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Surprise snow on Lochnagar; late return in darkness!

Surprise snow on Lochnagar; late return in darkness!

Postby Crannogdiver » Sun Nov 09, 2014 4:04 pm

Route description: Lochnagar from Glen Muick

Munros included on this walk: Lochnagar

Date walked: 08/11/2014

Time taken: 5 hours

Distance: 21 km

Ascent: 750m

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Right, even though I've spent most of my life enjoying the outdoors, I haven't done any proper Scottish walks in awhile, other than Morven the previous weekend, so was all kitted up (i.e. too much gear + loads of photo kit) for an early-winter bash at Lochnagar, terra incognito for me.

I got a decidedly late start at noon from the Spittal carpark - broken rule no.1 - don't be lazy, lazy! I recommend you take £3 in coins, or worry about a parking ticket the rest of the day - a big thank you goes to the mountain bikers who had change for my fiver.

I decided to ascend/descend via the Loch Muick route. I walk by myself, so decided if I didn't get to the top in time to get back before dark, I would not push it, retrace my steps, and still get the scenery.

Realising how easy the Landrover track is along the loch, and with two headlamps in my rucksack, I quickly changed my mind and was determined to get to the top. This is an ideal walk to start by bicycle, saving a fair bit of time. I saw a handful of bicycles at the end of the track in the pine forest before the proper ascent begins and made a mental note for next time to drag the old Raleigh out of the shed.

Loch Muick itself is pretty dramatic scenery, followed by a sharp right for the trail upwards to Lochnagar which starts in the placid pines at the end of the loch. Once up and out of the forest, after crossing the wooden bridge that crosses a small, idyllic waterfall, you quickly gain elevation on a well-trodden but equally well-maintained path (that's where your £3 parking fee goes - well spent in my opinion). Even uphill it's a speedy cruise with no dodgy parts and solid footing. A LOT of effort has gone into making and maintaining this path.

The extensive waterfalls along Glas Allt, and the view back towards the rapidly shrinking loch makes, in itself, a rewarding jaunt. Cresting the top of the initial ascent past the rambunctious waters of Glas Allt c.690-700m, you reach a gently sloping valley with the base of Lochnagar now directly in front - a straight shot like looking down a barrel. I was surprised to see patches of snow that had been there for some time already, but as I was to soon find out, more wintry fun was in store. The landscape changes to more of a sub-Arctic plateau now, and I was quickly heading into cloud cover.

At the head of the high valley, Just below the summit, a final short but steeper stretch takes you onto the final plateau, past several small cairns which proved to be handy (I don't use GPS, just topo & compass). The actual summit is a large prominent cairn which materialise out of the fog to greet you, with a trig point on top. The weather by this point was rapidly closing in, and a fleeting 30 second break in the clouds let me rattle off a few photos.

Then the snows came!

I didn't have time to investigate much further around the summit. A few flakes at first, then a white curtain descended, cutting visibility down to 20-40m in a flurry of snow and cloud. The wind wasn't bad at all, well under 20knots I'd say, so no problems walking. Unfortunately the weather prevented any views of the highly-touted west buttress and waters of Lochnagar below, but I did catch a quick glimpse of Loch nan Eun just to the south-west.

With the clock ticking and visibility rapidly melting away, I said my goodbyes to the summit and felt an urgency to relocate the small cairns below. No need for drama, as this turned out to be easy, and 30 minutes later I was below the clouds, walking in the light rain and was cruising back. Again, walking solo, I took the same route back along the loch as I didn't want to navigate in the dark along the other leg of the circuit - now terra incognito in contrast to Loch Muick, and I had no plans to use my bivy bag and spare woolen clothing, though I always take it out of summer.

Reaching the track along the loch once more, I was cruising full-steam and didn't think I'd need my torch. There was a fresh land-slide which blocked half the track - a testimony to the potential problems faced in wilderness like this. Though adreneline fueled, (or was that endorphins?) the high-spirited 'victory' walk back along the loch seemed twice as long as it had in the sunshine 4 hours ago. Light was fading fast. By the time I reached the bridge at the end of the loch near the carpark, I had to pull out the headlamp for fear of twisting an ankle or some other easily-preventable moment of stupidity which would have impacted an otherwise splendid trek.

