Lochnagar – Done Properly!

1 07 2011

Sun 12 June 2011

Quite a lot of photos for this one folks…

The first day of our Braemar trip dawned bright, sunny and calm – ideal conditions to bag the scenic Lochnagar.  Worried about the amount of space in the carpark at Spittal of Glenmuick, especially with it being a Sunday, I thought we’d best set off early and was up just before 0800 – pretty early for me.  We arrived at the carpark about 0920 but saw there was plenty of room – the ticket machine was still out of order too which was a bonus.

Richard had come with me but couldn’t come up the hill as he has got himself a bad knee and been ordered off the hills for a month!  He said he’d just have a stroll around the loch (about 9 miles anyway but on good paths).

I set off just before him along the landrover track to the ‘old stables’ – a nice-looking house surrounded by pink rhododendrons.  There were some lads playing ball but I didn’t think they belonged to the house – it looked like they’d been camping down there (obviously would have been with permission if so).  Just as I set off on the Lochnagar track (straight on into the woods), the couple ahead of me stopped and he looked to be fiddling with his watch.  Ah yes – I must remember to set my altimeter – I normally forget until about halfway up the hill.  I was surprised to note we were already at 410 ‘metres’ (unfortunately my altimeter and the map don’t agree with me that British mountains should be measured in feet which means I’ll continue to churlishy put metres in quotes!).

My plan, while walking the two Munros of Lochnagar and Carn a’Choire Bhoidheach was to collect as many ‘tops’ as possible on the way round – good job Richard wasn’t with me… Therefore, my first target of Meikle Pap, was already in view and looking attractively pointy.

The path exited the woods and set off climbing beside the burn.  I soon came across a group who were stuck crossing the burn – even though there were plenty of dry stones sticking out of the water.  They were taking the most difficult line (albeit still an easy one) and so I had a quick look to their left, saw there was a huge flat boulder stretching most of the way across and had hopped across in a flash.  I left them struggling across with the help of walking poles and each other and continued uphill.  The track was more or less exactly the same as those on our gritstone moors at home – little round scree pebbles with well-anchored larger stones in between – made me feel very at home.  The gradient was exceedingly easy and didn’t look like it ever got any steeper for the whole route – it didn’t.  Lochnagar’s main ridge looked very near to hand and not much of a climb – it wasn’t – this must be one of the easiest Munro walks in Scotland in addition to being one of the most scenic.

I soon reached the col by Meikle Pap where all the preceding walkers turned straight off up ‘the ladder’.  A few of them were watching me set off up Meikle Pap and were probably thinking I’d gone the wrong way.  However, once I’d reached the summit tors, I saw another man approaching the summit – he didn’t do the tors though.  This top has a wonderful set of tors all the way across the summit area in a long line and, once you’ve found the easy way up the back, is a great promenade and a superb place to take photos of Lochnagar’s corrie and loch. 

While I was up there I also saw the main track up the Pap – I’d followed a very sketchy one up through heather as I hadn’t gone far enough before I turned.  I took the good path back down and found I was climbing ‘the ladder’ only just behind the group of three walkers I’d been following up to the col.  I think they’d been taking photos of the corrie from its lip.

The Ladder Route

I soon passed them and they again looked surprised when I then wandered off away from the route in a southerly direction to pick up my second top of Cuidhe Crom.  Just under Cuidhe Crom I had a problem… the top of Little Pap.  It looked too much of a drop down and climb back up (and on nasty boulders) to ‘collect’ at this point – I wondered whether I could contour across to it later when I descended the Glas Allt Shiel path?  I decided to leave it for now and head back across the easy and flat grass to the edge of Lochnagar’s corrie and the path.

As I reached the corrie, I could see there was a great path went all the way around the edge and then up the next rise for Carn Cac Mor – I presumed this was the normal route but could see there was also a wide path setting off away from the corrie and going, quite viewlessly, up the back of the ridge.  I was sure noone would use it on a clear day… would they?  I was astounded to see all the other groups on the hill turn off that way and take the boring path!  I was completely amazed!  I couldn’t believe anyone would go up Lochnagar on a clear day and completely ignore the spectacular corrie but absolutely everyone did!  Now that really is taking Munro-bagging to extremes – and I consider myself to be an out-and-out bagger.  It wasn’t any shorter or easier to go the way they all went either.

Still reeling from the discovery that folks going up Lochnagar had absolutely no interest in the view whatsoever, I proceeded to explore the corrie rim with my camera very thoroughly.  There were interesting gullies, rocky piers sticking out into the corrie, stacks, pillars and mini-peaks.  The loch was framed scenically by varying surrounds – it was a photographer’s paradise – I’m sure my shots won’t do it the justice it so richly deserves.

Summit Peeping Over Crags

I found the path continued up the next steep section, keeping close to the edge all the way up – I just hoped there wasn’t a collapse of the corrie rim while I was on it.  I have to admit that paths so close to the edge of sheer drops do make me quite nervous but it was worth it for the scenery.  It was a shame Richard couldn’t have come up with me as he’d have loved it and he certainly wouldn’t have been sneaking off around the boring back way!

I puffed my way up to the flat plateau at the top of the climb and made a short detour to Carn Cac Mor’s cairn – I’m surprised that it doesn’t have at least the classification of a ‘top’ – it looked equally as high as Carn Cac Beag anyway.  I then joined the sightless masses on the summit and after a quick visit to the trig point sat a little below the tor out of the wind for a quick bite of Richard’s tea-loaf and a quick half-cup of coffee.  The view across to The Stuic and its two lochs, Sandy Loch and Loch nan Eun, was really pretty – that was where I was headed next.

Summit and its Sightless Masses!

