Ben Macdui and the Cairngorm Plateau Walking

The classic way to climb Scotland's second highest mountain, this long but relatively un-taxing route provides a huge hit of scenery for the leg work investment, with a great variety of craggy corries and sprawling plateau that between them define the character of the Cairngorms. Among the snow patches and gurgling ptarmigan of these high table-lands, you feel as close to the arctic as it's possible to get in Scotland. On a wild winter day this is a serious place to venture, while in the mist your thoughts might turn to the ghostly Big Grey Man said to haunt these heights. Save it for good weather, and savour the surroundings. It's a route open to variation. Snow conditions permitting, mountaineers might ascend to the plateau via a winter gully in Coire an t-Sneachda (0.5 Gully at the west side of the coire may be a good rope-free option), while the Fiacaill Ridge is a popular scramble in any season. The route described here is more walker-friendly, but does still include a path-free leg across the plateau to boost the scenic impact and the challenge. In poor visibility it'd be better to stick to the clear paths.

Loch Avon and Beinn Mheadhoin from above Hells Lum  © Dan Bailey -
Loch Avon and Beinn Mheadhoin from above Hells Lum
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Detailed description

NH9891106036 The ski centre road gives a half-height leg-up on the hill before even leaving the car or bus. From the Cairngorm Mountain car park walk past the ski centre buildings and follow a footpath to the right of the funicular line, which largely keeps you away from skiers (in season). After a steady climb on the path, briefly join a pisted ski track, then turn off onto a path that ascends south-southeast up the Fiacaill a' Choire Chais ridge.

NH9990103982 From the big cairn at Point 1141m a path leads south over a broad saddle, then climbs along the rim of the Coire an t-Sneachda cliffs. Pass over the summit of Stob Coire an t-Sneachda, and descend to a col at the head of Coire Domhain.

NH9915802768 Heading south, you're now deep into the Cairngorm-Macdui plateau, a wonderful area of rolling high ground stretched out between the two giant hills. While this path does lead all the way to Ben Macdui, and it's the easier option, you'll enjoy more peace and a lot more scenery if you ad-lib the plateau section. Soon leave the trail to walk southeast onto a rocky summit overlooking the deep trench of the Loch Avon basin. Descend to cross the Feith Buidhe just above its famous waterfalls (may need care if it's in spate or the burn is semi-buried under snow), then continue roughly south.

NH9930101508 There's no path, so just follow your nose over the stony plateau with a fantastic outlook on the Loch Avon crags, crossing the little streams feeding the Garbh Uisge Beag, then making a long ascent onto Ben Macdui's northern top, spot height 1295m. At a saddle beyond the top, join the busy standard path for a final leg to the summit cairn.
Braeriach from Ben Macdui  © Dan Bailey -
Braeriach from Ben Macdui
© Dan Bailey -

NN9889598943 It's a long walk back over the plateau, but a straightforward one in calm weather. Follow the popular path, with a line of cairns to mark the way. Make a short, steep descent (often icy), then after a further 1km or so the path divides. Stay with the left branch to cross a saddle above the March Burn before climbing slightly to make a traverse across the eastern flank of Cairn Lochan. Descend to a broad shoulder overlooking the dramatic cirque of Coire an Lochain.

NH9766203061 The path makes a long, scenic descent of the ridge bounding the west side of the coire, then heads north-northeast across the lower slopes below Coire an Lochain and Coire an t-Sneachda to return to the ski centre.

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Further Routes

by Dan Bailey UKH

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