On 3rd January, Allan and I planned to climb Culblean Hill as our first hillwalk of the year and drove the short distance to near Loch Davan. The roads were very icy and tricky, as was the track heading up to Redbush and onto the moor - the same initial route I'd used to climb Morven six days previously.
The freezing rain which was making conditions slippy on lower ground had been falling as snow higher up the hill - Morven looked splendid in dazzling white; the cloud off the top unlike my ascent just prior to the turn of the year.
An estate track leads high onto the moor between Morven and Culblean Hill - at the highest point we left it and headed SW up a gentle dome of short heather. The view as the high point of the track is reached opens out suddenly - a real "wow" moment, and just kept getting better as we climbed higher.
The cloud moved away from Morven's summit to leave a simple colour scheme of brilliant white and sky blue; we were in bright sunshine but now in a chilly breeze so didn't linger too long, despite the frequent stops for me to take photographs......
.....and really, the views were worth stopping for! The giant sprawl of Ben a'Bhuird and Ben Avon to the west were flawlessly white under deep snow cover, thoughts of ski touring came straight into our heads!
To the south, Lochnagar's corrie looked magnificent, the line of my most recent climb on that queen of mountains clearly visible where the low sun brushed the ridgelines.
Culblean is in no way a high hill, but it has in abundance the "big sky" feel of the hills hereabouts. We were able to stroll across the gentle slopes of the summit area on frozen ground with a covering of powder snow, under a huge expanse of sky.
I'd guess that this hill is pretty rarely climbed - we were certainly the first walkers of the year to come here. The 604 m/1982 ft summit itself is marked by a small cairn of pink granite blocks.......
......a nice contrast against the blue and white of Morven across the bealach.
The combination of small stature and being separated from nearby hills, the summit still gives super views. A cloud sea rolling over Lochnagar as fresh snow swept in.......
In the eye of a searing winter sun, the most easterly of the Munros, Mount Keen was a distinctive silhouette. It's been several years since I've climbed Mount Keen - I made a mental note to try and rectify that in 2018!
There's a Trig Point on Culblean Hill, but it's some 2 kilometres north east of the summit and some 127 metres lower....which we figured must mean that there would be an equally good view from there. We headed off to find out, stopping en route on a sunny slope out of the breeze to have our lunch.
Each trig point was specifically sited where it would have sight lines to at least two others, mostly on prominent points. This one (S8709 for those who "bag" the trigs!) commands a great view of the Dee valley.....
......especially upstream to the west over Ballater and beyond to the high Cairngorms.
Below our feet was Loch Kinord on the Muir of Dinnet, one of two shallow lochs (the other is Loch Davan) formed when giant pieces of ice from the Dee valley glacier were stranded and melted out to form "kettle lakes".
Loch Davan was our aiming point back to the road and we headed downhill on an ESE line. We can't claim this was the best descent - thick heather on a steep slope led to a boggy area then dense woodland before we met the track back to the road. A much better descent would have been ENE to the north edge of a wood, then down the heather slopes to the track.
Our first hillwalks of the year had been to a hill which seems almost unfrequented - but which offers superb views and is well worth the modest effort to climb it.
Our route was just less than 10 kilometres with 490 metres of ascent. We started and finished at the track leading from a minor road connecting the B9119 and the A97 at NJ 431023 - the whole route is on OS Landranger map 37 (Strathdon & Alford).