Lochnagar Jan 2024hike

2024 kicked off with the traditional Cairngorm Club trip to Lochnagar, a good turnout with 30+ folk, but like last year a forecast of intense wind. We split into 2 groups – one favouring the clockwise approach via Glas Allt to remain sheltered for as long as possible, and the more confident anti-clockers taking the regular route up to Meikle Pap.

After the usual icey path up, we tucked into a nook at the turn-off for a coffee break and to faff with kit before we got blasted higher up. The January trip attracts some folk who probably don’t go out often and are lacking winter mountain fitness, and already a few were lagging behind and looked doubtful about the challenge ahead. We continued on but down a few who’d decided this was as far as they’d go.

Reaching the col, any thoughts of heading over to the NE ridge for an ascent evaporated – it’d be very exposed. We started up the ladder, further around from the exposed edge but still very blustery. The snow was good and not too hard underfoot, except an odd thin film of ice on top (probably frozen rain shower) this crunched under foot then was sent flying tinkling by the storm.

We passed a few other heading down: some ill-equipped and way out of their depth, some hardened climbers deciding against an effort today.

On a previous high-wind ascent, the wind had steadied once on to the plateau away from the influence of the corrie, but not today: huge whirls and gusts had people staggering and falling.

A crampon-stop was excessively long: folk who hadn’t used their winter kit since last year and not bothered to have a wee practice yesterday, now in a real struggle as wind and spindrift whipped their faces, peering through goggles and gloved. One chap had his hat ripped off which bounced towards the corrie edge and a 200m drop, he chased after it while I shouted to leave it unheard in the storm; fortunately pounced on before too late, but a stupid and dangerous move. The ice film was throwing shards brutally. The majority of the group threw the towel in wisely and decided to shortcut to the Glas Allt path, 4 of us decided to see if we could push on further.

Contouring around Cac Carn Mor, we stopped for a last faff and fortification before the final push to the top. I’d dug out my ‘big clown mitts‘ a bargain found on ebay and really meant for high-altitude mountains, in the intense wind-chill they were just the thing; I almost lost one blown downhill fortunately away from hazards but quickly chased before it disappeared out of visible range.

We trudged onwards, staggering and facing into the storm a real struggle with navigation and soon had to admit defeat. The numerous delays of waiting for others earlier had put us past our ‘turn back time’ and the last mile would have had to have been very slow and careful. We turned our back to the storm which lashed us downhill towards the upper Glas Allt.

Getting lower, some visibility crept in and we handrailed the stream, the path eventually becoming clear once the snow depth had decreased. Across the footbridge, some heads peeped out from behind a huge boulder: the clockwise crew had met out shortcutting contingent who’d reported conditions, and they’d decided against further progress. We all headed off together back down to the loch.

Higher up hadn’t been very snack or thermos friendly, anything in hand liable to be splashed or blown asunder, so the bothy was a great refuge to polish off the good, and a few hip flask appeared and further fortification was undertaken.

We had a small bit of time in hand to arrive back at the bus, and with the main target of the day missed, took a smaller exploratory scramble up a side gully for a nosey, also to break up the long loch-side slog.

The Allt an Dearg heads down a tree’d gully from An t-Sron, today a trickle, at times a raging torrent as the large catchment of Monelpie Moss surges to the loch carrying huge boulders.

Allt an Dearg gully
Presumably the rocks have given it the name: Dearg (red)

We went up about a third of the way, one for some other time to head up and out on to the moss.

The sun was setting and back at the bus we were glad to be out of the wind and heading for food at the Boat Inn at Aboyne. A shame not to make the top but no doubt will be back again soon enough.

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