Bennachie December 2022hike

Snow had begun to fall in December in Aberdeen, and after a few night-time forays on the bike in local woods transformed to Narnia, looked forward to the Cairngorm Club’s trip to Bennachie where we’d traverse it’s modest heights west to east starting at the Gordon Way

The club has plans to improve the way which has become dilapidated. Somebody has expended a fair amount of effort on warning notices, while avoiding extending themselves into some basic joinery, but hopefully the club will get some impetus in improving the route.

It became clear quickly there wasn’t just a light covering, but substantial depth of snow, and nobody had been this way to break trail.

Heading higher we got some filmic, fairytale light snow falling, which I think in gaelic might have the name ‘spiandagan’. There hadn’t been strong wind for a week , and this contributed to the deep and even cover; normally a strong wind would blow it into the lee slopes, scouring the windward side.

Once clear of the trees at our first top (Black Hill) the scope of what lay ahead (miles of energy-sapping trail breaking) became more apparent, and route changes were debated, however other than turning back there was no easy option. Descending to the track further south was no guarantee of easier progress, it would likely hold more snow being slightly sunken and on the lee side. We ploughed on to the next target (we’d initially planned a complete traverse of all the tops).

Onwards to Hermit Seat
Windward direction to the left

For some of the less fit participants there were concerns about if they’d manage to keep up. I briefed the team to make sure that even those not in the ‘fittest at front’ who were steaming ahead, they could play a part in making progress easier for those struggling at the back – making sure each took a small ‘bite’ from the plunged footsteps ahead, so that by the time the back of the pack went through they were walking in a clear path without having to raise their legs from post-holes.

Hermit Seat. Short of time today I didn’t go poking around the small crag nearby on the north west side
Letting the pack get ahead for a shot.. and for a rest from the front. Being first in the line is a lot more tiring
.. caught up and overtaken, ach well back to the front
Snow-blown shapes sticking out
Up on to Watch Craig everybody enjoying the ninguid scenes
Our next target, the highest point Oxen Craig
Drifts and swirls
Beginning to ascend Oxen Craig
Getting lumpy. We had to stay out of the trail bed here which lies in a rocky rut

The bulbous curves of the rocks looked pretty but hid hazards: gaps between the rocks where you could fall into and potentially bang a leg or ankle. Cautious progress was made picking our way through

Following the hare tracks
The hare however benefits from being light
Curious grouse watching us slowly making way
Dug out and onwards

The rest of the team arrives to ascend
Drifts and tors
Craigshannoch ahead
I used a ‘snow claw‘ to clear the indicator. Handy tool for winter hiking

We stopped down from the top in a hollow for a break and somebody broke out some warm gluhwein, and passed around stollen which was most welcome.

We were running low on light, and a decision was made to abandon some of the planned route: Craigshannoch (and it’s cave), the Fog House and Mither Tap. We’d thought there might have been broken trails on the popular side of the hill, but no evidence of it from here. Normally I’d power off ahead and do these myself, but today’s conditions weren’t conducive to rushing. We were going to be late for our meal booked in a place in Inverurie ( a phone call had already been made) and I didn’t want to potentially delay things further or splinter into groups.

Past Craigshannoch, no cave visit today
Not going to make it up Mither Tap today

I had though of taking skis today, but thought it best to stick with the group plan and not clutter the minibus with gear. Somebody had made it up on skis though

Ski trails near Craigshannoch
Nearest we get to Mither Tap today. Although it looks like I have a beer-belly here, I am in fact wearing a small running ‘bum-bag’ under my jacket to the front – I keep my electronics, some water and snacks in there which stops them freezing and are easy to access

We headed to the Rowan tree car park as the descent was less steep

Into the woods
Tree with Christmas decorations
Down to the car park

After a bit of car shuttling, we made it into Inverurie for Christmas fare, a well earned meal and few ales. A fabulous winter day, though no doubt there were a few stiff legs the next day.

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