Thursday, 30 November 2017

Winter arrives

 Winter has well and truly arrived in Aberdeenshire; overnight falls of snow borne on a blustery north wind have swept across the landscape.

 A morning walk was somewhat more challenging than usual in whirling showers of snow, visibility reducing as they passed through.  Travelling today was tricky......

 As each shower passed through, the snow cover has got deeper and more complete......

 ...and by late morning there's an even cover of some 10cms (6 inches) of fresh snow.  The overnight change in the landscape from the muted colours of late November to the cool blues and shades of white is really striking.

The view from our house is transformed to dazzling brilliance - and more snow is forecast to fall.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Granite noir

The summit tor of Lochnagar is a great viewpoint.  Looking to the south west past the Ordnance Survey trig point you look straight into the "other" corrie of the mountain which contains another dark lochan - Loch nan Eun (loch of the birds).  The prominent ridge just to the right of the lochan leads straight to one of the "tops", known as the Stuic (pronounced Stoo-ee).  Although I've been to the Stuic several times, I've yet to reach it via this there's a good excuse to climb the hill again!

Crouched out of the wind amongst the summit rocks, I could see the next batch of snow showers building to the north.  Rime ice on the boulders showed how cold it had been up here, perhaps a good omen for a proper winter season to come?

Across the valley of the River Dee the view was closed off completely by the approaching weather - it was time to take bearings for two descents and make a start.

I decided to head down the bold ridge which bounds Lochan na Gair, partly to get the best view of the crags and partly because it's a good line on the mountain.  A little way below the summit, at the head of the ridge, there's a super view along the crags - though your gaze may well be drawn downward......

...into one of the branches of Black Spout gully!

The views continue as the ridge is descended.  This is "granite noir"; seen in close proximity the line of 1000ft crags are an impressive sight; massive and slightly menacing .  This is Byron's "Dark Lochnagar" and also one of the great winter climbing arenas of Scotland.

You get well down the ridge towards the lochan before the steep rocks relent and there's gentler ground on which to rest.  I've done this ridge in both directions, and rate it both as an ascent and a descent. 

On the floor of the corrie the crags dominate the view  - my compact camera didn't got to a sufficiently wide angle to image the whole scene!

Rather than contour around the base of the Meikle Pap to regain the track back to Glen Muick I decided to cross the corrie and climb back out over the bealach between the Pap and the Ladder.  My advice to anyone thinking of doing likewise is...don't!  The going is very difficult through moraines of house sized granite boulders with deep gaps between them - especially tricky with snow on most surfaces.  It took an inordinate amount of time and effort to get to the slope beneath the bealach and I several times reminded myself that a fall here would be serious as it's an unfrequented part of the mountain.

I plodded up towards the bealach in a stinging snow shower and  a whirling wind, fortunately blowing from behind me.  The back edge of the shower passed through as I reached the bealach to leave blue sky......

...and the descent back to the track took me, it seemed, out of winter and back into autumn.  I stopped to rest and eat below the snowline on the boundary of Balmoral estate in what seemed relatively warm conditions.  All that remained was to retrace my outward route down the track back to Glen Muick whilst reflecting that Lochnagar, once again, had given a superb day out - and the first winter day of the season.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Scale and space on Lochnagar

It's a short climb from the bealach to Meikle Pap, which gives a great view across to the cliffs of Lochnagar, except that today the top portion of the mountain was in cloud.  Looking across the bealach, the way ahead goes up the curving ridge known as the Ladder and then around the rim of the corrie and up onto the summit plateau.  Scale is not easy to convey, but this is a fairly big chunk of hillside.  Although bouldery, this area has a reputation for avalanches when under deep snow cover.

The cloud began to disperse as I crossed the bealach and headed up the Ladder.  A pause to catch my breath was also a chance to look back across to the "top" of Meikle Pap (big breast)- quite descriptive as Gaelic hill names often are.  For scale, there are two hillwalkers crossing the bealach just to the right of centre in this image.

Close up, the granite of Lochnagar is pink like most of the Cairngorm area.  Seen en masse at the head of Lochnagar's corrie, it often appears dark and slightly menacing.

The rim of the corrie was a wild place to be on this day; the wind was pouring into the north facing bowl and being forced out over the corrie lip in a freezing blast - literally so as the tears the wind was wringing from my eyes were freezing to ice on my face.......

Across the head of the corrie was the slope I hoped to use for my descent, it comes down from close to the summit in a bold sweep and was a part of the hill I'd not previously walked.

