Met a girl on Monday, took her for a drink on Tuesday...
by roykemp » Sun Oct 25, 2020 8:32 pm
Route description: Lochnagar from Glen Muick
Munros included on this walk: Lochnagar
Date walked: 23/10/2020
Time taken: 7 hours
Distance: 19 km
Ascent: 930m13 people think this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
Instead, these are the scribblings of someone who:
- Decided to do their first Munro on Tuesday
- Went shopping on Thursday
- Pulled a sickie and climbed Lochnagar on Friday.
And thus is charted my decent into the insanity of people who fling themselves up large rocks for no good reason.
Here's a slightly longer version of the same tale.
I've been procrastinating about doing some Munros for long enough. Most of what's been holding me back is a lack of anyone to go with. Mates aren't into the idea and the wife is the very opposite of interested. So, screw them all. Guess I'll do it myself.
Looking for a half-decent Munro within a couple of hours of Aberdeen gave me a couple of options, and Lochnagar seemed like a good choice. Plenty of reports and photos on here, weather for the weekend not looking too brutal, and a good challenging one to dip the toe in the water. I did read up on the White Mounth circuit, too. Hmm... Nah, let's not go mental too soon. Lochnagar it is.
Next step was acquire some kit. No bother, I'll just nip into town after work for late night shopping on Thursday.
Turns out nobody does late night shopping any more. Is this a Covid thing or has it just been years since I bought anything not off the internet? Anyway, with Millets (selected by virtue of it's closing down sale) shut at half 5 and the clock at 17:47, the only place left open was Sports Direct. Not my first choice, I will admit, but any port in a storm! All of my existing outdoor kit was more suited to repelling beer spills from drunken Germans, Danes and Finns in campsites at Formula 1 races, so anything would have been an improvement.
I managed to stuff a Karrimor jacket and trousers, Gelert pack-away waterproofs, map, case, compass, first aid kit, tick remover, survival bag and headtorch under my arm before the nice man from the shop told me they were closing, and could I kindly pay for my stuff and get out of their shop. While this left me short of boots, base layers and a rucksack, I figured I could improvise a little to fill in those gaps. A quick message to a trail-running mate to get an opinion on the once-off suitability of work boots and that was the main issue solved. My Wenger laptop backback could be re-purposed and just about anything sensible would do for base layers. Phew. It's still game-on for the weekend.
A quick food shop and I'm chucking some diced chicken and venison meatballs into the frying pan, with pasta and veg to accompany. A wee tub of yoghurt, another of fruit, one bottle of water, one flask of tea and some chocolate bars and that would be the backpack full. Probably way more than was needed, but for the first time out let's not get caught short.
At this point, I had a quick re-check of the weather for the weekend. Hmm. Not looking so good no more. In fact, a little bit gnarly. A cheeky call to work and my schedule for Friday suddenly cleared up. Co-incidentally the Lochnagar weather was much more accommodating on Friday...
Incidentally, I'd been having an unrelated barney with the wife in the background of all this, and I'll admit that it was fun to close an argument with "by the way, I'm going up Lochnagar tomorrow. If I'm not back by five, call Mountain Rescue" before slamming the door behind me, knowing fine she's Australian and would have no idea what this Lochnagar was, nor how to summon any help. Childish, definitely, but still fun.
I printed the route map from here, annotated it with the starts and finishes of the various stages of the walk to act as crude waypoint markers, printed the walk instructions on the other side and laminated it. Hopefully this would supplement the OS map and compass enough to keep a newbie right. I do have a bit of experience with map reading - most of my 20s and 30s were spent co-driving rally cars. The principles are the same, just carried out at a somewhat quicker pace! I would however be taking no chances with navigation, no matter how good the paths are meant to be. The thought of being the guy on the news who ends up getting choppered off his first Munro did not appeal whatsoever.
And yes, I did email the wife a clear list of contingency plans and contacts later that night, so don't worry.
