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.


  1. It's easy to feel the complex and variable moods of such a winter if it can't quite decide how to dress for a very important visitor. Well put, Ian. "Warm" wishes. :)

    1. It certainly felt like winter Duncan, though there wasn't a full cover of snow there was ice and a biting wind, which certainly justified my choice of dress for the day! :o)

  2. Good to see snow again on the hills. Last time I was up there I never made it to the summit due to howling winds and arctic snowdrifts a few years ago on a solo ascent. Thought it best not to push my luck as visibility was poor as well so no views. Great mountain.

    1. It truly is a great mountain isn't it Bob? I've been beaten off it in a gale more than once, but it never fails to give a good hill day. Here's hoping the early winter conditions continue and we get a proper season this year!