Sunday 26 April 2020

Memorable Mountains 2: Ben Macdui

View across the Avon basin to Ben Macdui

Second in this series of memorable mountains I'm thinking about during the lockdown is one I've climbed well over a hundred times in all conditions at all times of the year. I've been up it in hot sunshine, torrential rain, blizzards and at night. I've been up it in sandals and on skis, snowshoes and crampons. I've camped high on its flanks.

Ben Macdui is the highest mountain in the Cairngorms and the second highest in Scotland and has been a 'local' hill for thirty years.  It's a great hulk of a hill that's not particularly distinctive and which doesn't stand out from afar. The best viewpoints in my opinion are across the trench of the Avon basin and across the Lairig Ghru from Braeriach.

Ben Macdui from Braeriach

Ben Macdui's glory doesn't lie in its shapely summit though but in its remote position on the southern edge of the Cairngorm Plateau and the sense of space and wildness all around. Reaching it always feels an achievement, especially in winter when the snow is deep and daylight hours short.

In summer the walk to the summit across the Plateau or by steeper routes from other directions is stony. This is a rock mountain, too high, too windswept, and too cold for much vegetation to survive.

In winter the mountain is transformed into an arctic-like wilderness. It's hard to believe it's the same place.

The Cairngorm Plateau and Braeriach

The summit is broad and gently sloping with a big cairn surmounted by a trig point. Views are foreshortened. For the best ones you need to walk a short distance south or west.

Summer or winter Ben Macdui is a favourite mountain and one on which I've had many great adventures and wonderful times. I'll be returning as soon as the lockdown is over.


  1. It's a wonderful place. Snow Buntings breed there and they can be very confiding. The first time I climbed Ben Macdui, I was welcomed with their song (which feels weird on the top of a barren plateau!) and when I sat down on the summit near the trigpoint, a pair landed on the ground just 2 metres from me! The males are stunning in their breeding plumage. I had never seen one before, but that afternoon I saw two pairs on Ben Macdui. Great place for Dotterel too on the grassy bits.