Carrying gear for an overnight camp (as well as a week's worth of clothing) was exacting a toll on our post-lockdown fitness and we made rather lethargic progress on the track by the Allt na Guibhsaich, but it was still wonderful to be out in the hills at last.
We turned off the track for the path up to the col between Lochnagar and the Meickle Pap. The forecast had been mixed and the showers duly broke as we climbed, but by 3pm it was dry and, miraculously, we wouldn't see another drop of rain for the next seven days. Arriving at the col, we were met by a magnificent view of the Corrie of Lochnagar; I thought of the closing lines of Byron's poem Lachin y Gair:
England! thy beauties are tame and domestic,
To one who has rov'd on the mountains afar:
Oh! for the crags that are wild and majestic,
The steep, frowning glories of dark Loch na Garr.
There were several other groups taking photos at the col, some of whom had obviously been pointed up the hill and had embarked without any maps, so were now cheerfully asking for directions to the summit (Ed assured me I had sounded insufferably smug as I showed them the route on my Harvey's). Neither of us could summon the energy to climb up to the Meickle Pap, supposedly the best viewpoint for the corrie, so we headed straight up the ridge, keeping close to the western edge to peer at the crags and the lochan. The crowds gradually melted into the mist and by the time we reached the summit plateau it felt like we had the mountain to ourselves.
The area surrounding the cairn at Cac Carn Mor is largely flat, but the true summit, Cac Carn Beag, is a nice little rock pimple protruding from the plateau. The clouds lifted almost exactly as we arrived and we spent a while by the summit cairn taking in the view; there was a real sense of emptiness, with almost all the settlements along the Dee hidden by the shape of the land, and no other walkers to be seen. This was actually Ed's first Munro - he said it would be a pretty hard act to follow!
From the summit, we spotted an ideal campsite by Loch nan Eun below the Stuic. We picked our way down into the corrie from the southeast, avoiding the snow patches and doing our best not to slip on the steep, damp grass. After a tedious half kilometre over a boulder field in the corrie - certainly the longest twenty minutes of the day - we pitched our tent below the impressive-looking Stuic Buttress by the outflow to the lochan.
After an excellent night's sleep - very warm even at 900m - we were greeted by an inversion and much improved weather. Fuelled by a watery porridge breakfast, I headed directly up the Stuic via Stuic Buttress while Ed decided that discretion was the better part of valour and took a more circuitous route up the west flank. The guidebook had rather disparagingly described the Stuic Buttress scramble as straightforward enough for Byron to have used it to ascend Lochnagar "in spite of his club foot", but it still looked pretty imposing from below. Once I was on the rock, though, it was clear that it goes at a comfortable Grade 1 and I was rewarded with good views back into the corrie.
The scramble emerged suddenly onto the Stuic where I waited for Ed, before we headed onto the featureless summit of Carn a' Choire Bhoidheach. From there it was a fantastic afternoon stroll over the high plateau of the White Mounth, taking in another 3 more Munros - all easy ground in dry, summer conditions. We started by climbing over Carn an t-Sagairt Beag and then up Carn an t-Sagairt Mor, stopping to inspect the (remarkably preserved) wreckage of an RAF Canberra jet that crashed on the slopes of Carn an t-Sagairt Mor in 1956.
We descended southeast, then considered our options. Ed was quite keen to head directly down to Braemar but, as a shameless peak-bagger, I was reluctant to descend with two more Munros (Cairn Bannoch and Broad Cairn) so tantalisingly close on a sunny day, so I left Ed with our bags at the bealach below Carn an t-Sagairt Mor to head out to the two remaining Munros on my own. The whole plateau is a bagger's paradise, with the summits of Cairn Bannoch and Broad Cairn each needing barely 70m of reascent on a gentle path - just about the easiest linking of three Munros I have seen. Cairn Bannoch and Broad Cairn both have their summits on little rocky outcrops on otherwise very grassy terrain, and despite pausing for a few photos, I covered the ground out to the two Munros and back in under two hours, accompanied by splendid views across to Lochnagar and down Glen Muick.
I joined up with Ed at the bealach and we followed the path contouring around the west side of Carn an t-Sagairt Mor, then down to the north end of a Loch Callater that was sparkling in the afternoon sun.
From there, it was an hour's walk up the track from Lochcallater Lodge to reach the road at Auchcallater. We were both feeling the miles in our legs at this point and we still had another 3km to negotiate on the Old Military Road - tedious, but certainly preferable to trudging up the the A93 on the other side of the river. We met a few folk going the other way armed with huge rucksacks and various boxes and plastic bags, presumably heading for a lively evening in the bothy at Callater Stables...
We emerged sweaty and tired in Braemar and felt that our pub dinner had been earned.