Lochans of The Stuichike

I’d resigned myself in April, as spring bloomed into sustained warmth, that snow adventures had come to an end, but an unexpected wrinkle in the gulf stream allowed cold winds to blow down form the north and deposit a last gasp of winter to the tops.

Covid’s vagaries had made the bus timetable as unpredictable as the weather, but I thought it should be possible to traverse the Cairngorm plateau and fit in some exploration with a variation of the Ballochbuie to Braemar hill route. Mask on, front seat of the top deck, away we go.

Bus snap: an old farmhouse near Dinnet
Tullich Kirk with Craigendarroch behind
Abergeldie Castle

Starting at the bridge the day was mild, and after a few snaps made my way on as there was a tightly planned schedule of waypoints to meet. Water features today would be getting the full algorithmic treatment of my huawei p30 pro mobile (it has a ‘silky water’ and ‘night mode’ both of which create ‘long exposure’ type effects despite being hand-held).

The silvery Dee under a silvery bridge

At the Falls of Garbh Allt, I could hear the roar before seeing it – the recent snow was melting fast and thundering through. I had a ford in the route further up, hopefully it’d be ok.

Lush forest at Ballochbuie
A roar and then a sparkle
A thundering cauldron of snow-melt
I need to come here earlier to get a better light, a brutal dynamic range between shadow and light
Wide view of the bridge and falls of Garbh Allt
A hard sun out of the forest canopy
Zooming in, to see if there were any tunnels. May have been a few weeks ago
Trail to the snow-capped hills

The ford was reached and fortunately crossed without major difficulty. I was on schedule to allow for some exploration so I now headed off-path from the track to Carn an t-Sagairt Mor, and veered off towards Lochnagar – I wanted to have a look at some lochans that lie at the foot of The Stuic.

Fortunately neither banked out or water too high to cross
Off-path towards Lochnagar past some rocky outcrops
Trees once grew here
Bog, pool and burn
Hares are losing their winter coats

There’s a lot of boggy ground and a few streams: I thought contouring around higher ground might avoid the worst of it, but I’d underestimated the steepness and a few snow-filled gullies had to be crossed carefully, apart from the obvious hazard of slipping and tumbling downwards, in thawing conditions there’s the possibility of wet-slab avalanche, where the wet ground underneath can provide a slippery surface that can release a snow burden.

Up higher to avoid bog
Hare skipping prints
Warily across a snow filled gully, the other view down was long and steep

I rounded the contour and got eyes on the first Lochan “Sandy Loch”. Clouds had been steadily thickening and the temperature dropped, and by the time I stood at it’s shore, waves of sleet were incoming and I donned my waterproofs and mitts.

The wind picked up and lashed sleet. Most definitely not feeling very sandy
Towards the outflow
Down the outflow
Zoomed back the way past rock fragments
A boulder split asunder by freeze and thaw cycles over aeons

Next up was Loch Nan Eun, but first a clamber across a jumbled maze of large boulders, rivulets and bog, and unpredictable soft snow that varied from a foot deep to sudden wait-deep plunges. I probed carefully with my walking poles, not a place to take a tumble or get a trapped ankle.

Winding up,down,around .. *phlumph* into deep snow
Heading further up to the next lochan.. bouldery
Loch Nan Eun
The Stuic brood over it, sharp and dark

Loch Nan Eun in summer would be a great place for a wild camp, but today The Stuic’s dark ridge pulsed behind waves of sleet, and the water spattered and swirled. It’s reckoned to be an ‘easy scramble’ up the ridge, but it looked foreboding from here today. I’d make my way around the corrie instead to gain the plateau.

I passed another small unnamed lochan which provided a better photo with some boulders jutting through the shallow water, I’d have liked to have waded in to get the best angle, but a cold day for bare feet. There were another couple even smaller ones west, but the cold was beginning to seep in and I need to ascend and build some warmth.

A shallow boulder-broke pool below The Stuic

Towards the top of the corrie some tors provided a bit of shelter and I stopped for a snack and also constructed a late-season snowman, complete with an appropriate rough ‘lockdown’ self-administered haircut.

Around the corrie
Another small pool revealed by the ascent
Blunted Tors but enough to blunt the icey wind
Guardian of The Tor of Stuic bids glad tidings of the passing of winter, but one must first cross the plateau beyond

Venturing onwards, the haze closed in and it was just me, my footprints and a white cocoon all around, a compass bearing was carefully taken and followed and soon the gentle ascent lead to the top of Carn an t-Sagairt Beag, I was glad to see some rocks to provide some visual reference.

A look back at the only speckles of detail in the white zone. Eyes on the compass, try to walk a straight line
At the top of Carn an t-Sagairt Beag, the shallow snow gives way and some detail floods back
Watched by a denizen of the plateau (top right)
Hops on to a rock to watch me pass

I headed down to find the path around Carn an t-Sagairt Mor, finding a jumble of old iron, and sculpted burn-sides, then sloshing up the ‘path’ until it disappeared again under snow. A view of Dubh Loch briefly appeared in a break through of visibility, and I could see 2 specks of distant walkers making their way around the white mounth circuit, the only souls I’d seen since starting.

Down to the col between Beag and Mor
Any any any old iron
The path provides something to aim for
Looking towards Cairn Bannoch
A peep of Dubh Loch in a clear spell between squalls

Last time here I think I’d decided against the top with no views and used the bypass path around, but this time dutifully ticked off both cairns, and visited the ‘wing’ before finding the posts heading down.

1st cairn
2nd cairn
The wing, a remnant of a crash in the 50s
Another fragment. The poles beyond provide a guide to the path further down
Good bye to the snow for now, maybe until next winter
The gate sticks to it’s duty where the fence has failed
This looks like the line .. whoosh *&^% my arse!

I’d pondered this route as maybe one for the bike in summer, and was studying some of the slabs and steep runnels with this in mind, and then promptly slipped on my butt courtesy of the wet granite. Aye this’d defo need better weather on 2 wheels.

Glen Callater came into view and I splashed along the path’s ruts and pools trying to keep an eye on my footfall but periodically looking up to savour the views along the glen; the cascading waterfall and winding river; clouds pouring over the cliffs; gusts sweeping the loch surface.

Glen Callater
Rated as a MTB route, but quite a few sections like this where not much room to manoeuvre
Glen and Loch pano
Zoom up the glen to cliffs and falls
Heading to the bothy
View back up Loch Callater

I poked my head in the door at the bothy, all in good order (they are all supposed to be closed currently, but folk are ignoring this, typically folk with little care either to leave things in order).

The lodge (not open to public)
Quick nosey into the bothy. They are not to be used currently for staying

The long track to Braemar – a nice stroll would have befitted the jump up in warmth, but I’d misread a waypoint time and had fallen behind which required a jog despite the boots n poles. Nonetheless a few quick photos were snapped to see what the Callater Burn could do under ‘silky’ effect.

A long track and I need to get some running done to make time
Burn of Callater rapids
A fenced off section is regenerating
The cliffs need no fences
Across The Clunie
Ben Avon to the north
I did see some deer today but not as readily photographed as this occupant of the Fife Arms

I pulled back ahead of time and made it back to Braemar where a pint would have been great, but not quite enough time before the bus. Snacks purchased, on the bus I got the front seat again and got a great view as the sun and rain fought all the way back. An unexpected bonus – a grumbling yob, told he couldn’t drink his carry out on the bus, came upstairs mumbled and swore and cracked it open anyway. I ignored him and he eventually disembarked, I surveyed the mess he’d left, beer spilled all over and tidied a bottle rolling around before it smashed – there was a full one on the seat, a bonus for later.

Rainbow ahoy

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