Fiacall Ridge and Ben Macdui

Monday 20th June 2022

This was to be our final outing for this trip in the Scottish Highlands, ahead of a long journey home the next day. This Monday promised to offer the best weather of our long weekend and so we were bound for the higher ground. From Aviemore below, we drove up to the Cairn Gorm Base Station.

Our group would divide in two. One was set for a slightly shorter route that would head straight over Cairn Gorm and its summit. While the rest of us were set for a more testing morning of scrambling, avoiding Cairn Gorm but then to reconvene with the other group on the top of Ben Macdui.

We would follow distinct paths towards the start of the Fiacaill Ridge. I don’t know how many scrambling routes their are in the Cairngorms but this must be one of the favourites.

No helmets, ropes or carabiners required.

I won’t pretend that it was easy. You have to walk for a while before the true scramble begins. Large rocks to negotiate demands large steps to get over them. As the gradient begins to increase, so too does the frequency of these small boulders.

As I’ve said, this was the best day of weather that we’d seen on our trip. Still windy, if not gale-force anymore. But still enough of a breeze to keep the midges away.

I do enjoy scrambling. Not something I do too often (although I had been on two walks with scrambles, in Snowdonia back in March). I like the challenge of where, when and how you’re going to step. That mental challenge and the required thought process that helps to keep you alert. With confidence, I can hop and even jog along some sections. Even if I feel shattered after several days of hiking and poor sleep.

Due care and attention is always advisable. This ridge is not as intimidating as Crib Goch in North Wales. But as on any rocky landscape, in poor conditions, there could be much danger. There were points along the way where we could spot crampon scratches in the rock – cold-loving climbers will take to these snow-covered routes in the depths of winter.

As we made it, in victory, to the top of this ridge, we could see another group of walkers lingering on Cairn Gorm, to the east.

A few of us waved… Some of them waved back. It turns out that this was the other half of our group! Making their own way towards Ben Macdui – both groups due to meet on the summit of the UK’s second highest mountain, it seems.

Sticking to our own route, we ticked off another cairn along our way (possibly at Cairn Lochan).

We continued south towards these scattered ponds of snow. But we wouldn’t be stepping in to them just yet. Lunch time was of more of a priority.

We settled in to a location surrounded by rocks and above Loch Avon. I found a sun lounger-type of structure and hunkered down out of the wind.

It wasn’t deep enough for anyone to need to call Mountain Rescue. I almost slipped over after leaping in with confidence! So sunny and yet the snow was still cold.

A trail of cairns would now lead us on the climb towards the summit of Ben Macdui. We’d also be returning this way after spending time on top.

…I took a break away from the group at this moment to go and answer the pressing call of nature, out of sight. I’d been suffering with IBS throughout the week – perhaps caused by a mix of stress, anxiety and diet during the trip. I’ll spare you the details but the call was more of an emergency than I’d expected… Only one question remain; which item of spare clothing from my backpack would I choose to sacrifice! I shit you not, I now carry a trowel with me on every walk.

Now standing at 1,309m above sea level on Ben Macdui, we were the second highest people in the UK, behind the many people who were probably lingering on top of Ben Nevis.

Another break stop and time to regroup with the others. I think I was out of food by this point but I think I’d have been suffering, had I not made that emergency stop.

We’d now walk on as one; completely the final miles co-operatively. Much down and a few surprise ups. It was quite a long journey back to the cars. Maybe a good hour’s walking.

One last look up at the Fiacaill Ridge. A good perspective from which to admire all that we’d overcome that morning.

There weren’t many cars left as we returned to our own and the gift shop had long since closed. Our intention now was to get back to the hostel, get changed and walk around the corner to our final meal together. Come the next morning, we’d be travelling back to England.

Not a bad first taste of Scotland at all. That wind and those gusts had affected our original plans. But we didn’t experience the storms and downpours that can strike the Highlands and we managed to mostly evaded the dreaded Scottish midge!

A link to the route we followed

Thanks for reading.


Author: Olly Parry-Jones

I live in Weston-super-Mare, close to the Mendip Hills in Somerset and I enjoy time spent outdoors, whether that's walking, camping or backpacking. My day job involved making furniture from recycled wood (I'm a furniture maker and carpenter by trade). I have two blogs: Olly Writes (woodworking, DIY, baking) Walks With Olly (walking, camping and kit) You can also find me on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. My second YouTube channel is titled 'Walks with Olly'.

One thought on “Fiacall Ridge and Ben Macdui”

  1. Always handy to have a pack of wet wipes when taken short in conditions like that, but it made amusing reading though….
    Nice landscape shots.
    Well done Olly 👍


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