Lochnagar January 2022hike

The year got under way with the annual Cairngorm Club trip to Lochnagar, and our coach (half capacity for social distance) disembarked in the slippery car park into a perfect winter morning. Various people had travelled by car and once organised we set off, faces to the alpenglow.

We’d lucked out with conditions: recent snowfall repairing a patchy snowscape degraded by the warmest start to the year, and the forecast was for only a mild breeze.

Smooth pinks and white blobs

The first obstacle to the 16 or so of us heading for the top, the ford across the Allt na Giubhsaich, was treacherous with ice on the stepping-stones: the key is to not go for boulders proud of the surface but choose those just under which hold no ice.

Best to dunk a foot slightly to save a slip and a bigger soaking

The snow on the track heading up to Clais Rathadan was spot on: this high-volume path soon turns to trodden ice but at this point was still gripworthy

A break was taken at the turn-off, but myself and a few other pressed on to take in Meikle Pap as a small addition to the route

Meikle Pap ahead of waves of windswept snow
I do love the geometry of winter drifts
Temporary frozen abstract art

We headed up to the tors to have a clamber and then savour the view back

Meikle Pap tors
Top of the hill
A cracking view for this slight climb up

We headed down to join the rest who had now caught up and we set off up the ladder, intermingled with others also out ascending, and a few early birds coming back down who must have climbed up in darkness

Winding up the ladder
Looking across to Black Spout
A witches hat aloft Ben Avon
Classic Lochnagar view
View back down past Conachcraig
The recent prevailing wind had dumped a fair bit of snow amongst the rock but well broken
Compressed boot print stands firm while the loose snow blown away
Ben Avon gleams sun-bright over shadows of rock and cloud

Up on to the plateau, the wind picked up but not too bad, no need for goggles or a buff over the face, I guessed a windchill of around -10

Looking south west past Broad Cairn, layers of hill and cloud
Painted by morning hues

We made our way around the corrie and I could hear sounds from below: climbers out on the crags. Above black spout, what looked like it maybe skiers investigated the entry past the huge cornice

Climbers and skiers ponder the crags and gullies
Last climb up to the higher plateau
Final destination in sight
Cac Carn Mor encrusted in frost

Our large troop made for the top before hogging the space for lunch. The last time we did this the windchill was ferocious and soon drove us on, but today we measured -12c which was OK and was no match for my Bergans Sastrugi jacket. It would have been doubly so if I’d not forgotten my flask of hot chocolate which at this moment was forlorn back in my kitchen. Ach, there’s always something.

Last stretch to the top
Look over black spout exit

I was going to take a photo of the indicator: laid by the club in 1924, and being a bit rough around the edges, and heading towards the 100th anniversary, we had thought of possibly renewing it. Buried under a thick layer of frost it escaped inspection today.

Lunch without precious flask

Discussion ensued about the way down: Ken planted the seed of an idea to go explore an irregular way along a rarely visited ridge. I had pondered a solo blast over to the previous snowhole location, but this was a useful compromise. A few rebels committed, while the majority stuck to the normal Glas Allt path.

Heading off to explore, initially towards The Stuic
A rough bearing past Coire an Daimh Mhoile to ‘1052’
Parts of the snow parting to reveal older refrozen ice. Crampons had remained off so far though
Arctic plains
Pludging through Snow waves

I had tried to pull the bearing of the group slightly south to get eyes on the snowhole gully, before the group resisted any further deviation away from a target of Creag a Glas-uillt

Sea of frozen fronds

I thought this was the snowhole gully but mistaken by the gentle white curves: instead another promising area for such activity: Coire Boidheach

Coire Boidheach building some snow

Once correctly reorientated on the map further on I could see some of Coire an Loch Bhuidhe, and it too was gathering snow depth.

Across the Loch Muick / Dubh loch glen, I could hear rotors and a rescue helicopter was on the move, hopefully nothing serious.

Looking past Broad Cairn

The clouds over there seemed to be drifting over the ground, I almost wished for stronger wind so that I could get a carpet of spindrift passing which is always a magical sight.

White mounth winter
Down through boulders and whisps
Looking back past a cairn

The downslope of the ridge was a boulder field mostly, but held some angular attraction to the eye if not the feet, coupling blown snow and a low sun.

Angular terrain
With the occasional swoosh

Occasionally deeper drifts brought short spells of post-holing

We headed off the side down to the burn beside the footbridge where we’d seen the main group proceed slightly ahead of us, they’d encountered deeper snow which was fortunately fairly well trodden along the path.

Glas Allt smothered in snow
Hare finds a handy bridge
Curves of ice, black water and snow

Once past the waterfall the path was at it’s iciest and all told the microspikes should have went on (carried both crampons and those today) as I teetered carefully along the path high above the burn.

Falls of Glas Allt has built up a frozen crust
Teetering along the slippery compacted path

A short break was taken loch-side rather than in the bothy. My feet, unaccustomed to the stiff winter boots, were beginning to throb, but Loch Muick track must be trudged.

Down to Loch Muick
Glas Allt Shiel and quite a decent snowman
Alpenglow returns over the loch
Very still at the boat house
Sunset at Loch Muick

We reached the coach at a quite reasonable time and all accounted for , headed off to Aboyne for a meal, a beer and ‘high tea’, all calories well accounted for.

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