Second highest mountain in Scotland, and highest mountain in the Cairngorm range. The Cairngorms are part of the most extensive upland area in Scotland, and Scotland's top attraction for walkers and expeditioners. Ben Mac Dui overlooks the famous Glen of Lairig Ghru which runs for miles right through the Cairngorm range. It is a spectacular walking route in summer being surrounded on all sides by some of Scotland's highest peaks. In winter there is a mountain ski route which includes the descent from Ben Mac Dui into the Lairig Ghru.
Easiest route to Ben Mac Dui's summit is to walk across Cairn Gorm plateau from the summit of Cairn Gorm mountain. This high plateau is also a popular walking route with a fairly distinct path between the two peaks. Although this route to Ben Mac Dui is fairly straight forward, good compass and map work is a must. Many walkers get lost on this featureless plateau, especially as thick cloud is common. It is very challenging in winter whiteout conditions! Cairn Gorm mountain is a more popular destination as it is much closer to the Cairn Gorm ski centre, but Ben Mac Dui is much more rewarding. In summer less people will walk the plateau, preferring a simple up-and-down to Cairn Gorm. In winter, Ben Mac Dui offers total isolation.
Access is from Aviemore, which is Scotland's winter activities HQ. Don't be surprised to see teams of husky dogs in the main street, Aviemore is host to various competitions and annual meetings. The bars in Aviemore are reminiscent of Alpine ski resort watering holes, which sit shoulder to shoulder with more traditional highland pubs. There are bus and rail services to Aviemore from Glasgow and Edinburgh through uniquely beautiful country. Don't miss the Dalwhinnie distillery on the way, it has to be the most loveable industrial enterprise on earth.
There is a regular bus service to the Cairn Gorm ski centre from Aviemore. Get out of there and start walking as soon as possible, not forgetting to leave your route and return time/date at the mountain rescue centre. The large corrie in front of you is Coire an tSneachda, the snow corrie. Follow the path which leads up around the corrie on the western ridge. At the top of the ridge is a very large stone cairn. This marks the beginning of a line of cairns which lead to the Cairngorm plateau. Follow them! They are especially needed here as the path follows along the high walls of the Lairig Ghru and it's a long way down. When you hit the plateau, you can either try to find the path which runs north-south, or simply b-line it to Ben Mac Dui. The summit of Ben Macdui is really a double peak, so make sure you are on the right one. There are ruins and a triginometry point on the highest peak. In winter this is where you put on your skis and decend into the Lairig Ghru. From there there are many possibilities including climbing Carn Toul, or simply following the Lairig Ghru back towards Aviemore.
Cairn Gorm from above Coire nan Lochain. See whether you can spot the Ptarmigan Restaurant...
Welcome to Scotland. No red tape here. Enjoy...
However, there are a few things to take into consideration;
There is a funicular railway to the Ptarmigan restaurant on the side of Cairn Gorm, roughly at an altitude of 1070 metres. This only makes sense in the winter for quick access to the Cairn Gorm plateau though, because in the summer its main purpose is to take tourists up to the restaurant to take in the view and leave a wad of cash. One could take the funicular down, however.
The reason for this is the vulnerable vegetation on the plateau, combined with the enormous amount of people being able to access it after they've built the funicular railway, that it was decided to only allow passengers up on the plateau during winter. If one hikes up, however, one can access the restaurant through the backdoor, sign the book, and enjoy a pint before heading off to Ben MacDui.
Scottish Outdoor Access Code
Know the Code…
Access rights come with responsibilities which are fully explained in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, though the main thing is to use common sense. You need to take responsibility for your own actions, respect the interests of others and care for the environment – what does all this mean?
When you’re in the outdoors, you need to:
* Take responsibility for your own actions
- The outdoors is a great place to enjoy but it’s also a working environment and has many natural hazards. Make sure you are aware of these and act safely, follow any reasonable advice and respect the needs of other people enjoying or working in the outdoors.
