Cairngorms run: Six of the tallest mountains in Scotland
My account of a run-walk with friends to reach six of the tallest mountains in Scotland, located in the Cairngorms.
Two summits into a 25-mile six mountains challenge in the Cairngorms and I began to relax. It had taken less than two hours to run – and fast walk – from Cairngorm Mountain car park to the top of Cairn Gorm at 4081ft (1244m) and then Ben Macdui at 4295ft (1309m).
Despite qualifying as two of the tallest mountains in the UK – in fact, Ben Macdui is second in height only the the UK’s tallest Ben Nevis – the start point had been at elevation of more than 2100ft and the trails were easy to follow.
Along with my husband Gordon and two friends, Rob and Stewart, our group had made easy and sure-footed progress.
Thanks to fine weather, navigation was straightforward and we each carried only essential kit, food and water in lightweight rucksacks.
The views had also been sublime. From Cairngorm summit, we enjoyed vistas over Rothiemurchus Forest and the dramatic Northern Corries.
En route to Macdui, we had stopped to gaze down in wonder at the glacially eroded cirque of Coire an t-Sneachda and from Macdui’s peak we were treated to sweeping views of the Cairngorms National Park.
But then I saw it. As we carefully descended the steep and rocky south-west flanks of Macdui towards the famous hill pass of the Lairig Ghru, I looked ahead and upwards.
Towering above on the other side of the grassy glen, a long ridge of more high summits spanned the horizon, including The Devil’s Point (3294ft/1004m), Cairn Toul (4235ft/1291m), Sgor an Lochain Uaine (4127ft/1258m) and Braeriach (4252ft/1296m).
For many people, Cairngorm and Macdui together, or this ridge of four big summits, would provide a challenging enough day of walking.
In fact, my original plan had been to tick off only the four ridge Munros until Rob – then Gordon and Stewart – persuaded me that adding on “just another two summits” made sense.
Looking at an OS map, there was a fairly obvious route to form a circuit that would link all six mountains although the distance and total ascent seemed challenging.
“We dare you,” they all told me, individually, and, after considered thought about my fitness, I did are.
Yet here we were, only a third of the way into our run of all six mountains. We still faced another 17 miles and a further 6000ft of ascent to return to the start.
At Corrour Bothy, situated around halfway along the Lairig Ghru, we took a short rest for food.
Pitched all around, one and two-person tents revealed the popularity of this remote spot.
While some campers had broken their journey along the 19-mile Lairig Ghru, which links Speyside to Deeside, others had made the long walk to this fabulously wild area the day before with the plan to then hike to some of the local summits.
After refilling our water bottles from the nearby River Dee, at this point a much smaller version of the large river that flows to Aberdeen, the four of us set off again.
Although the smallest of our day’s summits, The Devil’s Point required a constant push up a path into a corrie. We took our time, chatting, one behind the other.
Shielded from the wind, we soon became warm and stopped to rearrange layers of clothing. While we were carrying only small packs, we each had several layers including a waterproof jacket and a lightweight insulated jacket.
A zig-zagging path ascended the mountain’s headwall to a wide bealach (col) and another 300ft on an easier gradient took us to a cairn on The Devil’s Point.
The views south along Glen Dee, with the river snaking into the distance and the many peaks of the southern Cairngorms, were beautiful.
Retracing our steps to the bealach, this time at a run, we could see the extensive edge of the ridge with its many pointy peaks.
A longer climb on wide slopes heading northwest took us to the summit of Stob Coire an t-Saighdeir at the edge of a precipitous corrie.
We ran further along the ridge before a short descent, then slowed to a fast walk up a field of boulders to Cairn Toul summit.
The fourth highest mountain in Britain offered wonderful views towards the summit of Braeriach and a pretty lochan.
Sgor an Lotion Uaine – better known as Angel’s Peak – was the next goal. It only gained its classification as a Munro in 1997.
There are 282 Munros in Scotland all rising over 3000ft – and Angel’s Peak is the fifth highest.
We picked our way once again over the boulder-strewn plateau, by now on tiring legs, to descend to another bealach and then upwards again to the summit.
Following the rim of the plateau, we ascended to another high point, Carn na Criche, which sits above the huge rocky buttresses of Garbh Choire Mor.
By now, I couldn’t decide if I was happy to see the terrain flattening ahead. While I welcomed an easier gradient, which meant we could again pick up the pace, I could see the final peak of Braeriach was a long way in the distance.
It seemed like we might never reach it, although being amid such a wild and remote arena there was little choice but to continue.
We stopped at the Dee again, this time near the Wells of Dee, which is the highest source of a UK river. The cold water was welcomed – as was an emergency bag of chocolate raisins.
Rejuvenated, we pushed on, running and walking at intervals to eventually reach Britain’s third tallest mountain, Braeriach. Another great corrie, Coire Bhrochain, plunged from the top and looking back along the glen we could see how far we had come.
As is so often the case, once we reached the final summit, I imagined a quick descent to finish, but there was still around seven miles to go – and more ascending.
After dropping down the north-easterly slope of Braeriach, the gradient gradually eased until we joined the Lairig Ghru path.
Ahead, I spotted two tracks, one along the glen and another rising up. It was a cruel twist, especially with fatigued legs, to discover we needed to walk uphill again – and to a height of almost 2300ft.
Then came the Chalamain Gap, a magnificent feat of nature comprising a large gorge higgledy-piggedly with boulders. After picking my way over the rocks, sometimes on both hands and feet, I could finally see a well-laid track winding its way back towards the ski road.
Amazingly, I found the energy to set off at a fast jog, revelling in a lush landscape of purple heather and grass moorlands and a path edged with pretty wildflowers.
The further I descended, the higher my spirits soared until I finally spotted the road back to the mountain car park. Big challenges usually reap great rewards and the run to the five “4000fters” – plus The Devil’s Point – more than ticked both boxes.
- This article appeared in The Scots Magazine.
See the route on OS Maps.
Alternatives route ideas
Bike and hike Braeriach ridge: Mountain bike ride from a number of start points, such as Whitewell, Glenmore Lodge or Linn of Dee, to Corrour Bothy before a walk along the Braeriach ridge of four summits, followed by a return on foot via the Lairig Ghru. Ride back to the start.
Walk and camp/bothy: Start at the Sugarbowl car park on the Cairngorm ski road (B970) and walk the Lairig Ghru to Corrour Bothy/wild camp for an overnight. The next day, walk the Braeriach ridge. Enjoy another overnight and then walk Ben Macdui and Cairngorm. Walk out.
Two-day circuit: Start at Cairgorm ski centre, walk Cairn Gorm and Macdui summits and camp high overnight. Continue to the Braeriach ridge and back to the start.
fact: There are nine mountains in the UK with a summit of more than 4000ft. This route takes in five of the six tallest.
Fascinating fact: Macdui is said to be haunted by a shadowy apparition known as the Grey Man.
Tip: If you have two vehicles, leave one at the Base Station car park at Cairngorm Mountain resort and another at the Sugarbowl car-park for your return.