I surfaced well before the alarm went off after a restless sleep. I fancied a crack at making my Cairngorms debut for a while and my date with destiny had now arrived.
This is Scotland at its absolute best.
It totally captured the remote mountainous feel which I yearn for when out on the hills and have sampled before, but not on such grand a scale.
I got to the ski centre at 0615 and had spent time the night before route planning. I decided to take the path which would take me straight to Ben Macdui first, which involved taking a right onto the path just before the cafe. The path itself was reliable and in pristine condition. It offers to go left a couple of times in the early stages but I was keeping to the right and following the route planned from my map. Coire an Lochain was in view and my main focal point for the first stage of the walk; like many parts of the Cairngorms, it still had snow patches lying in mid July.
Altitude was gained and once beyond Coire an Lochain a path becomes available to the left to go up to Cairn Lochan, but I again kept to the right making a direct approach to Scotland’s second highest munro. The views began to open up and not long after I could make out the summit of Macdui from a distance whenever the cloud moved on.
The ground rises gently and a huge boulder field is soon enough met with a series of cairns now leading the way to the trig pillar.
I left the summit after 0830 and didn’t spend a great deal of time on it. I took a couple of snaps and had a short wander around, surrounded by the mountains in full 360° in solitude had a great feeling of escapism to it.
I was staggered at having being on the go for a while with the sun out yet still had my fleece on. It was a scorcher of a day, but the wind was unrelenting with such ferocity that I chose to keep a second layer on. I reckon it was 40mph+ at times.
I assessed my plan of whether to turn back via Cairn Gorm or stick with my intended route of heading to Beinn Mheadhoin, first. It was more of a commitment but didn’t see it being too much of an inconvenience in current conditions despite the powerful wind.
Off I went onto another decent path, heading easterly after leaving Ben Macdui, “the barns” which adorn Beinn Mheadhoin’s summit made this very easy to navigate on a day where visibility was good. Cloud cover came in on the tops at times but passed fleetingly.
I was making my way towards Loch Etchachan now and the views continued to impress. Interestingly, this is the highest waterbody in the UK.
I crossed the loch and was on my way up to the top of Beinn Mheadhoin. I got propelled up from the wind at times while getting blown over once or twice depending on which way I was travelling!
The Barns of Beinn Mheadhoin were reached easily enough and I made my way to the true summit. The gap between the summit tors was channeling all the wind’s energy and it had to be experienced to be believed. As I scrambled up I kept my head low to limit exposure before mounting the summit and now crawling towards its highest point - a stubborn headwind was trying to deny me. This felt otherworldly; as if I were in another stratum of the Earth’s atmospheric layers as the clouds’ shadows flashed past and the sun beating down on me. I managed to take a quick photo and video on the summit (I actually think my phone was hovering in my hand at one point) before climbing back down and taking a decent break and refuge from the wind. It was now almost 1100 when I started to make my way down. I was now making my way to Loch Avon down below. Care needs to be taken here as there is no path (until well further down) and there are plenty of cliffs present as you can see from the map. My destination was now Cairn Gorm. I made my way in a northeasterly direction, considerably away from Cairn Gorm to get the ease in gradient and away from the dangers before heading down to the Loch Avon. Loch Avon itself is a secluded gem, again, fabulous views to be had. I now had to cross the River Avon and having tried to find the best way over, I took the plunge and carried my boots and socks and walked it. The rocks forming a ford were submerged at parts and I could see no other outcome than a full on slip into the water, the wind was giving it momentum.
I didn’t anticipate a river crossing in this fashion and I had to take off my fleece and use as a makeshift towel. I then wrapped it over my shoulders and then taken a right (a common theme in this report) at the path that leads you to point 807 - the saddle - on the map.
From here the path gave me respite from the perennial wind element, trudging uphill though, I was beginning to feel it a bit on my legs at this point. This path is also soggy in places and a boot sank in to the ankle on the odd occasion but wasn’t anything major.
At around 1315 I made the summit of Cairn Gorm. The path then leads to ptarmigan restaurant and from there I had to go down the road as the windy ridge path was having maintenance works carried out.
A fantastic time and loved the surreal element to it all. I hope to be back soon!
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Warning Please note that hillwalking when there is snow lying requires an ice-axe, crampons and the knowledge, experience and skill to use them correctly. Summer routes may not be viable or appropriate in winter. See winter information on our skills and safety pages for more information.