Overnight walk to see the summer solstice sunrise

Munros: Broad Cairn, Cairn Bannoch, Carn a'Choire Bhoidheach, Carn an t-Sagairt Mor, Lochnagar

Date walked: 21/06/2019

Time taken: 10.75 hours

Distance: 29.9km

Ascent: 1425m

In the run up to the summer solstice, I kept a close eye on several weather forecasts in the hope of undertaking an overnight walk in Glen Affric; daily mention of thundery downpours always gives cause for concern. On checking the final forecasts prior to setting off from home, they indicated considerably better weather to the east. Instead of Glen Affric, I therefore opted for a repeat of the Lochnagar Horseshoe taking in Broad Cairn, Cairn Bannoch, Carn an t-Sagairt Mor, Carn a' Choire Bhoidheach and Lochnagar. Having walked the Lochnagar Horsehoe twice previously, and also various other combinations of these hills, this would be familiar territory.

On arriving at the Spittal of Glenmuick car park, I was conscious we still had ample time to spare if we were to witness the solstice sunrise from the summit of Lochnagar. Regardless, we decided to head-off early allowing us to walk at a more relaxed pace and build-in some contingency time should walking in the dark take longer than anticipated.

Click here to see a map of the route undertaken

From the car park, we set off along the south bank of Loch Muick with a view to undertaking a clockwise circuit. As we walked along the lochside, we could see and hear numerous Greylag Geese down on the loch. After walking a couple of kilometres along the track, Broad Cairn, our first Munro of the walk, came in to view. It looked a long way off.

Looking along Loch Muick towards the summit of Broad Cairn:

The walk round Loch Muick is a fantastic low-level walk in itself. On reaching approximately half-way round the loch, we took the excellent-quality track leading up towards Broad Cairn. During the ascent we stopped several times to take photographs.

Broad Cairn from Loch Muick track:

On looking back, the weather to the east looked fantastic. On looking west, the same could not be said.

View looking back along Loch Muick:

On reaching the top of the track, we could see rain showers above the White Mounth hills which were heading in our general direction. The combination of showers and sunlight provided some great atmospheric views. It was nice to look across to the Glas Allt waterfall and also the Allt an Dubh loch.

View across Loch Muick towards the White Mounth:

Loch Muick:

I didn't take any photos during the next few kilometres due to showers and lack of good views. On reaching Sandy's Seat, we stopped to use Sandy's Seat and have a drink. Broad Cairn was now not too distant. After our brief rest, we set off to ascend Broad Cairn.

Ascending Broad Cairn:

We arrived at the summit of Broad Cairn at 22:15. Unfortunately the cloud was now dropping, limiting views of the surrounding hills. I remained positive, trusting the weather forecasts would be correct, with cloud dissipating to provide a cloud-free night. Fat chance :roll:!

It was nice to see the wonderful steep crags of Creag an Dubh-loch once again.

At the summit of Broad Cairn:

From the summit of Broad Cairn we next made our way towards Cairn Bannoch.

Looking back to Broad Cairn:

En-route to Cairn Bannoch, we could see more incoming cloud and expected to get a soaking. As it was now after sunset, the light was fading due to the dark clouds and the moon not having yet risen. Fortunately, these clouds passed-by without showering us with rain or snow.

Heading towards Cairn Bannoch:

We reached the summit of Cairn Bannoch, our second Munro, at 23:00. A short distance beyond the summit, we stopped to put on another layer as it was getting cold. The temperature, with added windchill, felt more akin to walking on a winter solstice than a summer one.

Looking across to Eagle's Rock waterfall from summit of Cairn Bannoch:

The camera stayed mostly in its bag for the next few hours of darkness as I was not carrying a tripod which would have been required for the required long exposures.

While ascending Carn an t-Sagairt Mor, we got out our headtorches switching them on shortly before reaching the summit. Once into the low cloud, the beam of the headtorches was reflecting back like driving a car with full beam in fog. We had to therefore reduce the power of the beam of our torches in order to see where we were going. We were both carrying not only spare batteries but also spare headtorches, a good move when planning to walk overnight.

