Date: Saturday 5th March 2011
Start: Spittal of Glen Muick car park
Weather: Blue Skies, occasional cloud
Distance: 29.9 km
Time taken: 5 Hour
Ascent: 1181 metres
Accompanied by: No One
Munro: Lochnagar (1155 metres)
Munro: Carn a’Choire Bhoidheach (1118 metres)
Munro: Carn an t-Sagairt Mor (1047 metres)
Munro: Cairn Bannoch (1012 metres)
Munro: Broad Cairn (998 metres)
Munro Top: Carn an t-Sagairt Beag (1044 metres)
Munro Top: Cairn of Gowal (991 metres)
Munro Top: Meikle Pap (980 metres)
WIS had promised a 90% chance of cloud free Munro’s in the Cairngorm National Park and this was too good an opportunity not to be up in the hills. I was getting close to ticking all the Munro’s off in the Cairngorms but I had yet to nail Lochnagar. Last winter, I was beaten back by snow. Not on the hills mind, but on the road to leading to the Spittal of Glenmuick car park. Fortunately, there was limited snow below 900 metres so with hopefully no transport issues, Lochnagar from Glen Muick beckoned.
I set off early and the journey was uneventful. By 9:30am I was kitted up and ready to set off running. Due to the height and the fickle nature of the weather in the Cairngorms, I decided to take a little extra gear with me. I packed the emergency shelter, my first aid kit I used on my mountain leader assessment, some extra layers and a ton of food.
I ran out of the car park and headed past the visitor centre towards the Allt na-guibhsaich. I kept the pace slow, and overtook people as I headed up towards Clais Rathadan. The weather did not look great, the skies were grey but the forecast had said it would be a cloudy first thing so I was not overly concerned. I headed off the main path and picked up the well-trodden track up towards the bealach between Lochnagar and Meikle Pap. There were occasional glimpses of blue sky but the cloud stubbornly refused to move. At the bealach I considered whether to climb up to the top of Meikle Pap or not. I had read that the view across to famous northern corrie was amazing from the top but with low cloud it hardly seemed worth it. After a few moments deliberation, I decided to head up it regardless. If anything, at least I could put it down as ‘bagged’.
I trotted up to the top, a combination of running and walking and sat down on the rocky summit to take on board some food and water. I doubt I would ever time things to perfection again. No sooner had I sat down than the clouds slowly thinned. The sun began to shine and the view opened up in front of me. To say that the northern corrie is spectacular is an understatement. I sat for a while and absorbed the splendour then donned my pack and headed back down to the bealach. From here I put on my microspikes and headed up the icy ‘Ladder’, clambering over the rocks to the plateau.
From here I followed the cliffs round up towards the cairn at Cac Carn Mor. The clouds were drifting back in now and by the time I got to the summit I was in thick clag. I hung about for twenty minutes or so but with there no sign of the cloud breaking and with a decent amount of distance to cover, I decided to drop down and head off to my next objective, Carn a’ Choire Bhoidheach.
I headed back to Cac Carn Mor and took a bearing with my compass to the summit of Carn a’ Choire Bhoidheach. On a straight bearing this would push me close to The Stuic and cliffs near Loch nan Eun so I deliberately headed a little further south to be on the safe side. As I dropped to about 1050 metres, the cloud disappeared and I could now clearly see the cliffs and the summit top of Carn a’ Choire Bhoidheach. With a decent amount of snow still around on the tops, and my feet breaking through the crisp top layer, running was difficult. I picked up a trail of footsteps that led up to the summit and found that by running in these footprints, I could make decent progress.
There was no one else around on the top and with the clouds gone, the views were tremendous. I took a summit photo then considered my approach to the next Munro, Carn an t-Sagairt Mor. Although I could avoid the Munro Top, Carn an t-Sagairt Beag by skirting around the edge, it did not seem too much of a big deal to go directly over the top.
I headed directly for the summit of Carn an t-Sagairt Beag and without stopping I dropped off the other side and then climbed up towards Carn an t-Sagairt Mor. Whilst heading up to the top I came across the wreckage of an aeroplane and more specifically, an aeroplane wing. A little research, later on when I got home identified the plane wing from a Canberra that hit the hillside in 1956.
Once on the summit I considered my options. My initial plan was to drop down via the Allt an Dubh-loch to Dubh Loch then pick up the path that leads below the White Mounth cliffs to Loch Muick. An alternative option was to head south west and take in Cairn Bannoch and Broad Cairn. I had already climbed these on a trip in 2009 when I linked Broad Cairn, Cairn Bannoch, Tolmount, Tom Buidhe, Mayar and Driesh in a huge horseshoe.
The weather was fantastic and I was feeling great so I decided to extend my run and head over Cairn Bannoch and Broad Cairn again then pick the high path up above Loch Muick then drop down to the loch and back to the car. By now the sun was beating down and I regretted not bringing my sunglasses (Although they were in the car, I did not want to tempt fate with the weather.) Fortunately, I had a little tub of sun block in my first aid kit so I applied some to my face and neck and set off.
I headed south-east off the summit and picked the tracks up from some walkers who I could see in the far distance heading up to Cairn Bannoch. To the south was Tolmount, just hiding in the white cloud but my destination was cloud free. As before, I ran in the footsteps and was able to run comfortably down to the Coire Allt An Aitinn and up to the top of Cairn Bannoch. Having already been on this top before, I did not hang about and instead just took a summit photo then pushed on towards Broad Cairn via Cairn of Gowal. The cloud was coming and going but a bearing I took on my compass confirmed that the footsteps in the snow I was following were heading in the correct direction.
Once on the top, I chatted for a while to a couple who were also doing the same circuit as myself but walking and had set off 3 hours earlier. With a fair distance to go, it would be pushing darkness by the time they finished back at the car park. I was glad I would be making a ‘faster’ exit. I dropped down from Broad Cairn and picked up the main path that runs along the top of the cliff. The terrain was torturous. The snow was soft and every step I took resulted in me sinking to my knees. The only other option was to run at the side where there was no snow but the ground was rocky and tussocky.
Eventually, I reached the point where the path zig-zagged down the hill and thankfully the end of the soft slushy snow. It was great to open up a little and stretch my legs. Once at the bottom of the descent, I stopped on the bridge to admire the waterfall on Black Burn then headed off along the loch side path towards the car park. It was probably only about 3km and although I had put in 26km, I felt pretty good and was able to maintain a decent pace all the way back without stopping. Once at the car, a quick change of clothes ensued then a drive to the nearest shop in Braemar and a deserved can of ice cold Coke 🙂