After a weekend of high winds over the massif, and a general lack of favourable walking conditions, on Monday the forecast had finally turned favourable. So it was that I set off on an early bike ride from Braemar, past Linn of Dee, and out to Derry Lodge, ready to tackle one of the bigger rounds from this trip. Compared to some of the other ride-ins in these parts, this one felt like a breeze, though I took a slight detour from the road, and took the landrover track which I’d climbed Creag Bhalg from a couple of days earlier. On the way out I passed a fair number of walkers and cyclists (including one braving the landrover track on a road bike): clearly the hills and walks from Derry Lodge were in demand.

▲ The Luibeg water at the bridge

From here my plan was to climb up Càrn a’ Mhaim, the mountain which stands watch at the southern entrance of the Lairig Ghru, and from it continue to climb up and onto the Cairngorm massif itself, reaching the summit of Ben Macdui, and then descending along Derry Cairngorm. This meant a bit of a walk-in even past Derry Lodge, where I left the bike. The walk through Glen Luibeg takes you through one of the many areas of Mar Lodge Estate where the forest is being actively restored, and the path passes through many areas of young trees as it follows the river. Eventually you reach a point where you need to cross the river, with the options being either picking your way across stones, or heading a little up-river and crossing at a bridge. I chose the bridge, and was afforded good views up and down the gorge which the river has cut for itself.

Shortly after this the main climb up to the first summit started, up what seems to be a fairly new, but well-engineered path which made climbing quite a steep slope across bouldery terrain a (relative) breeze, and it wasn’t long before I reached the summit of Càrn a’ Mhaim, and was afforded the view across the entrance of the Lairig Ghru, across to the Devil’s Point and Beinn Bhrotain. I bumped into and chatted to the road biker on the summit, before heading off towards the bealach linking to Ben Macdui, where I stopped to have lunch.

▲ The panorama from near the summit of Càrn a' Mhaim looking out towards Beinn Bhrotain (left) and the Devil's Point (right).

The climb up to Macdui was going to be long, and while it started on a reasonable path this soon petered-out and left me climbing over what felt like endless boulder-field. I’d made the decision to walk over to Sròn Riach, one of the Munro Tops of Macdui, on the way; on the map this looked fairly trivial, but the reality was a little different, adding another kilometre or so to the walk over the boulders, and then a reasonable amount of indecision about what actually consitituted the top once I got there. Continuing on, there was still plenty of climb from this top, at 1113m onwards to the summit of Macdui itself, and almost all of it over boulders with very little by way of a path. I did, however, get a good view down into the eastern corrie down to one of the many Lochanan Uaine in the Cairngorms, and the climb went by quite fast. Soon the sappers shelter close to the summit came into view.

The summit of Macdui gve me my first view across the plateau of the central Cairngorms, spreading for miles out to Ben Avon and Cairn Gorm itself, and it felt odd to be so high up and yet feel as if most of the land around you was relatively flat. After visiting the trig point I stopped for sandwiches, fed a very tame little bird with crumbs, and watched some mountain bikers trying to climb onto the trig.

▲ The summit trig on Ben Macdui

The walk from here felt, and was, long. I continued deeper into the plateau in order to cross over to Derry Cairngorm, crossing over another top, Creagan a’ Choire Etchachan. There was a reasonable path over the stony terrain for most of the way, but close to the summit of Derry Cairngorm itself I was once again picking my way across boulderfield. At the summit I again bumped into the road biker, chatted to her again briefly, and then pushed onwards.

Continuing my approach of climbing every little summit along the way, I climbed Little Cairngorm on the way out, as much for the name as anything else, before continuing the descent back down towards Derry Lodge, being happy to see the end-point after a long walk on a relatively long day.

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