Max elevation: 1308 m
Total climbing: 1449 m
Total descent: -1448 m
A long walk in and out along the beautiful Glen Lui, followed by a high-level walk taking in 3 Munros, including the second highest peak on the British Isles, Ben Macdui. Views into the Lairigh Gru make for an excellent morning, with Ben Macdui achievable before lunch. Easy navigation in good conditions. Don’t bother in bad conditions, there’s no point being up there all day when you can’t see anything. The long walk in can be reduced by using a mountain or gravel bike to Derry Lodge.
Well formed trail to top of Carn a’Mhaim and on to the ridge across to Ben Macdui. Towards the top of the climb on the ridge, turns into a steep but easily navigable boulder field to ascend the west flank of Sron Riach. Steep grass slopes and more boulders at the summit and descent of Ben Macdui, making way to a long boulder field across Derry Cairngorm.
Park in the National Trust for Scotland car park at Linn of Dee. NT and NTS members park for free. Follow the signs for Glen Lui. If you can’t find those, the most complicated navigation will be getting out of the car park into the glen.
Follow the trail out of the car park until reaching a gravel track, then turn left. The track quickly crosses a bog on a wooden bridge, then continuing to cross the river shortly after.
Follow the track up the Glen for ~6km, making your way along the valley to Derry Lodge. This can be considerably shortened on a bike. Derry Lodge is currently boarded up, but there are signs of life and planning permission for it to be turned into a hostel. The day’s quarry emerges as you walk along the track, Carn a’Mhaim on the left and Derry Cairngorm on the right, with Ben Macdui rising behind.
At Derry Lodge, cross the bridge and turn immediately left along the river bank, following the trail along the river. The valley has a ‘manicured wilderness’ feel about it: the estate is being returned to nature, with most vehicle tracks and signs of habitation removed. A well-made footpath continues along the river, crossing at a picturesque ford shortly before ascending Carn a’Mhaim.
The path starts to climb, quickly leaving the trees behind and revealing the full uninterrupted beauty of Glen Lui behind.
Arriving on the top of Carn a’Mhaim, the Lairig Ghru, one of the highest mountain passes in Britain, appears, the intimidating Devil’s Point standing guard. The Lairig Ghru poses a challenge all of its own – barren, rocky, and with more ascent it appears from the high vantage point. Something for another day.
Looking North East from the summit, Ben Macdui stands as a rocky lump, still harbouring fresh snow when we visited in April. The ascent route is obvious from here, as a connecting ridge up the west flank, and a short walk to the top. From the distance, the extent of the boulder field is not yet clear.
While the Lairig Ghru offers little in the way of comfort, it’s barren rocky path being devoid of anything resembling infrastructure (in Switzerland there would be a highway through here, so enjoy the isolation), there is some hope of salvation if you got stuck. From our high perch on the top, looking to the east reveals Corrour Bothy sitting below, waiting to welcome the cold and the weary.
Continue heading along the obvious path, descending around 200m to pick up the connecting ridge to Ben Macdui. Then, straight back up again! The climb is steep but easy going at first, but turns into a boulder field soon after. Get used to this though, there’s more to come later.
As the ground flattens out, take a look back to take in just how big this mountain, the second highest in Britain, actually as. There’s still plenty of climb to go, yet Carn a Mhaim, at 1037m, looks insignificant.
You’ll arrive on the great slab that is Ben Macdui. Though that’s slightly misleading, as there’s still 100m to go. Bearing left – that is, north and then north east, head to the top to the summit indicator. Please, please use a map and compass to avoid going off the edge and ending up in the Lairig Ghru.
To find something this high out of the clouds is a treat – having a summit indicator with mountains marked on it is optimistic indeed. Enjoy the view (you heeded my advice and only came here in good weather, right?), taking in the complex mountains and valleys surrounding you on two sides, and the huge flat, high expanse leading out to Cairn Gorm.
Over half way in on distance, two Munros down, and with most of the climbing done, it’s time to head home. Head ESE down Macdui’s broad shoulder – following a path marked on the OS map, if you can see it – and you can drop into the valley the other side of the sharp cliffs of Coire Sputan Dearg, turning NE to head between the stream and the corrie wall. In thaw conditions care is needed here – first thing in the morning this will be a sheet of ice, and later on a slush field.
The trick here is to stay high, so as to avoid losing so much height – follow the obvious high route on the map. Following the path along the stream loses more height than necessary. There’s plenty of time to admire Loch Etchachan below, as you start to double back onto Creagan a’Choire Etchachan, turning east to take in this Munro Top on the way to the final Munro of the day.
Continue south-east to Derry Cairngorm, a distinct boulder-strewn lump sitting under the watchful gaze of the corrie wall we’ve been circling.
The rugged terrain stretches out in front in this direction, few notable mountains in view, but everything in sight – including the valleys – higher than even the highest hills in the South East.
Leave the boulder field charting a course to miss the worst of the scree, and a path soon becomes apparent, though this fades and returns through the descent back into the valley. The trees of Glen Lui look so far away at this point, being some 6km distance, and another 600m vertically below. Continuing, they become a welcome marker ahead, as vegetation and life returns after the barren summit.
The obvious path off the mountain arrives in the forest, winding its way back to the river by Derry Lodge, where you pick up the outbound path and continue along Glen Lui retracing your steps.
Keep an eye out when you get back for deer roaming near the car park.