Ben MacDui WildCamp

Wildcamping – a word that if you go by the general media means a lot of different things.. to folks who get into the mountains a lot, respect its ethics and understand the responsibilities that go along with the experiences it means (and I paraphrase) getting well away from then road, ideally high in the mountain (or deep in the interior) , being self sustained and most importantly LEAVING NO TRACE.. did I shout? ! Yes – an I’m going to do it again just for you folks at the back… LEAVE NO TRACE.

Striking camp late (after most hill walkers have gone and breaking early before they return is also one of the accepted practices. In Scotland we have the luxury of the right to roam so can legally wild camp (ensuring we flow the above ethics), in other regions of the UK it varies. That right is precious and every single one of us who head into the mountains has a responsibility to maintain these ethics or we risk losing that which is most dear.

Right.. lecture over πŸ™‚

I’ve only done 1 or two previous wild camps, one of those was a bivvi half way up Carn Mor Dearg (next to Ben Nevis) with a great climbing mate Davy Wright. We had planned a winter ascent of a route on the North Face of the Ben but due to ridiculously unseasonably warm weather for January we clearly weren’t getting on Ice and snow so opted for a CMD arete walk instead.

Lying in the grass, in my down sleeping bag and bivvi bag, looking at the night sky and down into the valley below with Fort William a twinkling bed of embers, shrouded in rolling low lying mists and fog, was just amazing – even if it took me a while to get used to feeling exposed to the elements.

As Mrs McLovinMountains was joining me for this trip (us getting out together is always my preference as the experience shared is better!) we opted instead to drag the North Face Tadpole 2 out of dry storage , air it out and take that.

One thing a wild camp gives you… and at my age this is not to be sniffed at.. is the option of a long lie in your own bed on the day of the walk in, time to organise kit and then take a nice drive up, even stopping off for a coffee with the aim to arrive (in this case) at the Caringorm Ski centre around 3 or 4 for a leisurely walk in (parking donation made)- rather than up at 5.30am to beat the crowds!

That we did, even stopping off at “the mothership” (or Tiso Perth as most of you may know it) for some late supplies including some ultralight MSR tent pegs, inflatable Exped pillows and some snacks. Arriving at the ski centre is usually a rush job after a hairneck drive (within speed limit) fro Glasgow, dead of winter and out in the bracing cold to get winter boots on, heft a pack and set off. Not so today! All very chilled off we set for an easy stroll.

Exact location will not be divulged but we headed into the North corries by the usual paths , aiming to get in close to Den MacDui , camp overnight and summit at sunrise. We knew from forecasts there was likely to be a stunning sunset, clear sunrise and hopefully some awesome cloud inversions.

Both with pretty full pack – especially when you take extra water for porridge/coffee, stove and bags, mats, snacks etc – we headed in while most walkers were heading down and past us. The sun was warm and we took our time – just drinking in the views – very excitied to get a camp but with some trepidation on Mrs Mc’s part – in part about camping in general but mostly because id been winding her up with stories of the mythical Big Grey Man of Ben McDui – that reported spectre or man beast known to frequent the plateau above Loch Aven, or around the shelter stone itself.

Chow time at camp
What a spot! And its even flat!

After pitching and getting gear sorted we got down to food stuck our head torches around our necks (trust me do this when light so your not struggling to find it post sunset!) we had the chance to just sit back, hang out on the amazing flat rocks in the still warm evening sun and await the sunset…. that and fight the midges!

Slowly the light reddens, peak take a pink hue and the grasses shine like amber – this is why we do it – truly stunning and nothing on earth compares.

Cairn Gorm summit in the background

The sun dropped down behind the mountain tops and our camp was washed in fire , sunglases on to seee it melt away fully , a truly awesome sight and one we wont forget soon.

Yep, I’ve had worse camps !
Even getting up for a pee gives you a view!

Wild camping isn’t all beauty and wonder though… Its you duty to keep you world tidy, allow no litter to escape or be left, don’t set a fire if you can avoid it (use a stove), bring a trowel for when nature calls – and then there’s the midges. For any non Scottish readers.. click here to find out more about these little vampires.. Scotland in summer is stunning .. but its prime midge season. With no wind and warm summer evenings, and with water near expect CLOUDS of them.. and they bite… As I type here almost a week later I’m still scratching, applying cream and generally bemoaning the little buggers.

But its worth it !

Sunrise, up and at em! Quick protein bar, grab your water bottle and off we set to summit Ben MacDui (Hill of McDuff) , Britain’s second highest mountain after Ben Nevis at 1309m. A mere 200 or so metres of ascent from camp we had a mind-blowing summit . Just jaw dropping beauty in all directions – not another soul around – like a little slice of heaven all to us. We sat and took time to watch the sun rise higher, taking in the simply incredible cloud inversions in all directions before caling it quits and deciding to head back down to break camp, clear everything away and head back to civilisation (not an easy decision…)

En route to the final summit rise we spotted a mum a baby deer grazing in the dawn sunlight. (Bit tricky to see but look middle of photo where the grass line ends and gives way to rock and dark green.)

Quick rocky walk up, past the many route marker cairns (handy I’m sure in winter or when the clag sets in) and we were at the trig marker. New summit for us to add to the list.

These are for sitting on right?

Camp packed – fighting the hordes of midges we set off fast to get over the rise and into some slight wind (midges hate wind) where we garbbed a seat, got the JetBoil out and made coffee and had anotyer bite to east before the final push to get back down. The path down still giving us those wonderful inversion views , Aviemore hidden out of site below a pillow of clouds.

An amzing couple fo day and a reminder as to why the Cairngorms is such an incredible place, more trips planned very soon… and a new tent already inbound (will post my thoughts once ive tried it out).

Get out and camp folks, but remember – know and practice the ethics – LEAVE NO TRACE. But … enjoy πŸ™‚

2 responses to Ben MacDui WildCamp

  1. barbaraelart says:

    The views are beautiful! It’s good that Scotland allows that freedom of camping. I’m happy you emphasize how important it is to leave the place with no litter. Thank you for sharing your story!


    • coachmacca says:

      Thanks Barbara – it’s very sad that there have been such issues recently but I hope and expect it will normalise soon as autumn / winter return – but why anyone would go to experience nature and then spoil it is beyond me


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