Eagles Rockhike

The seemingly endless winds relented momentarily and with snowhole time approaching, a trip up to Coire Boidheach was hatched to survey snow depth. The hilltops were white and the glens held wreathes of fog, some recent snow showers had the Loch Muick paths lower down also lightly covered.

Loch Muick outflow
A still day good for reflected landscape
Sun a hazy spot through the clouds

Forking from the well-trod lochside track up to The Stulan we were the first steps along that path, but the snow wasn’t deep enough to hinder progress.

An ice-bound The Stualn waterfall
Heading towards Loch Buidhe first some small frozen pools..

Not quite in sight of Dubh Loch, we struck up a shallow side gully, then off the underlying grassy into heather to gain grip. Arriving above the small Loch Buidhe it was frozen and covered in an intricate “marbled” pattern of ice and snow.

.. Loch Buidhe itself an unusual pattern of ice and snow
marbled waves on Loch Buidhe

We followed the inflow stream uphill, in retrospect we’d have been better sticking to the western ridge – the ground was tussocky and alternated between old hard neve and fresh windslab, slow going. Eventually the hard neve became steeper so the crampons went on, and as we reached the steepening sides of upper Coire an Loch Bhuidhe they allowed easy passage on to to the lee slope for some probe testing of depth: not quite 2m so not really enough for a snowhole, and the snowpack was very hard. The flat light made it hard to gauge gradient, and I noted to acquire a yellow pair of sunglasses which some say improve snow contrast.

On to neve heading up Coire an Loch Bhuidhe
Axe and snow probe unleashed on west side

A glimpse of colour tempted us over the precipice to look further west where a distant edge was clear sky. We headed uphill, the primary targets today were corries, nooks and gullies, not tops, but we might as well see further west from Eagles Rock.

I refer to the inconspicuous point of 1051m as Eagles Rock, though on OS maps 50k it’s White Mounth – the SMC list of Munro tops does however have it as Eagles Rock, and I prefer this to disambiguate from White Mounth which is often used as a phrase to refer to the round of 5 munros nearby (which don’t actually include ‘the’ White Mounth..)

Distant edge of cloud revealing some colour
Looking south to Glen Clova
The humble outcrop on the top of the gently sloping mound of of Eagles Rock

Our main target was now north-west and easy to navigate to in the clear visibility. The sastrugi crackled underfoot, and the Allt a Choire Bhoidheach popped out only in the odd whirled pool, so on the face of it ‘good snow cover’ but rounding the corner into the coire was disappointing, with only gentle curves and not much dramatic cornice to be seen.

Above the Allt a Choire Bhoidheach
Allt a Choire Bhoidheach

Allt a Choire Bhoidheach

The previous year the north side had many metres of steep snow, now almost barren with boulders all visible. The south side did have a snow ‘cliff’ but half the height expected, and it’s consolidated pre-glacial blue toughness would require herculean efforts to hew a space from it.

Into Coire Boidheach, looking very lean
Southern cornice small at about 6 foot, last year over 12
A wall of tough hard snow-ice
Close-up of old snow becoming ice
Northern side last year under a few metres of snow, now limited cover

Next stop was across the plateau past point 1052, nearby to the north east of which is a subtle hollow that fills up deep with snow. Some probing here did reveal good depth, but not really a place it would be easy to snow hole as the gradient is too gentle. Ahead lay the top of Coire an Daimh Mhoile which would be our final investigation and route of descent.

Heading out to cross the plateau
Possibly lenticular cloud formation above a hill
From Coire Boidheach, heading towards Cuidhe Crom finds the top of Coire an Daimh Mhoile
Testing snow depth near 1052 – almost 2m depth
Locals gurgling at us

Looking down the top of the gully the easterly wind had fortunately not created too much of a windslab hazard to the left, and the surface right was all crampon-friendly neve. Heading down, we could hear water gurgling underneath our feet, and eventually it appeared first in the odd hole, then in impressive folds of ice and then fully clear splashing through waterfalls, and we bimbled along taking the odd photo and being careful to not fall in along the ice-encrusted banks.

Top of Coire an Daimh Mhoile
First heard then seen the stream below reappears
Battle between ice and flowing water
The waterfalls and pools are great winter and summer
Chasm in the snowpack

Heading down through ice and drifts an anomaly: I’ve noticed a few of these ‘snow-proof moss patches’ this winter. What keeps them snow free is uncertain – is it hydrological (these are always wet oozes, but then right beside all other water is frozen) or to do with darkness (sunlight absorbing, but then must encounter blizzards along with long overcast days) or perhaps some combination.

Green snowproof patch resists encroaching drifts
Nearby ice swathes the rocky sides of the gully

Out of the foot of the coire we jumbled across the spread of streamlets to find the tourist path down to the falls, this time not being buffeted furiously like in January. Sunset colour began to paint the sky and a swift pace had us chasing it down to get a view of the loch. There was a really unusual velvetty aqua-blue fading through to pink.

Cuidhe Crom and Little Pap caught by the last sun of the day
Feathery clouds above Glas Allt
Heading towards the falls
Sunset beside the Glas Allt falls
Aqua blue to pink above Loch Muick
Stopped for a moment to savour the colours
The last pink and time to start the lochside trudge

As the colour faded to darkness, the lochside march was now a battle of slush, each step slipping a bit and just tiring us more; we were very glad to get back to the car and get off our feet. Into Ballater chipper, a burger n chips was wolfed down before the drive onwards.

Slush-trudge almost done

The conclusion of the snow state was that it was barely viable for snowholing; we had to hope that there’d be a fresh dump soon or think of another plan for that activity this year. Good to go investigate though as it gets one into some interesting areas that’d otherwise go unseen.

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *