Sunrise to sunset in the Cairngorms

Munros: Derry Cairngorm

Date walked: 21/01/2017

Time taken: 11 hours

Distance: 36km

Ascent: 1830m

Munros: Derry Cairngorm.
Date: 21/01/2017.
Distance: 36km.
Ascent: 1830m.
Time: 11 hours.
Weather: Sunny and warm; cold breeze on parts of plateau.

I had suggested I might be able to help out with the toilet at Corrour bothy this weekend, but when I discovered on Friday evening that someone else was planning to visit, I had a re-think. All of the north of Scotland available to me with a perfect forecast, and I couldn't decide where to go! In the end, I decided to call in on Corrour anyway, but also to combine it with a wander out to Derry Cairngorm and Sgurr an Lochan Uaine (a small top adjacent to Derry Cairngorm, not the one known as the Angel's Peak). A strange combination that led to a particularly early start for me, as it would be quite a long day for this time of the year.

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I was up early and walking away from the ski carpark by 7am. I took the Fiacaill Coire Cas, which is one of the shortest, most boring routes up onto the plateau. It was also the easiest - since it was dark anyway, that was what I wanted.

First light over the shoulder of Cairn Gorm:

Back down to Aviemore:

I got the timing about right, as it was getting light as I approached the final ascent to the 1141m spot height. There were impressive skies behind Beinn Mheadhoin, and a chilly breeze as well (which was not entirely unexpected).

Beinn Mheadhoin:


I wandered over Stob Coire an t-Sneachda, peering over the crags occasionally, before joining the Ben Macdui path for a short stretch. All the while the sunrise was introducing impressive colours to the scene.

Coire an t-Sneachda and Cairn Lochan:

Cairn Gorm:


Beinn Mheadhoin and Lochnagar:

Fiacaill a’ Coire Sneachda:


While there wasn't a great deal of snow left, what was there was pretty hard by this point, which made walking on it a bit tricky in places. Banks of it covered the path and it seemed like the ideal time to try out a pair of Yaktrax that I had been given for Christmas. They weren't as effective as Microspikes as they had coiled wire underneath rather than spikes, but they worked quite well for crossing fields of hard-packed snow at gentle gradients. Very handy as there were a good couple of miles of this on the eastern flanks of Ben Macdui.

Sun coming up over the Feith Buidhe:


Cairn Toul and Sgor an Lochain Uaine:

I didn't see the need to go over Ben Macdui, so I aimed to contour across the eastern flanks instead. I did this at a slightly higher level than I usually do, skipping out on the top of Shelterstone Crag, but crossing over some places I hadn't been before. A cold looking camper emerged from a tent in the grassy upper bowl of the Feith Buidhe.

Hell’s Lum and Cairn Gorm:

Deer (and people) tracks in the snow:

There were reasonable views down Loch Avon from here, and on the whole, the going was easy over hard snow and scattered boulders

Loch Avon basin:


Sliver of Braeriach:

Ben Macdui:


Soon I was overlooking Loch Etchachan, and I thought the ridge I wanted leading along the top of Coire Sputan Dearg was right in front of me. Should've looked at the map - there was another shallow corrie to cross to get there!

Loch Etchachan and Beinn Mheadhoin:

Standing on the crags at the top of Coire Sputan Dearg is where you get some of the most impressive views of Ben Macdui. It was particularly gusty here, and hard to hold the camera still. I was going to contour around Creagan a' Choire Etchachan, but in the end I decided to go over it as it would have more spectacular views of Ben Macdui and Loch Etchachan. No respite from the wind on top though.

Coire Sputan Dearg of Ben Macdui:

Loch Etchachan:

Lochnagar and the White Mounth:

Ben Macdui from Creagan a’ Choire Etchachan:

I continued towards Derry Cairngorm for a short while before diverting of to the summit of Sgurr an Lochan Uaine. Although not as impressive as its namesake to the west, it was another pleasant summit with good views back to the central hub of the Cairngorms. It was also my last unclimbed Munro top of the central plateau.

Beinn Mheadhoin from Sgurr an Lochan Uaine:

Beinn a’ Ghlo:

Creagan a’ Choire Etchachan:

…again with Ben Macdui:

I managed to find somewhere out of the wind for my first proper sit-down stop of the day, before making my way over to Derry Cairngorm, which has a steep corrie gouged out of it's eastern face that not many people see close up. A bouldery ascent up the side of this took me to the summit of Derry Cairngorm, which I hadn't been up in years. In fact the weather and snow conditions today were very similar to that last visit, which had been in a heat-wave in the middle of March!

Bynack More and Beinn a’ Chaorainn:

Derry Cairngorm from Sgurr an Lochan Uaine:

Coire an Lochain Uaine:

Eastern face of Derry Cairngorm:

Cairn Toul and Ben Macdui from Derry Cairngorm:

Finally on the descent towards Derry Lodge I began meeting people - it was now shortly after midday, and I had expected quite a few people to be making use of the brilliant weather. I stopped again just below Carn Crom, before veering off the good path to reach the Luibeg bridge. This was a little heathery lower down, but easy enough. At just below 500m, this was the lowest point of the walk.

Derry Cairngorm from Little Cairngorm:

Ben Macdui:


Luibeg footbridge:

Once off the tops and out of the wind, things warmed up rapidly and I was soon down to my t-shirt. People might moan about the lack of snow, but I find a day or two like this each winter really helps to stop me going insane. Perfect winter's days out with lots of snow are great, but the reality of winter is normally lots of grey, windy, sleety days.

I haven't approached Corrour from this direction for a long time, so it was nice to round the flank of Carn a' Mhaim to suddenly be confronted by the Devil's Point and Cairn Toul.

Approaching Devil’s Point and Cairn Toul:



..and close up:


Looking up the Lairig Ghru:

Cairn Toul:

The path was rather icy - lots of last week's snowmelt had frozen up, meaning you really had to keep your eyes on the ground in front of your feet most of the time. I crossed the bridge and wandered up to the bothy where it was hiding just out of reach of the sunshine. No-one was about, but there was enough stuff there to suggest that there would be people returning later on.


Time to carry on - back over the bridge and a handy shortcut up to the path north (which would normally be more of a slop, but was relatively firm today). I had another break to make the last of the sunlight - shadows of the western hills were creeping over the path and floor of the glen rapidly.

Carn a’ Mhaim:

Heading home:

On the hike up the Lairig Ghru, the going was again icy lower down, but with firm snow bridges over many of the burns. You could see that this snow had lain very deep and soft recently, as there were deep footprints and holes going through to the bog beneath visible. One of the notes in the bothy book had suggested that someone had hiked through from the north in last weekend's deep snow - I can't imagine anything tougher!

Coire Brochain of Braeriach:


Garbh Coire:

There were some interesting clouds to look at near the summit of the pass. Thankfully the rock was dry and there was little ice high up, making the tedious boulder and scree field easy to negotiate. There was quite a breeze blowing through and it was pretty chilly - all the better for keeping moving!

Carn a’ Mhaim and Devil’s Point:

Cairn Toul and Sgor an Lochain Uaine:

…with interesting clouds:

Through the Ghru:

Back to Cairn Toul:

Forward to Aviemore:

Creag an Leth-choin:

Soon I was climbing out of the infant Druie to make for the Chalamain gap. Impressive skies all around, but it was getting dark. I managed the boulder-hop through the gap before it got too dark, then it was time to get the torch out and think about my shortcut back to the ski carpark.


Last light over Sron na Lairige:

…and Sgorr Gaoith:

I had made this shortcut before in the daylight and the opposite direction and it was easy enough, but tonight it was agony! Deep heather, semi-frozen tussocks and the steep banks of two streams to negotiate made the going tough. Of more interest was the number of head-torches that could be seen descending from various parts of the Northern Corries. Finally made it back to the car at the end of a satisfyingly long day out.

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Location: Inverness
Occupation: Civil Engineer
Interests: Walking, Scrambling, Cycling, Mountain Biking
Munro rounds: 1
Corbett rounds: 1
Graham rounds: 1

Munros: 282
Corbetts: 222
Grahams: 219
Donalds: 50
Wainwrights: 81
Hewitts: 205
Sub 2000: 161

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