I timed my start for just after 08:30 so I could check in with the Glen Muick visitors centre to let them know there was a novice on the hill, and to keep any eye out for my return or otherwise. At the car park I parked next to a nice couple who were doing the five Munros route. They congratulated me in advance on my first Munro which I thought was a nice touch. However, on arrival at the visitor centre I found it to be closed (of course it is, Kemp, you twit) which was a pest - most of the instructions issued to the wife involved calling the visitor centre. No worries, just give her a quick call to amend. No signal. Oh well, at least she knew that if she didn't hear from me by five (roughly sunset - I wasn't planning being around in the dark) it was time to call in the cavalry which is better than nothing. Whether she would actually do it or not? There's a question.
Right, nothing to it but to do it.
Up through the Balmoral buildings and through the forest was nice easy going before the actual ascent. The one thing I'd been concerned about most was the ford after a good few days of heavy rain. I did have to pick a crossing carefully and take a bit of a leap of faith, resulting in a slightly damp left boot. No biggie.
Oh, and it was raining, too. Not exactly a deluge, but enough to need my hood up to keep my wooly hat of choice dry. First mistake - the choice of a hoodie as a base layer (with a big bulging hood at the back) and a hat with a big bobble on top meant the hood of my jacket wouldn't stay velcro'd closed at the front but kept ripping open.
Passing the Clais Rathadan gorge on the right, my next major waypoint was a turn off the path to the left. Being a complete noob I had no idea if it would be obvious, hidden or even signposted. In the end, it was found to be nicely marked by a cairn. Handy. Especially if, like me, you're chronically unfit, breathing heavily and had a stitch by this point, which is really only the warm-up act before you get started.
Crossing the bealach (and I will try to use words like bealach, col, corrie etc. as best I can - it saves me saying "I crossed a bit which led to a raised bit which passed a stony bit" - even though I have only rudimentary understanding of what they actually mean) I enjoyed a clear view of Meikle Pap which looked impressive enough until I got sight of big bad Lochnagar itself. I'm going up that massive big thing covered in cloud? Terrific. Who's idea was this again?
The going got steeper and rockier at this point, which slowed my pace enough to throw off my attempts at dead-reckoning. I was starting to get concerned that I hadn't seen Bill Stuart's memorial yet, so I sacked off the speed/time maths. The compass was saying I was still to the south-by-south-east of Meikle Pap, so no worries. Eventually the memorial became visible, although the cloud was starting to thicken. The next concern was staying on the correct path to The Ladder and not ending up on the route to Meikle Pap itself. In the end, I didn't even see any route branching off to the right, but it was obvious enough that I'd made it to foot of The Ladder. Taking a punt that I wasn't going to be harangued by marauding ptarmigan for the contents of my lunchbox, it was time for elevenses.
The Ladder ascent itself was brilliant, and everything I'd been looking forward to. I'm absolutely in awe of whoever it was that managed to man-handle all those lumps of rock into something resembling a path just for the benefit of amateurs like me. Great fun, although my right knee did offer its first little whinge of complaint on this stretch. I've avoided old sporting injuries by virtue of never having done much in the way of sport, except for the rally nav stuff which basically involves a day of sitting down reading. However, I did have a weird one a couple of years ago when descending a set of stairs on an offshore oil platform, and had a huge debilitating shooting pain up the outside of my right knee. Couldn't put weight on that leg for a few hours and thought I'd really crocked myself. However, after that, it was magically fine again. I'm sure the medic thought I was yanking her chain. On the upper stretches of the Ladder I saw the first little crusts of old snow on the ground. How exciting - the first snow I'd seen this year!
Not long thereafter and I was well and truly over the novelty of snow, as there was plenty around, and it was getting a bit nippy. As the route became less defined I lost then regained the path a couple of times, but eventually the gradient eased and it was onto the plateau. With more snow lying on the ground here I eventually decided a strategy of carefully hugging the cliff edge was the way forward. Unfortunately no magnificent views of the lochan below were had on this day, not much of a view of anything unless you happen to like clouds. The main blessing was I'd had a wee heads-up about wind up on the plateau; there wasn't anything much more than a strong breeze today.
Still hugging the cliff edge for dear life, I encountered another challenging ascent. If I'd managed to keep on the path coming out to the south of Cac Carn Mor the climb would have been much more gentle, but at the cliff edge it felt as steep as the Ladder. Somewhere around Eagle Ridge I felt like my energy was taking a bit of a dip. A handy boulder presented itself which would provide a bit of shelter from the wind and rain. As good a place as any to hunker down and have some lunch.
