Early start for Ben MacDui rewarded by a stunning day.

It’s been a hard week with losing Hamish MacInnes and a few other things going on. I looked at the forecast it was good for the Cairngorms. I decided to have a very early start and head for my local mountains I needed out and it would be the Cairngorms.

It was still pitch dark when I left but I wanted to get a sunrise photo once on the ridge. The car was iced up first time this winter and I drove via the Dava Moor. I always stop at the “Jesus stone” it was looking surreal in the dark. It is at this time a tribute to the NHS.

I headed over to Lurchers crag by the beam of my torch but there was no great sunrise but as the daylight started to break through the hills started to become clearer. It was bitter cold as I have an ongoing chest problem I had my Himalayan duvet on all day. There was no rush today. Old age and a knackered body has its compensations.

The roads were dry and no traffic I was soon in the car park at the Cairngorm ski area. Not surprisingly the car park was empty. Just the noise of the snow machine as I walked by. It was 0630 and I headed along the path icy (verglas) black ice in places. As I was on my own so I took great care. There was no wind just the sound of my poles on the track “click click click” The burns seemed nosier in the darkness and again the stones were covered in ice. I could hear the ptarmigan croaking in the walk in.

Be careful of the ice on the path!

On the ridge at Lurchers I was in the snow the rocks were glazed and icy but Corrie an Lochan was still not snow covered. It was getting lighter the rocks were black with snow on the rims of the Corrie. There would be few climbers about today? It was marvellous watching the light come through a specail few hours, the start of a stunning day.

Into the light.

From here I was following the West Ridge of Lochan but came of the path to get photos of the Larig Gru this deep glen cuts through the Cairngorms it was looking incredible today. It’s so wild and from the cliff edge looking down it is wonderful.

The tussock grass was frozen and rimed with ice, shows how cold it was last night. It was crunchy as I walked across the tussocks. It’s so good to be off the path and see the true wildness of the Cairngorms. I saw a few Ptarmigan stuttering across the frozen ground. The untouched snow just there footprints the light and the skies the Pools of Dee and the big hills of Angels Peak and the glistening slabs on the Devils Point as the sun came out were as good as I ever saw them.

The pools of Dee and the Larig Gru with Devils Point. Stunning in the early morning light.

I checked in with my phone to my stepdaughter (always do this if alone) and another friend as I sat and took it all in (if you can) This was a wonderful morning was just what I needed after a hard week. These places clear the mind, the body is slow nowadays so there’s no rush and just to see these majestic mountains was heart warming. Every mountain had special memories yet this is a frightening place in a wild day. Especially on a Rescue when the weather is that bad that it was only us on the hills. Not today it was so still, cold and the clarity was overwhelming. There was ice about but no need for crampons today. I had my winter boots and they were ideal, this is not the place for lightweight bendy boots. It had been so cold here as ice has broken up on the wee lochans a sign of very cold weather. On the plateau I saw my first soul of the day on the path in the distance. Head down and moving fast they were on a mission as most are. I call it “Chasing the Strava” and missing the point to me of being out in the wilds? Maybe I am just getting old ?

Looking towards Braeraich ice on the loch.

I decided to visit the Anson Crash near the summit of Ben MacDui I love this place there is a lot of wreckage left but most vanishes when the snow arrives. The wee memorial is on the ridge is a good navigational feature. I often took RAF Team members here to show them this special place. I have written a lot on these crash sites in my blog. It’s a still a wild lonely place for the crew to die. How many families did this tragedy effect and how did they get them off the hill in the middle of the war.

The Cheeta Engine.

Again I dropped down to the river and then moved up onto the ridge and located the crash site. The Cheetah engine was there ice had formed on it looking like teeth.

Many people visit Ben MacDui as the second biggest mountain in the United Kingdom it is a busy mountain. It is amazing how many visit this summit yet fail to notice a memorial marked on the map. 78 years ago on the 21 of August 1942 there was a plane crash on Ben MacDui .The memorial is about 500 metres from the summit, on a ridge, the view is incredible. There used to be a wooden plaque but now there is a metal one next to a small cairn and some wreckage.

