Lochnagar & Carn a Choire Bhoidheach

Route: Lochnagar from Glen Muick

Munros: Carn a'Choire Bhoidheach, Lochnagar

Date walked: 15/05/2009

Lochnagar & Carn a Choire Bhoidheach

Sunday 3 May 2009

Conditions: All

Lochnagar had been on our radar for a while. We had visited many neighbouring summits over the previous couple of months, building up walking fitness and enjoying various degrees of winter conditions across the Mounth plateau. Only a few weeks before we had a great day out climbing Cairn an t-saigart Mor from Glen Callater and ambling out across grassy tundra to Carn Bannoch. On that day we elected to leave Carn a Choire Bhoidheach for adding to the route over Lochnagar and myself choosing to leave Broad Cairn as my first munro summit to which I would cycle. H, being able to recognise this for the ridiculous challenge that it is remains quite content to leave me to it. But anyway, that's for another day.

Previous to this day I had been feeling a little under the weather and was unsure as to whether it would be wise to commit to what seemed quite a long walk. We agreed to leave our options open and head for the hills, keeping our optimism in the rejuvenating powers of fresh mountain air.

After a circuitous route to Deeside and a bit of dithering in the deli in Ballater we had a quite late start, which is perfectly normal for us. Mid afternoon had us striding away from a packed car park where several families were enjoying picnics besides their cars. In the meadow next to the car park the picnic benches remained unused. Maybe it was inhabited by ferocious rabbits. Through the pines and across the wide openness of Glen Muick the first mile or so is easy walking without incline. To our left the view is to the great trench that holds Loch Muick and I can see the steep track that winds up the enclosing hillside towards Broad Cairn. (Is that really bikeable?).
Our well-marked path of today takes us briefly through another pinewood behind a lodge and then rises at a reasonably easy rate of ascent beside the Allt na giubhsaich on a good landrover track. I keep checking myself to see if I'm up to the task - so far so good and occasionally glance back to assess how much altitude we’ve gained. It doesn't seem much height gain but the lack of steepness is welcome and over the distance it makes pleasant walking.

So far the weather has been fine, occasionally sunny but as we take the path towards the Meikle Pap the skies darken and by the time we near the bealach at the top the stiff wind is throwing stinging hail in our faces. The mini storm soon subsides we now have the fine view into the upper corrie and cliffs of Lochnagar:

Lochnagar northern corrie and lochan.jpg

At this point it feels like we are already on the upper reaches of the mountain but there is still a fair bit to be done as the next part of the route is ‘the ladder’ where the path ascends steeply over large boulders (but remains a path) to leave an enjoyable circuit along the edge of the cliffs.

At the lower, recessed points of the cliffs behind the cornices we notice the ground is smooth and sandy and we wonder if this is the effect of mini-glacial action as the cornice snowpack submits to gravity dragging small rocks with it.

Meikle Pap.jpg

There’s another short climb to the plateau and as the sun graces us again we wander out along towers that form the cliff buttresses:

Clifftop walk.jpg

Behind the cliffs the summit is the familiar terrain of grassy mounth plateau topped with two small granite rock tors in part resembling layers of folded dough that have set hard. Cac Carn Mor has a very neatly built cairn (someone aspires to be Andy Goldsworthy). Cac Carn Beag is a little castle topped with a trig point and viewpoint indicator.

Summit points.jpg

On the summit it is very blowy and this is making it hard to balance on the rocks so we take shelter from the wind and enjoy the sunshine while we refuel. I’m feeling fine now and am quite surprised that given the distance it seems quite an easily gained summit. I think this is down to the ease of angle of ascent at the beginning. It is very cold up here once you stop moving so we don extra layers and agree to walk out to Carn a Choire Bhoidheach. It’s the modest hump just behind the cliffs of the Stuic just over a mile away to the south west.

H at summit and Carn a Choire Bhoidheach behind the Stuic.jpg

It seems an undistinguished lump to leave for its own specific trip at a later date and we have the daylight hours to do it today so we head off. However, we don’t get far when I realise I’m missing a glove so we backtrack and despite the attempts of the wind to whip it over the cliffs, there it is on the path below the summit tor. I’m pleased and relieved to get it back.

At this moment two guys appear from the other side (north west) of the summit. Neither of them have rucksacks and one is wearing jeans but they are moving quickly and purposely across the mountain towards Glen Muick.

We wind our way down the back of Lochnagar. This side is featureless but we are entertained by the changing patterns of evening light and spot some mountain hares caught between winter and summer coats. Ahead is the Stuic buttress and its snow rimmed cliffs. I’m feeling okay but H begins to notice some pain in her knee on the descent. Fortunately, this eases once we gain the bealach and take the slowly inclining track around the Stuic. The easy track we are following seems to be going around our hill so we cut a corner and head more directly towards the top. Where does impatience get you? In a bog, that’s where. It is however easily negotiated and we soon find ourselves at a cairn without seemingly, much of a hill underneath it. Indeed, Carn a Choire Bhoidheach is good place to consider the folly of list ticking. It’s nothing like the Cobbler or Stac Polly but it is a munro and I love a good walk at a good height so I’m happy. To the south west broiling black clouds are bullying their way across the sky towards us.

We weigh up the options of the potential return routes and decide on following the Glas Allt path with the walk back along the length of Loch Muick. Heading back to Lochnagar the black clouds catch up with us and flurries of large snowflakes are blown horizontally across our path. Actually they seem to be blowing uphill. Skirting around Lochnagar the descent brings pain back to H’s knee and downhill movement becomes a problem. She has trekking poles which help movement but progress is slowed considerably. It’s a good path and there are a few level sections where the pain diminishes a little but I check the time and hope we can get down to the loch before dark.
The upper section of this descent route has little in the way of outstanding features but the lower part is wonderful. The view down to Loch Muick is most welcome – it doesn’t seem too far away.

Loch Muick comes into sight.jpg

We pause at the waterfalls but the light is fading and the little camera can’t cope.


Finally we arrive at the nice little wood of the Glas Allt Shiel. Well, it seems like it would be nice in lighter conditions. The descent has taken four hours. It is now 9.45pm and we have several miles to walk along the loch. There is still some light in the sky and a half moon reflects across the water. Walking on the level is easier for H and we are able to march back at speed. For some reason we walk past the end of the loch and carry on to the lodge we passed on the way out. We can smell the deer grazing here before we see them. The final trod back across the glen is just about enough for me now and we put on head torches through the woods back to the car.
As I wait while H powders her nose at the convenience, my torch picks out lots of disembodied green eyes staring back at me through the woods. I shine a brighter torch to check that they aren’t ferocious rabbits. Just deer.

Back at the car at 10.45pm. Pretty dark now. The electronic key is too cold to open the car and has to be nursed into doing so. After what worked out as sixteen miles of walking we are exhausted. It was a difficult descent but our memories are on the whole of a great day out.

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Comments: 13

Can 0f Airy

Location: Leith
Mountain: I couldnt choose
Place: Almost all the west coast
Ideal day out: Bike in to wild camp where the tumbling river meets the sea, then a varied walk and scramble with a nice long ridge walk at altitude before descending to swim in the pools before supper and sunset on the beach.

Munros: 196
Corbetts: 13
Long Distance routes: West Highland Way    Fife Coastal Path    Forth & Clyde and Union canal towpath    Great Glen Way    Speyside Way    Three Lochs Way    Rob Roy Way   

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