Cracking on again, my next navigational concern was deciding when to stop hugging the cliff edge, as I really didn't fancy doing a loop of the loch and ending up back at Meikle Pap. Whenever the cliff edge stopped progressing to the west and regressed back to the east, it was time to start looking for the summit. In the end, I spotted another couple of walkers on the path to the west. I'd gone clean past Cac Carn Mor without seeing it.
Crossing over to the main path, the summit at Cac Carn Beag eventually crept out from the clag. I hadn't made that last little bit easy on myself, but I'd managed to get through it. Yes, I know going off the path is something of a no-no, but I think for a novice in limited visibility following a clear feature to a known conclusion was probably a sensible call. A quick scramble up the cairn and I was at the summit. The clock said I'd get here in roughly three and a half hours. I figured that was fairly reasonable for someone with a 28" inside leg and a 36" waist. I had a quick blether with the two lads I'd spotted on the path. Turns out they were doing the White Mounths trail. Thanks but no thanks, lads. I made ready to head down to Loch Muick, the first Munro in the bag, roughly three and a half hours after setting off. Again, however, no stunning views available today due to cloud.
Then, in one of those "couldn't have made it up" moments, the clouds parted and views presented themselves in all directions. Even though my phone camera is garbage (and the battery life even worse) I messed about for another few minutes getting some life back into it with a power pack I shoved in the bag for emergencies just so I could grab a few extra photos.
I headed back south and came across Cac Carn Mor. Again, there was enough snow on the ground to make the path just ambiguous enough to cause me an issue, as I missed the junction to the left and headed off down the path to the south-west. Thankfully it only took me five minutes or so to realise something was up and I tracked back to the cairn. I took the route in the right direction that looked most like a path and headed off. Eventually the snow faded away and I was indeed on the path.
I'd love to say that my descent was a tale of stunning views across the Glas Allt Glen and a snack stop in the spray of the thundering falls. I mean, the views are stunning and I did stop for a quick scoff at the falls, but in truth the descent was torture. The knee started whining again as soon as I started the descent, and that was on the relatively smooth sandy parts of the trail. When the track changed to rock-steps it was really causing a problem and I had to seriously knock the pace back. Eventually the previously trouble-free left knee started giving me issues, albeit on the inside of the joint.
I think at least part of the problem was that the work boots I had pressed into service were those ones that go halfway up your calf. For work stuff, I love these. I have little girly size six feet and go over my ankles really easily at the best of times, so maximum ankle support is appreciated. However, I think for this walking and climbing gig, I suspect they're preventing any movement of the ankle at all and transmitting all of the shocks and twists straight to the knee joints. The upside is that I don't think I've done any proper damage and now I'm aware of this. If I'd had some extra time in Sports Direct I'd probably have ended up buying whatever walking boots went highest up the leg. As it stands, I know there's probably a compromise that needs to be made between ankle support and movement when I do go to get the wallet out again.
Eventually, after a lot of short breaks, teeth-gritting and industrial language, I was down on the long road along Loch Muick. As soon as the going was relatively flat, the knees weren't as much of a problem. I mean, I was still knackered and hobbling along in a load of pain, but it didn't feel like ligaments or tendons were liable to go twang at any minute. I did have to stop once on the road to remove a couple of layers, as the sun was now beating down quite nicely. Up to this point I'd been dreaming about the heated seats in the truck back at the car park, now I was cursing myself for not having had the air-con re-gassed. Madness.
After a final sit-down stop at the boathouse at the outflow of the loch, it was time for the final stretch. I was still padding along slowly and being overtaken by all and sundry, everyone else looking fresh as a daisy where I probably looked like I'd just trudged out of the jungle after a years tour of 'nam. Yep, there was no denying I was pretty well spent, but I'd done what I set out to do, all under my own steam and without any helicopters or blue flashing lights. Did it in a tiny smidge under seven hours which I'm happy with, given I'd slowed to a hobble on the descent. Job jobbed and number 1 in the bag. Only, what, 281 to go?
So, by way of review, what did I do wrong / right?
1. Picked a sensible route to start. I honestly would not have been able to complete the White Mounths circuit.
2. Went kitted up sensibly without pummelling the credit card too badly. The jacket was mint, I never felt a chill all day.
