were fairly downhill so it made for an easier ride sthan it did earlier in the day.

Back at the car we reflected on our achievements and were really pleased that we’d managed to climb the last 39 Munros in only 3 weeks.

About Cameron Speirs

Born and brought up in the Scottish Highlands, Cameron, has been interested in outdoor pursuits since he was a wee lad. Over the last few decades he has climbed extensively in the Italian Dolomites as well as summiting the Matterhorn and several other 4000m alpine peaks. Closer to home he has spent many wonderful weekends mountaineering and biking in Snowdonia, Cairngorms, Glen Coe, Skye and Lochaber.
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