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).