3. Carried the right amount of hot and cold drinks, and if anything, too much food. I guess that's no bad thing.
4. Did enough research and preparation, and was able to trust the map and compass when I went off path.
5. Pulling the finger out and doing it myself. Eventually. Even if it was at short notice.
1. Managing to go off path at all isn't ideal, even in the conditions.
2. The base layers and hat messing with my hood meant I spent at lot of time looking down while it was raining, which was all of the time, really. This may have contributed to losing the paths.
3. It only dawned on me later that I was wearing all black clothes. This wasn't on purpose, but may have made me difficult to spot at night if I'd wandered further off route and gotten lost. Perhaps some contrasting colours might be in order next time I go shopping.
4. Work boots didn't turn out to be ideal. However, at least they were already worn-in. If I'd been breaking in my walking boots, my knees might have been better but my feet might have been a mess with blisters.
Anyway, I'm happy to listen to experienced advice on my ramblings. Any feedback is very welcome.
And yes, while this is not quite as much of a buzz as rallying, it's certainly a very worthwhile way to spend a day. Next up... Ben Macdui, Mount Keen, maybe? I am conscious that at some point the winter weather will overtake my navigation skills, so it might be good to only try another one or two before knocking it on the head for the season. Again, any advice is appreciated.
One final thing I need to be conscious of in future is pre-hike cooking. Not sure what went wrong with the chicken and venison, but I had it on Thursday night as well as while on the hill, and by the time I got back to Aberdeen on Friday evening I was firmly in the grip of what can most politely be described as the squirts. And no, I'm not one of those people who thinks medium-rare chicken is great and wonders why it isn't a thing. I must pay more attention to this as I was in the highly unenviable position of being utterly immobile with cramped legs and knackered knees, but also needing to move very quickly and at rather short notice. I can confirm this was no fun whatsoever.
Pretty sure Craig David never said anything about failing to make it to the toilet on Saturday.
Definitely chilled on Sunday, though.
by R1ggered » Mon Oct 26, 2020 3:41 pm
by Gordie12 » Mon Oct 26, 2020 4:52 pm
So much to look forward to, mist, rain, sleat, clag, snow, cold, hot, midgies, clegs, keds and so much more.
Enjoy the journey and welcome to the club
by Sgurr » Mon Oct 26, 2020 6:43 pm
by Kendrum » Mon Oct 26, 2020 7:52 pm
On the issues with your knees, I suffer terribly with knee pain on descending so can offer some suggestions.
Leg strengthening exercises and stretching
But mainly - change the way you walk on descent. This has what has really helped me in the last couple of years. A physio passed me hobbling painfully down hill one time and suggested I stick my bum out and relax my knees - don't lock them like I was doing. (I don't know if you've done any martial arts but that soft knee stance that one would do in those circumstances)
Some people are just natural descenders, I'm not one of those people but altering the way I walk has made a huge difference to my pain levels.
I would also chose lower hills till you work out what your knees can cope with.
by NeepNeep » Mon Oct 26, 2020 8:58 pm
Regarding ankle support and knock-on affects to the knee - I also find this 'a thing' and strike a balance between stiff boots and trainers depending on underground conditions. I do many tracked / pathed munros in waterproof seal skin socks and trainers in summer conditions. However, if going off path or any winter conditions might be anticipated...always boots. Its good to keep the knees and ankles strong.
Enjoy your next wander.
by arjh » Mon Oct 26, 2020 9:04 pm
Walking poles are an absolute godsend for knee pain - highly recommended. There's a reason why most mountain animals are quadrupeds!
by NeilNS » Mon Oct 26, 2020 9:08 pm
I enjoyed your writing style, wit and ability to see the funny side of when things didn't go to plan - also to learn from them.
Great report, hoping the weather is a bit kinder to you next time, whilst getting to the top is a great achievement being able to sit with a cuppa and enjoy the views is the real prize.
Look forward to your next adventure
by steverabone » Tue Oct 27, 2020 1:43 pm
You asked for comments/ suggestions so here goes.
