Whatever your views of Munro bagging, it’s a fact that anyone who climbs all 282 will have come to know Scotland in a way that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.
This was brought home to me earlier this month when I made my way into the Cairngorms for the first time from the Linn of Dee.
A friend and I were on a mission to climb Carn a’ Mhaim. Despite it being May, there was a surprising depth of snow on the higher ground and there were some icy patches to contend with, which just goes to show that, if there is any chance at all of snow, you don’t know what you are going to find up there and it’s only prudent to wear the winter boots and pack the crampons.
I’m usually a fairer weather walker, but there is a particular beauty to the hills in winter.
Head into the more dramatic areas, though, and you’re on to something really special.
It’s a long walk in to anywhere from Linn of Dee and most folk we saw were cycling in to Derry Lodge and leaving their bikes there, before heading up the hills. In my view, though, the walk in is part of it – although that’s an extra hour that can feel pretty brutal at the other end of the day.
To get started for Carn a’ Mhaim, we parked in the National Trust car park at the Linn of Dee and paid the £3 charge.
We took the footpath north from the car park, through the forest, and went through a gate to join a landrover track heading up Glen Lui. We turned left on this track, crossed the Lui Water and came out of the forest and headed up the glen.
After a couple of kilometres we came into woods again and found ourselves at Derry Lodge – a big waypoint for so many routes around these parts. This is the main drop-off point for bikes but it’s not a big problem as a walk. It took us about an hour from the car park to Derry Lodge.
Continuing past the lodge, take the right fork after the rescue hut and then the footbridge over Derry Burn. On the far side, turn left, into Glen Luibeg. This takes you into a wide clearing which is pretty boggy in places without a clear path. Roughly following the burn on your left, cross the wet ground until you pick up a path again.
(From here, this path can be followed pretty much to the summit of Carn a’ Mhaim, which is linked to Ben Macdui and is notable for having an unusually narrow ridge for a Cairngorm.)
At a fork in the path, go left, and carry on until you can either ford the burn by boulder hopping – look out for the steps leading up the river bank on the other side – or cross via the bridge about 400m upstream, looping back down to rejoin the path.
Carry on from here for a few hundred metres before branching off to the right for the main ascent up the south-east ridge of Carn a’ Mhaim, following a good path.
The going is steadily steep and it’s a relief when the ground levels off, with the top ridge in sight. The route bears slightly left and then up to Carn a’ Mhaim. There are two tops. Pass the first summit, heading northwest over a shallow col to the true summit.
We were on the summit for less than five minutes. But the experience of being there, in that place and time, was something else. The clouds were heading fast towards us and I wish I could adequately describe how dramatic it was, particularly looking over to Devil’s Point, so counterpointed with the deep defiles of the valleys and passes around it.
I realised, then, why people rave about the Cairngorms.
Katie Laing is an award-winning journalist and PR consultant based on Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides. You can read her blog at www.hebrideswriter.com