6 - 7
FATMAP difficulty grade
Distant views of Scotland's second highest point don't generally grab the attention, its domed peak and curving flanks not promising a lot by way of scenery.
But make the effort (a long walk-in from any angle) and you'll discover the hidden depths of this massive sprawling mountain.
Crag-walled corries and beautiful high lochans; rolling plateaux crusty with late-lying snow; lower glens green with native Scots pine woods; a wild, spacious, big-country feel - this classic circuit from Deeside has the lot.
There are bothies if you want to take two days over it, but anyone spending the night on the hill should beware the Big Grey Man. From the car park take a woodland path roughly north to meet the main track in Glen Lui.
This track crosses a bridge and continues up-glen for a few kilometres to reach the old house and mountain rescue post at Derry Lodge.
Cyclists can stash their bikes somewhere here.
Turn north(ish) up Glen Derry, passing through beautiful old native pines (more new ones might be nice here); there's a path on either bank of the Derry Burn, and either is lovely.
They meet up after nearly 3km, continuing as one along the east side of the glen.
The trees begin to thin out and beyond an area of fenced forest the surroundings get steadily more mountainous as the path climbs towards the great hill pass of the Lairig an Laoigh.
At a path junction go left, crossing a footbridge to enter Coire Etchachan below craggy bluffs.
Pass the Hutchison Memorial Hut (small, but recently upgraded) and follow the south bank of the foaming burn, climbing steadily to the right of the steep buttresses of Creagan a' Choire Etchachan to reach a path junction by the shore of Loch Etchachan.
This is the highest loch of its size in Britain - higher than quite a few Munro summits - yet such is the scale of Ben Macdui that its summit is still a long way off.
Take the well engineered left branch of the path to climb, less steeply now, around the flank of the Creagan a' Choire Etchachan top.
The terrain is boulder fields and snow patches, barren and almost Arctic-like.
Higher up the path follows a burn just downhill from the rim of the Coire Sputan Dearg cliffs before meeting the cliff edge briefly (watch out for cornices).
From these cliffs the path then swings right, climbing gently over the open plateau, passing the ruins of an old hut to reach the summit cairn and trig point.
Particularly in wild winter weather Scotland's second highest point feels a long way from anywhere.
A panorama plaque puts names to the many summits on view (hopefully), and though the breadth of Ben Macdui's plateau cuts out a lot of the foreground there's a real sense of height and scale.
Retrace your steps a short way, then branch a little right, heading over the plateau to the high point of the cliff edge above Lochan Uaine (officially Stob Coire Sputan Dearg, but it's really just the high point of the plateau rather than a defined summit).
Turn right here to descend beside the corrie rim onto the Sron Riach spur.
This gives an excellent easy descent route into Glen Luibeg.
Having crossed the burn, follow the clear path down-glen on its east bank to return to Linn of Dee via Derry Lodge.
© Dan Bailey - UKHillwalking.com, Oct 2011