Wreckage on Ben MacDui

On the memorial are the crew names

Sgt J Llewellyn – (Pilot)

Flight Sergeant G Fillingham (Observer)

Pilot Officer W Gilmour (RCAF) Canadian Air Force. (Navigator)

Flight Sergeant Carruthers   (Wireless Operator/ Air Gunner)

Sgt J B Robertson (Wireless Operator/ Air Gunner)

This is to commemorate an aircraft crash here 70 years ago. It was an Avro Anson Mark 1 DJ106 the aircraft crash killed all five of the crew.  The aircraft and crew flew from RAF Kinloss in Morayshire in Scotland and was on a Navigational Exercise. The crash was located by the Royal Observation Corp on the 24 August and it took till the 27 August to remove all the casualties off the hill. This was in the dark days of war when Britain was fighting for its life. The Cairngorms was a huge training area, much of it sealed off and the public not admitted.  The mountains were the ideal place to test the skills needed by many different troops and Special Forces.

The Avro Anson was a two engine aircraft and wildly used as a training aircraft by the RAF and Commonwealth crews. Many of whom were lost in the mountains and the sea during training. This was due to the aircraft being very basic with limited navigation facilities, communication and the crew training short to support the war effort as quickly as possible. In addition the maintenance of the aircraft would have been very basic due to shortages of equipment and manpower. Crews were needed as quickly as possible for the war effort and unfortunately aircraft regularly crashed. Many crews died in the mountains after surviving a crash but dying of injuries. This was why in later in the war The RAF Mountain Rescue Service was formed.

The memorial pretty frozen !

It’s a stunning place to be and to locate the wreckage before the heavy snows come make it more surreal. I always take time in these places to take it all in and think of those young men who lost their lives here.

The frozen ground nature’s art !

After watching the clouds pour in from the South I headed to the summit there were only a few folk about. The summit has lots of cairns and Bothies. I could see the folk following the path yet it was not busy. Again it was a big stop for me my breakfast porridge had kept me going I had some honey tea and my rolls and Jam. Then it was head back via the Northern Corries. It was sunny and peaceful I could have stayed enjoying no wind on the summit.

Heading to the Goat track

It was a great walk back passing Lochan Buidhe how many out today in the sun that this is where the Cairngorm tragedy occurred in November 1971. Now walking along the path in the sun it seems so benign? I stopped again I had to, it was wonderful to be here and see the great cliffs of the Shelterstone and Loch Avon.

Passing familiar landmarks

I met a young couple they had not been long up North and had also been out at Ben MacDui. We spoke and they worked for a pal of mine at RAF Lossiemouth they were loving their day. It was great to speak to them and see their enthusiasm for the hills they were the first folk that spoke all day.

Rosie and Joss

Coire An’t Sneachda was quiet the snow starting to build and I wandered along by the Corrie Rim. How often have I been here? I love looking down the gullies watch the snow form and think of the fun we had here.

Cloud coming in !

My two friends headed out for Cairngorm as I headed down. It was icy so I took my time on the descent the clouds were hitting the top of the Coire and moving closer like a serpent sneaking up behind me. I was soon down on the ski road and back to the van.

Looking back what a day the slowest time ever on MacDui but I saw a lot of the mountains secrets . How many in their rush can say that. In my day I was one of them. Now I have the time to struggle along these wonderful hills. It was an easy drive home listening to the football and so pleased that I could still get up a big hill.

Thank you the wild places and mountains for reminding me how privileged I am living near them. As the sun came up I thought of Hamish looking down and with his dry humour laughing at my efforts. Then the mountains changing colour as the light hits them the only thing to do is to marvel at nature.

What a day

Top tip / Please tell someone of your plans it’s winter on the hills make sure you have some extra gear for your day. Have a system in place to let folk know what your plans are. Be careful there is ice about. I carried my axe and crampons you never know when you may need them.

The weather starting to change.

This was on Cairngorm MRT Facebook worth a read :,

Hi folks,
Great to hear Willie’s voice on the radio this morning discussing some of his experiences over the 40 years as a team member on “good morning Scotland”.
Willie is still with us as team member after passing on the leadership reins to Iain Cornfoot last year.
Great to hear as some of us headed out to training this morning.

‘When it’s brutal in the Cairngorms, it can kill you’ https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-55085487

About heavywhalley.MBE

Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 37 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 3 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer when body slows, loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Articles, Gear, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Munros, People, SAR, Scottish winter climbing., Views Mountaineering, Weather, Well being, Wildlife. Bookmark the permalink.

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