We reached the summit of Carn an t-Sagairt Mor at midnight.

At the summit of Carn an t-Sagairt Mor:

At the outset of the walk, it had been my intention to walk from Carn an t-Sagairt Mor to Carn a' Choire Bhoidheach via Carn an t-Sagairt Beag. It was however now slow progress given the low-cloud and ability to see only several metres ahead. We followed a compass bearing to reach the col. I then decided to drop down another 50m to make use of the track skirting round Carn an t-Sagairt Beag which would allow for faster progress. Before long we reached the path, passing some aircraft wreckage en-route.

Once onto the path, it was again fast progress onward and upwards towards our fourth Munro, Carn a' Choire Bhoidheach. We reached this fourth Munro summit at 01:15.

At the summit of Carn a' Choire Bhoidheach:

From the summit of Carn a' Choire Bhoidheach, the route out to Lochnagar was undertaken in low cloud. We followed the good path the whole way which made for fast progress despite a lack of visibility.

Before long we reached Cac Carn Mor and then proceeded onto Cac Carn Beag, the summit of Lochnagar. We reached the summit of Lochnagar at 02:20 i.e. circa two hours before sunrise.

This was my eleventh ascent of Lochnagar, my first ascent was in 1982/83 with the school hillwalking club.

Lochnagar toposcope:

After visiting the toposcope, we both also visited the trig point and summit rock. We spent quite a bit of time at the summit faffing around attempting to take photographs. The quality of photos was however poor, owing to it being dark, not having a tripod and being in low cloud.

Myself at the summit of Lochnagar:

Ann-Marie at the summit of Lochnagar:

As we were engulfed in low cloud at the summit, I thought it was pointless to wait a further 90 minutes with only an off-chance of witnessing the sunrise. We therefore decided to begin our descent with a view to hopefully witnessing the sunrise from a lower vantage point. This turned out to be an excellent plan :D.

On walking round the coire rim at circa 3am, we were surprised to see two other walkers heading for the summit. I suspect they missed the sunrise.

Lochnagar c.45 minutes before sunrise:

As we progressed round the final section of coire rim, we could see some wonderful pre-sunrise colours beyond Meikle Pap. With circa 45 minutes remaining until sunrise, it was now a case of step-up several gears to descend to the col and then ascend Meikle Pap in time for sunrise. I ended-up almost running up Meikle Pap, en-route passing a ptarmigan doing the broken-wing act in an attempt to lure me away from its chicks.

Pre-sunrise light beyond Meikle Pap:

Thanks to the increased pace, I arrived in time to witness the pre-sunrise colours and was shortly thereafter joined by Ann-Marie and two other walkers who had seen me legging-it up Meikle Pap. The two other walkers had intended ascending Lochnagar but advised they had failed to locate the start of the path up the Ladder.

Awaiting sunrise on Meikle Pap:

It was wonderful to just sit for twenty minutes watching the sun come up.

Pre-sunrise view from Meikle Pap:

Pre-sunrise view from Meikle Pap:

A few minutes before sunrise:

On seeing the sun come over the sunrise, the Beatles song "Here Comes the Sun" popped into my head, a song I last heard being covered in the Cavern Club in Liverpool. A great song for a great spectacle.

Summer solstice sunrise, "Here comes the sun (doo doo doo doo)":

The wonderful sunrise was good not only to the east but also to the west as the first rays of the summer solstice sunrise lit up the Corrie of Lochnagar in a deep red.

First rays of summer solstice sunrise lighting up the Corrie of Lochnagar:

First rays of summer solstice sunrise lighting up the Corrie of Lochnagar:

After witnessing the sunrise, we made our way down Meikle Pap and back out the standard walking route to the Spittal of Glenmuick. The track in this direction remains fairly poor with lots of stones just dumped on the track to prevent erosion. Hopefully, car park monies will be spent to help repair this track to a quality similar to that ascending Broad Cairn and the Capel Mounth.

A wonderful overnight walk. Think I need to walk overnight more frequently 8).

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