Walking on your own like you did, and I do, does bring some challenges that are worth thinking about but the rewards are definitely worth it. I've experienced and enjoyed walking with my wife, and occasionally with my son-in-law, on about 30 of my Scottish hill walks but the vast majority (probably about 160 Munros or Corbetts) were on my own. Being on your own brings other rewards such as being more aware of your surroundings and really "being in the moment". It is now definitely my preferred option.
Use trekking poles - 2 of them. They will help reduce the strain on your legs, build up some strength in your upper body and allow you to go uphill faster as you are using your upper body muscles to propel you as well as your legs. Coming downhill they will help your balance and reduce the shock on your knee joints. They are also good for crossing boggy ground as you get a fraction of a seconds warning that allows you not to go into the bog up to your knees. Also they are useful if you come across dogs - generally they keep well away!
I would also buy a cheap GPS as when you get lost (note I say WHEN not IF!) you will know where you are (set the GPS to give the OS grid reference). Also practice using a compass in good conditions so when the weather is bad and you need to use a compass you know what to do.
I also use the Walk Highlands GPS page to waymark online the route I am intending to take. Write the grid reference for each significant point on your route onto your map and also put them in your GPS so you can if necessary navigate to that point just with the GPS rather than the map. I also make a note of the expected time to each point. As well as having the normal paper map I also print out a copy of the route with the waymarks and timings marked on it and laminate that in a clear plastic wallet. The GPS will also allow you to predict arrival points at each location. Being on your own this can also give you more confidence about how things are going.
I now also carry a SPOT personal tracker with me on all my walks set up with a contact phone and email (in my case my wife) so that I can send a message to say I am alright if there is no mobile reception. In the event of an accident then, as long as you are conscious, you can also send an emergency message with your location.
Good luck with your Munro quest but don't also ignore the Corbetts as they can be just as rewarding.
by roykemp » Tue Oct 27, 2020 8:26 pm
R1ggered wrote:Great effort for all that. Pity about the weather as the views up there are fabulous.
Cheers - the weather added a certain challenge to it. If I do go back for the other Munros, hopefully the weather is kinder!
Gordie12 wrote:So much to look forward to, mist, rain, sleat, clag, snow, cold, hot, midgies, clegs, keds and so much more.
Now, I could have lived my entire life without knowing keds even existed. But no, you had to go posting something that I then went away and Googled, didn't you?
Sgurr wrote:Lochnagar seems quite on the big side for a first Munro (or is that because husband would only climb it AGAIN if we did the Corbett as well). Well done. (You know how to write hook-em-in titles).
Yeah, in hindsight I could have perhaps picked an easier one, but I'm well fired up for some more of the same now. Although I think building fitness on easier ones might be a good route to not destroying my knees right away. And apologies for the clickbait but that £150 voucher ain't gonna win itself!
Kendrum wrote:Very entertaining report
I would also chose lower hills till you work out what your knees can cope with.
Cheers! And I fully agree. Stuff like Ben Macdui is on hold until I've worked up through Mount Keen, Ben Lomond and other easier ones.
NeepNeep wrote:I also sometimes take left overs in a tub to eat but normally take something I can stuff into my face in any conditions. Sometimes, sitting down for a slap up curry isn't the best choice if cold and windy....ramming a cheese and pickle sandwich and oat bar into your face can be a little easier.
Regarding ankle support and knock-on affects to the knee - I also find this 'a thing' and strike a balance between stiff boots and trainers depending on underground conditions.
Yeah, I guess I'll leave the chablis and foie gras at home next time! I'm going to take my time picking footwear, it'll have such a big impact on everything going forward it'll be worth getting it right. I won't be shoving "something" in a bag as I'm getting booted out of the shop, anyway.
arjh wrote:Great first report, looking forward to more
Thanks - will try to maintain the habit and quality!
NeilNS wrote:Thanks for posting Roy. I enjoyed your writing style, wit and ability to see the funny side of when things didn't go to plan - also to learn from them.
Cheers for the encouragement - failing yet winning is something that seems to come naturally to me...
steverabone wrote:Lots of good stuff!
Thanks Steve, that's all great info, appreciate the tips. Will definitely look into GPS as an extra safety net. And yes, I enjoyed the sense of absolute responsibility from getting out there solo. Nobody to blame but yourself if it all goes wrong.
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