Tuesday 25 October 2022

An October Walk In The Cairngorms

Camp by the River Dee

October has been mild in the Cairngorms. Quite wet, quite windy, quite cloudy but not cold. Last week I experienced all these on a three-night trip with my friend Tony Hobbs and his dog Lassie, the first walk we’d had together in many years. He wanted to climb Ben Macdui if possible and have a high camp. The forecast wasn’t promising though with very strong winds, low cloud, and rain showers predicted. After a couple of days the winds were meant to abate but the cloud and rain continue. 

Forest camp

Taking the forecast into account I suggested a walk through the Lairig Ghru pass with a couple of camps along the way and then an ascent to the Cairngorm Plateau and maybe Ben Macdui if the weather wasn’t too stormy. As we didn’t meet in Aviemore until the afternoon of the first day we just walked into Rothiemurchus Forest and camped amongst the magnificent pines. Even down here in the woods the night was breezy.

Autumn glory

The next day we set off into the cloudy Lairig Ghru with clouds racing overhead. The greyness was brightened in the forest by the glorious rich autumn colours of birch and aspen shining amongst the dark green pines. Once through the trees the landscape was dark and foreboding as we headed into the jaws of the pass. After recent rain the path was wet and muddy, the ground all around sodden. 

Tony & Flossie heading up the Lairig Ghru

Once over the crest of the pass and past the dark Pools of Dee we started to look for somewhere not too wet to camp, eventually finding a couple of passable spots by the infant River Dee. Rain fell off and on during the night, but the air was mild, the temperature only falling to 7°C. 

Camp by the Dee

The tarp was soaked with condensation at dawn. Outside clouds and mist drifted around the hills. The fading autumn grasses were russet and gold. As always it was a wonderful place to be.

Clouds on the way up to the Plateau

The wind was less strong, and we decided to climb into the clouds and onto the Plateau. There was no path, and the ascent was steep and strenuous but not difficult. 

Cairn Toul & Braeriach appearing out of the mist

I thought we’d be in the mist the rest of the day but as we reached the Plateau blue sky appeared and the clouds dissipated. Back across the Lairig Ghru Cairn Toul and Braeriach rose out of thick bands of mist.

The clearance was marvellous, magical and brief. We were soon back in the murk. Deciding against going to a shrouded Ben Macdui we turned north, round the edge of Cairn Lochan and then up Creag an Leth-choin, our only summit of the day though lower than our highest point. 

Mist in the Lairig Ghru

The mist stayed with us until we descended a boulder field towards the Chalamain Gap and then returned as we went on back down to the Lairig Ghru and made camp, again having to search out some almost dry ground. A big bull reindeer grazed not far below. Grouse called in the heather. Vague shapes of hills hung in the mist.

Last and most misty camp

Leaving Tony for another night out I wandered back down the path and through the quiet forest. Bits of blue sky suggested better weather but soon vanished again and mostly the cloud hung just above the tree tops. 

Autumn colours & a glimpse of blue sky



  1. Thank you Chris for your update of camp and photos.I am pleased that you managed to get together with your friend and hopefully caught up with all the news from the intervening years.And I hope Lassie enjoyed it also! Yes,it has been mild for this time of year,I hope you can soon have a cold,clear night out soon.

  2. Great photos Chris! Thanks for letting me tag along it was wonderful to see you again and share a camp. We got very lucky with the weather!