* Respect people’s privacy and peace of mind
- Privacy is important for everyone. Avoid causing alarm to people, especially at night, by keeping a reasonable distance from houses and private gardens, or by using paths or tracks.
* Help farmers, landowners and others to work safely and effectively
- Keep a safe distance from any work and watch for signs that tell you dangerous activities are being carried out, such as tree felling or crop spraying. You can also help by:
- leaving gates as you find them;
- not blocking or obstructing an entrance or track;
- looking for alternative routes before entering a field containing animals;
- not feeding animals;
- using local advice so that you can take account of shooting and stalking;
- not damaging fences or walls; and by
- avoiding damage to crops by using paths and tracks, by using the margins of the field, or by going over ground that hasn’t been planted.
* Care for the environment
– Our environment contributes greatly to everyone’s quality of life and health. It’s important that you:
- follow any reasonable advice and information;
- take your litter home;
- treat places with care, leaving them as you find them;
- don’t recklessly disturb or intentionally damage wildlife or historic places.
* Keep your dog under proper control
– If you have a dog with you, it’s very important that it doesn't worry livestock or alarm others. Don’t let it into fields with calves or lambs, and keep it on a short lead or under close control when you’re in a field with other animals. If cattle react aggressively to your dog, let go of it immediately and take the safest route out of the field. Take care to ensure that you or your dog don’t disturb breeding birds. Pick up your dog’s faeces if it defecates in any place where it is likely to cause concern to other people.
* Take extra care if you are organising a group
, an event or running a business – Consult the full Code for information about your responsibilities.
Cairngorms Nat'l Park access FAQ
When To Climb
Summer most popular, but also do-able in winter. Conditions on the plateau are very unpredictable in winter. Ranges from packed snow and ice good for crampons to deep powder which can even be difficult going with snow shoes. Winter expedition skiers take note: don't miss the descent into Lairig Ghru from the summit of Ben Mac Dui! This forms part of a spectacular ski route which ends by sking back the Lairig Ghru to Aviemore.
Camping site in Genmore Forest Park between Aviemore and Cairn Gorm ski centre.
Ben Mac Dui is remote. The trek back across the Cairgorm plateau is not a short stroll, and the way down to the Lairig Ghru valley is steep. It is something to bear in mind if planning a winter ascent. At least bring a snow shovel and bivvy gear.
I have given the name as Ben Macdui. This is as it apears on the Ordinance Survey map (in English). It is also appropriate as it is a close rendering of the Gaelic pronunciation in English spelling, provided it is pronounced as three words BEN-MAC-DUI. The Gaelic spelling is Beinn Mac Duibh and is pronounced similarly but the ending of duibh is something between -iv and -iff. Also the Gaelic d is not the same as the Engish d, it is pronounced somewhere between English d and g. The Gaelic d is sometimes represented in English as -dh- leading to the name sometimes being spelt Ben Mac Dhui or Ben Macdhui. This is not fashionable anymore as it can be confused with the Gaelic -dh- which is pronounced like the English y.
It is most likely the name means Hill of Mac Duibh, Mac Duibh being a surname in this case. It has been suggested that this may have been the Earl of Fife, who was a Mac Duibh and "held much land in that neighbourhood in early times". However, there is a case for saying the name means Hill of the Sons of Dubh, Dubh in this case being a personal name and not the same person as Mac Duibh, Dubh being somebody earlier. Dubh is the Gaelic for black, Mac Duibh is "Black's Son".
According to Gaelic grammer, if the meaning is Hill of Mac Duibh then the name should really be Beinn Mhic Duibh. A strict translation of Beinn Mac Duibh is Hill of the Sons of Dubh. It's all down to the handling of names in the genitive case.
Am Fear Liath Mor
Legend has it that a Yeti type character, Scotland's very own Bigfoot or Abominable Snowman roams this mountain. He is called Am Fear Liath Mor, the big grey man. I didn't see him, but would not attempt to speak anything but Gaelic to him if I did, for fear he would rip me apart limb from limb! I suggest you try "Ciamar a tha thu!" (keeyamar a haw hoo) if he surprises you.