Ben Aigan – a first activation

I was booked to activate the Moray Firth ARS station at the Keith and Dufftown Railway for Railways on the Air so needed a quick hill that minimised my driving; ES-069 Ben Aigan fitted the bill nicely and had the added attraction of not being activated before. The weather forecast was not promising with a rain front approaching from the North West but the day started out sunny and bright so off to Mulben.

Parking is easy at the Forestry Commission car park at NJ333493 where the Moray Monster Trails (off road biking) start. The ascent of this hill could be done all the way on a bike. The start of the walk is the service road for the TV mast at NJ321497, gravel but really well made. I would call this ascent easy but the walk, with the forest to one side and improving views on the other, is quite pleasant. The mast is surrounded by numerous buildings and two “electric moons” (satellite dishes) and, at present, access is restricted as there is work taking place on the mast. No problem, just continue on the good “road” heading south towards the summit of Ben Aigan. Ignore all the cycle trails off; you need to follow the one labelled Ben Aigan. One section is labelled as steep (not my idea of steep, but then I think the bicycle is the creation of Satan). Shortly you reach a point where the cycle track departs (labelled “Jumps”) and the hill track is slightly less well paved. When it splits take the right fork and after a couple of hundred metres there is another clear, stony track which leads left to the summit. Unusually the summit trig point is rectangular – I have seen the usual truncated pyramid and the quite common cylindrical but I am not sure I have ever seen one that is just a rectilinear concrete block).

The summit was very windy, so after feeding biscuits to my new black companion – I have another Labrador – the mast was set-up, looking like a one-string fiddle, and I was qrv a few minutes early. Paul G0HNW was the first of a very long list of contacts on 5MHz, conditions were much better than they have been for months and signal reports were in the main excellent. I noted that Graham G4JZF managed to make the contact without having me qsy to another frequency (very unusual) but even more so was Mike GW0DSP who gave me the best report on 5MHz he has ever given me, normally his local qrm is awful. I guess the fact this was a unique summit was a help but it appears that there were many more chasers around than I have experienced for quite some time. Where there were problems ensuring my reports had been correctly received it was obvious that one or two of the better located stations were keeping an ear open for the activation and advised if the report was not correct (without any help of course) – thanks guys. Once 5MHz was exhausted, Frank G3RMD kindly helped spot my move to two different frequencies on 40m and the band came up trumps. A long list of stations, Eu and UK, were worked to make this the most prolific activation I have had in a long while. Maybe there is something to be said for 1 pointers after all!

With all this excitement I had failed to keep an eye on the weather. The TV mast on the nearby top had disappeared where previously there had been clear views all around. The antenna was quickly disassembled but not quickly enough and before I could get the waterproof trousers on the rain got me! Never mind, the descent is easy and unchallenging so a brisk walk kept me warm enough on the way down.

Operating GM3TKV from Dufftown was not too pleasant in wet trousers but I did manage a role reversal working G8ADD from WB-019 with me as the chaser.

All in all a fun half day, if rather wet towards the end, with an incredible list of regular and new chasers in the log. My thanks for the spots and for the low-key help when needed


Barry GM4TOE

Tut tut Barry. Fancy activating a ‘virgin’ summit right next to where you know full well I will be on holiday next year. Please leave at least one unactivated summit in the area; Jimmy has never had a “first activation” - and he wants one.

Great report, as usual. Look forward to the next one.


In reply to M1EYP:

In Pin ?



In reply to GM4TOE:

Hi Barry

Thanks for report. Know the hill well have walked it with the dog many times when I used lived near Elgin but that was before SOTA. Had planned to do it this autumn on one of my trips up to see my daughter.

Can I pick your brains on some local knowledge. A few years ago before the funicular railway was built up cairngorm you cud use the old chairlift to gain access to the summit and the rest of the plateau, handy if you just wanted a pleasant days walk across the top. I have heard that since the funicular has been built you can no longer gain access to the summit. Is this correct and if so is there any way of getting a permit to move out onto to hills from the cafe?

Many thanks

73 Glyn GM4CFS

In reply to GM4CFS:

I have heard that since the funicular has been built you can no
longer gain access to the summit. Is this correct and if so is there
any way of getting a permit to move out onto to hills from the cafe?

Hi Glyn,

This may be of general interest so I am posting a reply here rather than a direct response.

The conditions imposed for building the funicular meant that nobody could exit onto the summit plateau nor could anybody use the funicular to come down. It was OK to use the cafe but you had to leave your dog and pack outside!

New conditions mean anybody can now use the funicular for descent but still cannot use it for access to the plateau.

Quote from the Cairngorm Mountain website: “The Cairngorm mountain conservation system is in operation from the Ptarmigan building, no access out on to the mountain. You may walk up and enter the walker’s entrance at the rear of the building and buy a ticket in the Shop at the Top to come back down on the funicular railway, if required.”

The chairlifts still operate in winter so you are able to use them for winter access - though the White Lady T-Bar will not be repaired and functional this winter. The funicular can also be used for ski uplift, and therefore egress onto the plateau, in winter. Having said that, parking at the Coire Cas carpark gives you a head start and if you want to access the real summit (Ben Macdui) then either walk to the halfway station and take the path up Fiacail Coire Cas or walk towards Lurchers Crag and ascend that ridge (or any of the more scary routes if that is your choice!); the paths in and around this part of the hill have been greatly improved over the last couple of years.

I know there are ongoing discussions about access from the Ptarmigan Restaurant onto the summit of Cairngorm - paved paths with handrails are already in place - but there is a lot of resistance to any change. Needless to say, the construction of the funicular was very controversial up here and with about £2M of their debt written off recently it can be a touchy subject in the area.

Just to put some perspective on this - when the White Lady ski run was put in in the 1960’s there was a lot of resistance from bearded climbers who loved this route as a simple snow climb. I was always amused how the nylon clad skiers fell into the snow holes we dug on these slopes (have I just made a confession?) and we could always pass them while glissading down braking all the way with an ice axe!


Barry GM4TOE