I headed back to Carn Cac Mor’s cairn where the track bifurcated and a good and pleasantly grassy track descended to follow another escarpment round the clifftops to The Stuic.  I expected that others would be doing the second Munro and indeed they were – some came up from the Sagairts and a couple of folks followed me from Lochnagar.  I went to visit The Stuic and found it was a very pleasant and scenic spot to have another break in the sun.  It was nicely out of the wind and very warm.  There was a birds’ eye view down to Loch nan Eun so I cautiously went right to the very edge of the summit rocks and took a photo looking down – the loch looked lovely and green from above.  I then sat down for some more tea-loaf and coffee and watched my fellow Munroists.  Yet again, they took the tedious option of just doing the very boring rounded and grassy Carn a’ Choire Bhoidheach and didn’t visit The Stuic!  I was even more incredulous.  I felt like shouting across to them to get them to come and see what they were missing.  It wasn’t as though it was much of an extension to reach The Stuic – it was about 100 yards and totally flat!

Lochnagar from The Stuic

The Sandy Loch

Everyone Else’s Main Objective – the Munro Summit from my vantage point

I packed up my stuff and set off to dutifully bag the boring grassy mound but, to the surprise of the folks around the summit, didn’t even bother to stop but just headed straight off south-east for my next top – White Mounth on the map.  It was a gentle and easy descent down short, mossy grass and an equally short and easy re-ascent to the top.  There were lots of delightful mountain hares on this less-frequented section.  I was probably at the top in about ten minutes.  From there it’s barely half a mile of nearly flat grassy ground to reach the slighly bigger top to its north-east which isn’t named on the map but has a shelter built just below its summit cairn which you can see from all the peaks around.  Two very easy tops to add in… Now I had to decide whether to include the inconvenient Little Pap – it looked extremely boulder-ridden.

As I studied Little Pap and Cuidhe Crom while I contoured back round to the Glas Allt Shiel path, I thought I’d probably have been better leaving Cuidhe Crom until now and descending from that to Little Pap, but it was too late now.  I eventually saw what looked like a little path contouring amongst boulder chokes on the side of Cuidhe Crom.  I couldn’t see a continuous path leading to it though and knew it could be almost impossible to locate it amongst all those boulders on the hillside.  I thought I’d give it a go though.

In about ten minutes I was really regretting my decision.  I’d found a sketchy path contouring the hill which I thought probably was the one I’d seen but, each time I had to cross a boulder-choke, I lost it again and ended up either too high or too low by the time I spotted it again.  This meant having to clamber up and down boulder-fields to reach it again.  Progress was tediously slow and the going laborious – very many of the boulders were unstable as well just to make it more difficult.  After probably about another quarter of an hour, the bouldery top appeared round the corner.  I was quite surprised as I rounded the corner to see another girl picking her way down the dreadful boulders of the nose of Cuidhe Crom to join me for Little Pap.

Again I didn’t really stop at the summit for more than a second or so as I realised I was now running a bit late.  I’d told Richard I’d be between 6 and 7 hours and it was now looking like I might not make it back even within my longest estimate.  I headed straight off down the side of the peak for the Glas Allt Shiel path.  It was even more unpleasantly bouldery and to that was now added holey heather.  I had to go very carefully indeed in order not to break an ankle or suchlike.  I only fell once on the descent to the path and hurt both my wrists but luckily the pain soon went off.  I was extremely relieved to reach the main track down – everyone else appeared to have left the hill by now.

As it was now downhill, I managed to run most of the next section (I can’t run uphill) and in about half a mile I reached the steep descent down the side of the waterfall.  I’d been worried it might have been a horribly steep and loose path down this section but was pleased to see it was a superbly made path which took a great line.  The waterfall was very picturesque indeed… I took a few photos of it and continued down – I noticed that the day was actually getting quite warm.  It had been very cold up on the plateau and the sun had only been sporadic – now it was set to be a lovely evening.  I soon reached the pretty woodland at the bottom.  I thought about visiting the house but decided I’d better crack on as Richard would by now be back at the car and bored stiff.

I have to admit to finding the long landrover track back along the lochside quite tedious and it also made the soles of my feet sore to do several miles along such a hard track when they were already hot after a longish day.  I was dying to stick them in the loch or the burn but decided I couldn’t really spare the time.  Had I been on my own I certainly would have had a paddle!

Stats: 18 miles, 3574 feet of ascent, 7 hours

The next day my feet still felt very hot so I had a little paddle in the Queen’s River at Balmoral Castle! 😉




4 responses

27 08 2011
Isabel Smith

Great photos – keep them for the book you really should write.
I managed some walking the other week – Aonach Mor and Aonach Beag + Carn Mor Dearg – like you , I met people who did not stop to admire the views and scenery.


28 08 2011

The Aonachs are great mountains – I really loved those two. I want to do Aonach Mor in full winter conditions as I think it’s the perfect hill for me in winter (not too steep and wide enough 😉 ).

I can’t understand people not looking at the scenery in good weather. I hurry round the hills if I’m in clag but not on the rare good days!

That’s two people on here who think I should write a book now 🙂 I’ll have to look into how to get self-published as I doubt a publisher would want to take it on really… But thanks for the compliments 🙂


8 07 2011

What an excellent set of photos. Sounds like you had a good day. Even if you poisened all the fish in the river afterwards hahaha. Only joking


9 07 2011

No the fish like cheese – really – they’re very partial to it 😉

I was lucky with the weather for the photos (and the walk) – for a change it was a lovely day. I didn’t do so bad with the weather on the last trip. And Lochnagar was a great hill – one of the only Munros I’d do again and again – it was just so easy and pleasant!


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