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Cairngorms Walks

Ben Macdui

Loch A'an from The Saddle

Date: 22nd May 2005
Distance: 20.4 miles
Ascent: 4245 feet
Time: 11 hours 40 mins
With: Dave
Start Grid Ref: NH976098

Walk Summary:
An epic and less than direct trek up on to Ben Macdui, the second highest mountain in Britain, encountering just about every type of weather.

Route Summary: Glenmore Forest Centre - Glenmore Lodge - Ryvoan Pass - Bynack Stable - Strath Nethy - The Saddle - Loch A'an - The Shelter Stone - Loch Etchachan - Ben Macdui - Lochan Buidhe - Meadan Creag - Cairngorm Base Station - Mor Trail - Glenmore Forest Centre


1. Glenmore Forest

Glenmore Forest

2. An Lochan Uaine

An Lochan Uaine

3. Misty hills to the east of our route

Misty hills to the east of our route

4. Approaching the entrance to Strath Nethy

Approaching the entrance to Strath Nethy

5. Standing by the Garbh Allt

Standing by the Garbh Allt

6. Looking back down Strath Nethy from The Saddle

Looking back down Strath Nethy from The Saddle

7. Loch A'an

Loch A'an

8. Shelter Stone Crag

Shelter Stone Crag

9. Standing above Loch Etchachan

Standing above Loch Etchachan

10. By the trig point on Ben Macdui

By the trig point on Ben Macdui

Walk Detail: My main ambition on our holiday in Aviemore was to climb Ben Macdui, the second highest mountain in the UK. As the forecast for the week was not too good we took a gamble on the Sunday, our first full day as it looked quite promising.

We set off shortly after 7am striding through the lovely Scottish Pine of Glenmore Forest until we reached the Ryvoan Pass. Here we came across one of the early highlights of the walk, An Lochan Uaine (Little Green Loch), which certainly lived up to its name. The waters were completely still and contained a perfect reflection of the surrounding area. From there we continued along the path to the remains of Bynack Stable from where we headed into the Strath Nethy.

I had mixed feelings about this next stretch of the walk. The mountain scenery was stunning, especially up the valley to Bynack More and also the great fan shaped corrie of Stac na h-lolaire. However the path was extremely soggy and badly eroded in places making it quite tiresome.

Nevertheless by the time we reached the saddle at the head of the valley I was 810m above sea level, higher than any of my previous walks. Of course we were also rewarded with the superb view of over Loch A’an surrounded by Beinn Mheadhoin, Shelter Stone Crag and Carn Etchachan. At this picture perfect place we stopped and ate our lunch. Unfortunately it was at this point that we also noticed the lovely weather taking a dramatic turn for the worse.

The walk along the side of Loch A’an was tedious due to the damp and boulder strewn path. I then had some difficulty crossing the confluence of streams at the far end of the Loch but after nearly half an hour of trying was eventually successful. Just as we rounded Shelter Stone Crag it began to rain steadily so we donned full waterproofs before beginning the next stage of our ascent.

The climb was reasonably steep but gave some spectacular views over Loch A’an which I was unfortunately unable to take advantage of with my camera due to the rain. Our next highlight was the deep mountainous bowl surrounding Loch Etchachan which stands over 1000 metres above sea level. Here I did risk taking a few photos not only because of the stunning setting but also because we at last had part of Ben Macdui in sight.

At this point visibility was still quite good despite the persistent rain. However as we climbed past Creagan a Choire Etchachan the rain turned to snow and then, as we neared our final destination, visibility dropped alarmingly just as the path became difficult to follow as the snow began to lay. At the same time Dave began to really struggle climbing up.

In the end we were saved by the ruin, which stands a few metres short of the summit, which we were able to just make out in the enveloping cloud and use to guide us to the top. Here we had the last of the hot chocolate that gave Dave in particular a much-needed boost of energy. We then climbed the final few metres to the summit where we took a compass bearing before heading north along the plateau.

We had initially, and rather ambitiously, planned on returning via Cairn Lochan and Cairn Gorm but at this point decided to leave them out. We managed to get a mobile signal to inform Lisa of the change in our route and then headed along the western flank of Crag Lochan which gave us some tantalising glimpses, via breaks in the cloud, of the Lairig Ghru.

While we definitely made the right decision to return a different way the descent down Miadan Crag was still far from easy. The path from left to right was quite steep and this put pressure on my right knee. We were also circled by a rescue helicopter and the dangers of walking in the mountains in those conditions was brought home to us when we saw the helicopter land a 100 metres or so lower down the slope to tend to someone.

Finally we made it to the ski centre and civilisation. By this time it had stopped snowing and the rain had also just about dissipated. The final stretch was the Mor trail from the ski centre to Glenmore. It was a pleasant path following the Alt Mor into some lovely woodland but by this time I was not in much of a state to enjoy the surroundings.

The walk had taken nearly 12 hours, much of it in bad weather and I was pretty much out on my feet. If the weather had stayed fine and visibility moderate this may have been the best walk I’d done to date. Instead I felt a mixture of achievement, disappointment and exhaustion. With the hindsight of just a couple of days though I realised I had had a magnificent adventure and one which had taught me what it meant to walk in the Scottish mountains.

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