Callater to Crathiecamping, hike

A midweek satellite pass indicated some snow cover, and with a decent weather window ahead for Saturday, Friday night saw me on the bus to Braemar for an adventure. I headed out along the road to Auchallater then on track to Loch Callater.

A sporadic drizzle accompanied me, when off the sky revealed the milky way above, the odd glance back north not revealing any aurora though. I arrived at Callater bothy expecting dark and cold (not having a stove it’s not popular with overnighters) but there were a couple chaps there from Manchester.

Along the Glenshee road. Wee red blinky on back of my pack for safety
Drizzle in the headtorch
I switched off the headtorch for periods to enjoy the stars
Bothy not the expected cold and dark

Blethering in the morning delayed the planned sunrise start but with the sun up a bit further I headed up above the loch

Looking past the loch to Tolmount
Some sort of fabric underlay showing on the path. I guess this assists in the gravel not sinking into mud underneath
Snow capped peaks looking great

I entered the snowline at 800m or so up the first munro of the day, Carn an t-Sagairt Mor. The occasional movement amongst the rocks was noted – ptarmigan and hares in their winter colours.

Winter is ‘afoot’ on the mountains
Rime ice forming on anything intruding into the icey wind

I left the trail which circles around the base and followed the old fence posts into cloud, making for easy navigation

Follow the fence line
Rust and ice
Triangles of iron and fur
Air crash remnant

I soon reached the top and orientated towards the “big wing”

Carn an t-Sagairt Mor northern summit cairn
“Big wing” wreckage remnant
Hare shelter scrape

I contoured around to the “little wing” then began to descend rather than heading further around to the normal descent path

“Little wing”
Carn an t-Sagirt Beag appearing through the cloud
Broad Cairn and Cairn Bannoch

I stopped at the “burn of the 2 birch trees” for a snack and some hot chocolate. Although reasonably early these winter-conditions days burn through energy both from the cold and tramping snow, so best to keep well fuelled. Some faffing with gloves ensued when moving on with cold fingers: the alpkit frazzles were just a wee bit cold, and decathlon waterproof mitts to add some windproofing were too tight to easily go over. I will need to think further on a ‘minimal kit’ glove loadout. I had taken my 40L Ultimate direction fastpack, but it doesn’t quite have enough room when carrying a winter sleeping bag/mat for extra bits n bobs.

Hot chocolate at burn of the 2 birch trees

Heading directly to the top of Carn a Choire Bhoidheach, a great burst of sun flooded the scene, whew, this is why I love a crisp winter day.

Sunburst lighting up the scene
Sagairts bright: Mor and Beag
Crunchy grastrugi underfoot

The pointy jumble of rocks near the top had me finding the less impressive cairn. I decided to go look at the ‘beautiful corrie’ where we snowholed earlier in the year, probably too early for any snow sculptures but worth further familiarisation on the subtle curves of the area.

Carn a Choire Bhoidheach cairn
Into the murk: 85º to the Coire of the Carn

This would have been good conditions to test ‘sun polarisation compass’ navigation if I’d remembered. By using a polarised set of sunglasses, and a piece of cellophane, one can concoct an indication of where the sun lies behind cloud (or even once set for a while). Apparently vikings used polarisation in ancient times with a specific clear crystal they called a ‘sunstone’.

Sun trying to break through to the plateau

I’d not quite tracked accurately to the compass bearing but the murk cleared enough to see the burn and I followed it downstream.

Coire Boidheach burn
Coire Boidheach: not quite in it’s snow sculped beauty just yet

I headed back towards the mounth track, and once on it passed quite a few folk surprisingly, though I guess many weekends of storms and rain had folk eager to make use of some better weather. Some were not looking well equipped for a winter-conditions outing; a friend recently accidentally overnighted somewhere in this area after becoming lost and then losing phone and headtorch battery, but critically had a survival bag and plenty warm clothing so it turned out ok. A reminder of how things can quickly descend into the unexpected, and it’s not typically one mistake but a few compounding that lead to emergencies.

With enough daylight left at Cac Carn Mor I continued to the main top which was very still, lying in a wind shadow. I scoofed the remainder of the hot chocolate and chatted with another chap who’d turned up.

Encrusted Cac Carn Mor
Black Spout not quite ‘in’ with only a minimal snow floor
Cac Carn Beag
Frosty top
Iced indicator

I headed off and followed around the corrie. Picking my way down through the boulder field near Central Buttress, a flicker of motion caught my eye. Popping, slinking, skittering across /around /through the rocks at a frantic pace – a wee beastie. It headed right for me then orbited, every so often watching me for a second. I clumsily pulled off gloves trying to access a camera – but unlike most close-range wildlife encounters over in seconds, this cheeky wee chap didn’t scarper in the blink of an eye but was content to put on a show for a good ten minutes as I stood mesmerised by it’s antics. The shorter tail and lack of black tip, plus the flatter gait (rather than bounding) indicated a weasel rather than a stoat.

Leaping and scurrying above and below
Lochnagar weasel says hiya

A tough environment for sure for such a small creature, though they are renowned as a very capable predator able to take much larger prey than themselves, for sure the ptarmigan and hares I’d seen around were a good bit bigger. I’m not sure if voles exist high up in such conditions, this year has had a population explosion. After enjoying the spectacle and taking some footage, I decided to head on and leave it to it’s hunting, with an hour or two of daylight left to get down from the hills and unclad hands beginning to get numb.

Heading back below the cloud around the corrie
Rejoining the path, looking towards Loch Muick
Crags of Lochnagar
Looking past Meall Coire na Saobhaidhe

At the ladder down to Meikle Pap folk were still ascending late in the day, the compacted snow here a bit slippy, and soon would be ice and require traction aids.

Heading down to Meikle Pap
Class Lochnagar lochan view

Making it down to the track, my multiple chatting and the weasel encounter had now put me a fair bit behind bus schedule, and I was gladly not wearing my la sportiva winter boots which are too heavy and stiff to really put the hammer down. Last winter I wore my second-heaviest boots (anatom braeriach) a lot purely because they are more comfortable on long walk-in-outs but can still kick a step, and these were the footwear today, so I managed some high-speed marching and ran short spells putting me in the window of ‘not waiting another 2 hours’ opprtunity.

Another close-up today, this grouse burbling as I took a photo
The top has now cleared typically as now below
View to Cairn Toul
Heading towards Balmoral forest
A look back as sunset hues creep into the skies
Almost at Crathie

It looked like the suspension footbridge was closed (storm damage?) so I headed across the road bridge and joined the tourist throng at the stop making it with a few minutes to spare. A cracking day out, and a first taste of winter action.

Autumn across The Dee

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