Lochnagar Feb 2023hike

The Cairngorm Club snowholing trip was approaching and I headed out to Lochnagar to scope out the state of the snow in my primary location up on The White Mounth plateau. This year had seen less snow than normal, and also the prevailing wind at times of snowfall had often been northern rather than westerly; investigation on feasibility was needed. I mentioned the trip to some others in the club: January’s traditional trip had been a failure for most due to extreme wind, but the weekend saw great conditions for what would be a first ascent of the mountain for some – I was happy to accompany them to the top first then head off to my objective.

Icicles on the ‘tourist’ path
Early sun catching the crags of Lochnagar

As we reached the col at Meikle Pap, some put on crampons, but the still and cold conditions had grown a lot of hoar frost on the rocks, and there was compacted slippery snow or verglas on the ladder like there can be sometimes, I proceeded with no need of extra grip

A very still lochan of Lochnagar
Crisp morning-lit crags

As we climbed the ladder we got whisps of cloud below, not quite a cloud inversion but nice nonetheless.

Morven beyond the whispy clouds
Climbing the ladder
Extensive feathery frost on every surface
Black spout
North east ridge with Beinn a Bhuird distant
Through frosty boulders
Out into the sun
Sastrugi n rocks
Up to Cac Carn Mor

As we climbed further towards Cac Carn Mor, I could see to the west my target – Coire Boidheach – and it looked to have a reasonable amount of snow.

Coire Boidheach in view – the dark cleft in the middle – about a mile away
Overhead buzzing – they must have had a fabulous view today
Cac Carn Mor
Around Black Spout (left exit)
Distant mountains
Above Black Spout (right exit)

The group were all strong walkers and we’d made good time in excellent conditions, so after lunch, I easily persuaded them to join me on my irregular sortie off the usual route.

Cac Carn Beag: top of the day
Checking indicator points on a day of excellent visibility. Many are fanciful that they could ever be seen

Having strolled across the plateau to Coire Boidheach, I could see that there was obviously less snow than this time last year – the burn visible where it had been buried under many feet of snow, and the western cornice not the fantastical structure it had been. Some of the otherd had a seat and a bit of a sun-bathe, some did a quick trip to nearby munro top Carn a Choire Bhoidheach, while I probed and chopped at the snow.

Lots of snow at Coire Boidheach, but less than the previous year
Coire Boidheach from the west. The west side less heavily corniced, the south rock-hard ice.
Northerly winds leaving a large bank – I dug a pit and found deep and diggable snow

The test being successful (albeit we’d need to avoid a major thaw in the next few weeks) we headed for a descent. I wanted to have a look in Coire an Daimh Mhoile, another snow-trap, and with the snow being well consolidated and there being a low avalanche hazard (in times of deep snow, the convex slopes above could funnel into anybody walking down here) we headed to the top and then got the crampons on as it steepened, narrowed and became harder in the shaded confines (this part is where snow tunnels form later in the year)

Coire an Daimh Mhoile top
Coire an Daimh Mhoile steepening and narrowing. You could run a bobsled down here at times

We could hear water gurgling underneath though the snow was hard with a dusting of fresh snow over old hard neve, so until we were lower down and the burn began to surface, not unduly concerned about a dunk.

Water beginning to appear

Lower down we took the crampons off as we made along the burnside hummocky ground. There’s a couple spots where we crept a long a steepish bank, but by then heather had began tussocking through to add to the grip for both hands and feet

Tussocky ground lower down

We crossed the Glas Allt above where it joined the other fork, and followed the main path along, now mostly clear of the snow

Glas Allt

It’s always nice to be with folk seeing the sights for the first time, rounding the corner to the falls.

Falls of Glas Allt
Heading down to Loch Muick

We poked our heads into the bothy, had a blether with a party from Norfolk (a very flat place so they were mostly enjoying the terrain: one young chap looked a bit worn out).

Sun beginning to set at Loch Muick

A perfectly timed trip with the sun setting as we rounded the loch, where many deer were close by. A cracking day out and nice to get some good weather here after January’s outing

last of the light at Loch Muick

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