We set out from Auchallater on the main A93 Braemar - Perth road late on an afternoon as a full gale and heavy showers were befinning to subside. Our route took us along an estate track along Glen Callater to the loch at the head of the glen. Here there's a shooting lodge and in one of the outbuildings an MBA bothy.
We arrived at dusk, started to sort out our kit and got a cup of tea. Shortly after we had a visit from one of the custodians of the adjacent Lodge inviting us to spend an hour by the fire in the main building. We spent a pleasant evening with Bill and Keith and a Belgian lady who is making some really long walking routes around the country. We found that we knew some of the same folk and the conversation ranged far and wide, accompanied by a couple of drams. We retired to our sleeping bags in the bothy warm and slept well.
Early in the morning we had another visitor at the door - one of the estate ponies was keen to say hello and investigate what might be on offer for breakfast! The ponies at Auchallater are used by Invercauld estate to bring down the carcasses of shot deer from the hill. They're sturdy and adaptale animals and can go where vehicles either can't or would cause damage.
The view along Loch Callater was fairly encouraging. Although it was cold with the air temperature around freezing, the wind had dropped and there were breaks in the cloud. It looked like a fair day for the route we had planned.
We went across to the Lodge to thank Bill (and the ponies) for the warm hospitality before departing - noticing the rather fine curling stones on the doorstep. It had been a most pleasant stay at Callater bothy and a tentative plan to get sea kayaks onto Loch Callater in the future had emerged......
Our route now took us above the loch and into the hills of the White Mounth. The term "mounth" is an indication that through routes exist and here is no exception; long routes cross the high passes to link with the south. We used the start of one of these routes but cut off it quite quickly. As we gained height, rucsacs feeling heavy with winter kit this early in the day, we were glad of an excellent stalker's path slanting in an effortless line across the face of the steep hill ground.
We were soon level with the head of the loch, the glacial origin and hummocky moraines clear to see. It looked a bit wintry above too, a defined snowline had appeared on the hills as winter made its first appearance.
Tuning south east off a shallow bealach we started a steeper climb which not only went uphill but also into winter proper. The snow was hard and wind scoured, affording a good bite for the boots as we plodded steadily upwards. To the north, the Dee valley and Ballochbuie Forest were lit by warm sunshine.