Reaching the car, the rain was really falling in lashes now, and my mind flashed back to the summit, wondering what wintery conditions howled and swirled high above. I'm thinking at least bringing simple 4-point instep crampons for my return visit on a week or two, with views of the west buttress firmly set in my sights for the next time.

Although I stopped to snap quite a few shots, and dawdled near the waterfalls with my tripod and cameras, I didn't really take any other breaks and was moving rapidly, even with a large rucksack holding my tripod, two cameras, three lenses, two head-torches, bivy bag, thermals, balaclava, winter coat, chocolates, flask of coffee, 1l of water and an obligatory half-kilo of dry-roasted 'survival' peanuts which I half-consumed as I walked on the return. I left at noon and unlocked the car just after 5pm in high spirits, despite the dark and damp finale. I'd estimate 20-21km and 750-800m of elevation change. Apparently, I ain't that old yet!

I don't generally like walking in the dark, but the easily-navigable track (more like road, really) along Loch Muick makes this walk ideal for short winter days in my opinion. Perhaps when the snows really set in, this track looks to be an avalanche magnet, but still, I love this walk. As I write this the following day, the weather in eastern Scotland is nothing but blue skies, so I'm kicking myself for not timing it better. Ah well, still a classic Scottish walk.
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Ok, trust me, it's starting to snow again, and my cameras don't do well in the wet. So it's goodbye for now and a smooth retreat before the vis completely vanishes. Until next time Lochnagar!
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Still, fairly dramatic. I'll take it.
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My 30 second break in the clouds. Better than no break!
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Think I'll stay away from the edges today. Close as I get, and the clock is ticking on available daylight.
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We've got it now! The summit cairn. Wasn't expecting to see this much snow already, but certainly adds an element of adventure to it all.
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Hmm, the sun seems to have gone somewhere, and the clouds are now sitting on my head.
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Hello sublime upland plateau! You're on the homestretch now. That's the base of Lochnagar in the distance - a straight shot.
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Goodbye to Loch Muick for now...
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Glas Allt. Even if you don't make the summit, this is worth a visit.
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Out of the pines, but not out of the woods just yet.
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First waterfall, down in the pines near the loch. Nice!
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Nearing the loch. Fine weather. For now.
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The approach to Loch Muick. Nae bad Ken!
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Re: Surprise snow on Lochnagar; late return in darkness!

Postby kev_russ » Sun Nov 09, 2014 9:22 pm

Nae bad report and pics. Ken whit ah mean :wink:
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Re: Surprise snow on Lochnagar; late return in darkness!

Postby Crannogdiver » Fri Nov 14, 2014 6:01 pm

Ah thank you, just getting back in the groove. I broke down today and bought a small GPS to throw in the bag for backup. May go back tomorrow morning, hoping vis around the top is better but forecast is perhaps worse than last time!
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Re: Surprise snow on Lochnagar; late return in darkness!

Postby Huff_n_Puff » Fri Nov 14, 2014 6:27 pm

Beautiful moody photos :clap: :clap: - you seem to have made good use of all that camera gear you were carrying, puts my grumping about carrying one slr into context :lol: :lol:
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Re: Surprise snow on Lochnagar; late return in darkness!

Postby dogplodder » Sat Nov 15, 2014 10:35 am

That was a good read. The first time I went up Lochnagar it was by your route after camping on a freezing May night at the head of Loch Muick with a group including my two sons aged 12 and 10. I remember well the amount of snow we encountered between the waterfalls and the summit! :D
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Re: Surprise snow on Lochnagar; late return in darkness!

Postby Crannogdiver » Fri Dec 05, 2014 10:13 pm

Thanks all! Next is Ben Mcdui. Even got a second-hand pair of snowshoes to try out if need be. Hoping to do a short documentary in full winter, as if I need more non-essential kit to carry. Perhaps they have a llama hire outlet in Braemar...
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