Cairn Bannoch & Broad Cairnhike

2024 started dark, grey and wet, but as soon as the gloom broke I was keen to get some sun and in amongst the snow, and to get the year started. After some quick route discussion, 3 of us chose a sortie along to Dubh Loch and the hills above.

There was the possibility of some firmer snow and perhaps steeper ground on the day out so I took my La Sportiva boots for their semi-auto crampon compatibility. They are heavy and stiff-souled, and I didn’t fancy the long walk in (and out) in them, so opted to take a pair of trail runners too for the flat sections, hoping the extra comfort would pay off against the extra weight carried.

The road to Glen Muick was slippery and needed careful driving, and sun was well up by the time we started out on foot, but we could see it was going to be great conditions with Lochnagar shining white catching the early sun.

Lochnagar bright in the morn
Sun spilling down Black Burn to Loch Muick
Trail to the mountains: Broad Cairn distant

The bothy had a fug of smoke around it, at 9am on such a fine day you’d think folk would be away up and out, but probably full of “social bothy destination” folk lazing around rather than mountain activities people, it seems to be a theme nowadays.

Bothy fug: no “alpine start” types in there
Out of the woods

At The Stulan waterfall, the boulder tips above water had a glaze of ice meaning it was best to step on to submerged rocks, so I changed into the boots. Soon enough the snow would be deep enough and the boulder field at the loch was also better booted.

Stulan waterfall: boots on
Heading upstream to Dubh Loch
Snow looks good on Cairn Taggart

We bimbled to the loch head for a photo or two, and we spotted two specks above heading up central gully. One of our group was keen to follow, but without a helmet and unsure about the steepness of the upper reaches I wasn’t as easily persuaded. We headed on to our original plan to make further upstream.

Dubh Loch rocks
Dubh Loch rocks angled
Small inflow to the loch
Larger inflow to the loch
Creag an Dub-Loch
Slab waterfalls of Creag an Dubh-Loch

I’d had a good look at the avalanche forecast, weather forecast, and satellite overpass (snow cover) but one thing that I’d not thought to check was the photgrapher’s ephemeris for sun angles. Up past the slabs we’d intended lunch in the sun, but it was just out of reach higher on the cliffs. A chill wind swept along the glen but a far better lunch stop than the last trip out both temperature and scenery wise.

Sun just about peeping over the valley side
Snow crags above the loch
Crags meet curves
Snow-bridges across the river
Water pools poking out from the snow-cloak

I’d thought of heading up Muckle William’s coire for a reasonably easy ascent, with some good snow slopes for axe practice, but we decided on a more direct ascent up a straightforward gully. With firm snow but not hard, and little evidence of windslab on the non-lee aspect, it was an enjoyable way up.

A shallow gully is followed upwards
Past a swept drift, Eagle Rock behind

Reaching the top, the sun burst through ragged cloud, rays catching spindrift and snow-plains, lovely. Our gully had landed us near to the hilltop, and once there we took in great light and views all around. The afternoon sun was beginning to hue the winter pastels, lush.

Light bursting across the plateau
Snow-crusted Cairn Bannoch illuminated
Clouds, rays, spindrift a-glow
Carn an t-Sagairt Beag
Hares of Cairn Bannoch

We continued towards Broad Cairn, crunching sastrugi and old footprints, in and out of waves and hollows, an easy balance of ascent, descent and distance as we curved around contours not quite heading straight to the next peak; sometimes following steps sometimes not. The snow wasn’t fighting us today.

Towards Broad Cairn a sea of snow-waves
Spotlit top above Dubh Loch
Broad Cairn hued by approaching sunset
Wind-fractured crisp snow layers

Sunset approaching, the stinging wind at Broad Cairn reminded us it was winter and we were soon down to Sandy’s hut for a pitstop, the last hot chocolate, and donning the headtorch. I kept the boots on: the streak of lightning approached and if banked out would be tricky.

Broad Cairn overlooking Loch Muick. Time to head downwards

Fortunately it hadn’t filled, albeit compacted by many feet and heading towards slippery but not requiring donning of metalware. Night was upon us, and the long walk along the loch was at least lit by clear stars above.

Streak of lightning down to the lochside

It’s a fair old bumble along the loch after a long day out: oh to have had a bike parked up to whizz back through the dark, glad of the trainers back on though, I think I’d have been limping in the winter boots by the end.

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