There are some terrific views from the head of the corrie - this spot at the head of a steep stone chute is one of the best places to look down on the lochan which gives the mountain its name  - Lochan na Gair (Little Loch of the Noisy Sound).  Up to the north there were signs that the cloud which had capped the mountain for the previous hour was beginning to break up and I hoped it might allow a summit view.

The summit area of Lochnagar is a gentle dome with southerly trending dips to the Munros of the White Mounth, a complete contrast to the dramatic crags of the north face.  As far as the eye could see - which was quite a distance - the high ground was covered white.  The sense of space and scale under huge skies rivals the main Cairngorm plateau here, but in poor conditions navigation needs to be accurate.  In parts the subtle glint of ice reflected the sun and I was glad of the crampons in my rucsac, there was no doubt that these were winter conditions.

Approaching the summit there are cracking views down some of the gullies which split the crags of Lochnagar, the walls sheer and square cut all the way to the corrie floor.  The head of this one framed the Meikle Pap nicely, but given the roiling turbulence of the wind I didn't venture any closer to enjoy the view downwards......

Ahead, the summit of the mountain, Cac Carn Beag was just a couple of hundred metres away.  Sometimes translated as "little pile of shit", its an undignified name for a grand viewpoint but is quite descriptive when seen from some angles, although the name is thought to be probably a corruption of Cadha Carn Beag (slope of the little cairn).

Monday, 13 November 2017

First day of winter on Lochnagar

November has so far been unsettled and for the most part windy.  A swing of wind direction to the northwest introduced a very cold airflow and the promise of wintry conditions in the hills.  Last year offered little in the way of "proper winter" weather, so I decided to take the opportunity while it lasted.

My plan was to climb Lochnagar, one of the classic mountains of the northeast of Scotland and a hill which rarely disappoints.  Something else which didn't disappoint was the frosty pre-dawn weather as I left home.  Before we lived in the northeast we associated frost only with still conditions, but here the deepest frosts are often driven in by a freezing wind.  The morning certainly had promise, and if the amount of scraping of the car windscreen was any indication conditions underfoot should be good and frozen on the hill.

The golden wash in the sky was just stunning as dawn approached, it was time to go!

Forty five minutes later and I was approaching the car park at Spittal of Glenmuick as a beautiful wash of light flooded the far side of the glen.  Don't be fooled by the warmth of the light, it was very chilly!  Lochnagar had a good dusting of snow across its upper slopes and looked great in the early morning light.

My route would take me across the glen to the house at the foot of the Allt na Guibhsaich (burn (stream) of the pine trees) and up the track which follows the burn all the way to a high point between Glen Muick and Glen Gelder.  From there I'd follow a path up to the prominent bealach (col) in this image, then go first up to the conical top of Meikle Pap, then return to the bealach and climb up onto the summit plateau and head around above the cliffs.

I set out at a fast walking pace to try and generate some warmth.  The temperature was hovering just below freezing and a heavy snow shower was raking the top of the mountain.  Showers had been forecast throughout the day, and given the likelihood of frozen ground I was wearing winter boots and carrying both crampons and ice axe.  I didn't expect to need an axe with comparatively little snow on the ground, but I prefer to carry and not use it rather than not carry it and need it.  In the event, I didn't use crampons either, though there was a section of icy ground on the descent where I nearly put them on.  As it happened, the icy section was avoidable on boulders to one side.

I was well warmed up by the time I reached the Muick/Gelder watershed after about 5km of easy angled ascent.  The watershed is at about 700m/2300ft and has a great view across the valley of the River Dee to Ben Avon which seemed to have a good covering of snow.  The path from here climbs more steeply to reach a bealach between Meikle Pap and the main mass of Lochnagar.......

.....where there's the classic grandstand view into the corrie of Lochnagar.  The whole mountain is named for the dark lochan below the cliffs which is called Lochan na Gair (little loch of the noisy sound).  It's a stirring view and one which never loses its impact.  The wind was also making an impact at this bealach, a scything cold blast deflecting around the corrie and pouring over the bealach.  It wasn't a place to linger today despite the grand view; I turned north to make the short climb up to the top of Meikle Pap and what's actually an even better viewpoint.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Remembrance - November 11th

In remembrance of all those men and women who have lost their lives in the service of their countries, those who still suffer the physical and mental scars of the conflicts in which they served; and those who are left with loss and grief.

               "At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them"