Lochnagar, July 2006

On the second day of my trip to Ballater I planned to ascend Lochnagar, the highest summit in the Mounth, and several of its satellites. It's theoretically possible to tackle an enormous round of fifteen summits (the Glen Muick horseshoe) but the distances are daunting and I doubted I'd be up to such an expedition. However, I hoped to climb at least two Munros and two Tops and then see how I felt.

With no public transport down to Spittal of Glen Muick I'd booked a taxi the previous evening. It wasn't easy as Ballater's main taxi service was already booked, but a smaller taxi firm was able to help. I also had to call in to balater's only chemist to see if they had any cheap cameras for sale, my Nikon digital compact having died on Carn a' Gheoid the previous day. Fortunately they had a small stock of Kodak disposable cameras, preloaded with a 36-frame roll of negative film, for less than a tenner each. I bought one, successfully met up with the taxi driver outside the tourist office as arranged at 9.45, and headed for Spittal of Glen Muick..

The taxi dropped me off at Spittal of Glen Muick's meagre visitor centre not long after 10am. I set off straight away, the initial route laying across the floodplain of the Muick below the loch, on a vehicle track heading for the cottage of Allt-na-Guibhsaich. Beyond the cottage was a short, rocky and rather tentative section through a patch of woodland after which the track rose up the right hand side of the valley of the Allt na Guibhsaich, seen here.

The track takes a side valley heading towards a col to the south west of the Corbett of Conachraig, which looks like an easy ascent and which I pencilled in for a future expedition. From here the Lochnagar path is clearly seen heading west towards the col south of Meikle Pap, which was to be my first summit of the day.

.The track itself continues to the col and then heads northwestwards for the valley of the Allt Ghlas Choire and the Balmoral estate. There's a view towards the high Cairngorms from here.

The Lochnagar path leaves to the west, passing a feature called Ptarmigan Butts. I've climbed to about 2300 ft here and Meilke Pap is looming large in the view ahead.

Not much over twenty minutes later I reached the col between Meikle Pap and Lochnagar proper, and got my first view of the dramatic cliffs forming the north rim of Lochnagar's summit plateau.

That's the route up to the Lochnagar plateau, a path apparently known as the Ladder.

First, though, I turned right and ascended an obvious path to Meikle Pap, a Murdo. The 200ft ascent from the col took just ten minutes and rewarded me with this magnificent view of Lochnagar, with the loch itself in the hollow at the foot of the cliffs. the summit, Cac Carn Beag, is the pimple in shadow to the far right of the cliffs.

The summit of Meikle Pap.

Back at the col, and I'm now about to tackle the Ladder.

The view back from the Ladder to Meikle Pap. That path isn't even shown on the maps.

The Ladder, although very stony, proved to be a superb piece of path engineering and I was up it in twenty minutes almost without realising. Balmoral's footpath repair gangs are to be commended for a first class piece of work, which is unobtrusive and looks as near natural as it can. Here I've reached the top and I'm ooking out across the plateau to Cuidhe Crom, another Murdo and Munro Top. The terrain looked inviting so I set off for the summit cairn.

Twelve minutes later I'd reached the summit cairn of Cuidhe Crom, almost without effort. The summit plateau of Lochnagar is typical of the Mounth and Cairngorms in that it provides superb, easy walking terrain, surely the best in the UK at this altitude. There are paths but they are largely unneccessary; you can, for the most part, just wander at will without undue effort.

The view south from Cuidhe Crom, across the dips of the Glas Allt and the Allt an Dubh Loch, towards Carn Bannoch and Broad Cairn.

I made my way back across the plateau towards Lochnagar proper.

A view westwards towards the gentle rise of Carn a' Choire Bhaideach, a remoter Munro beyond Lochnagar.

I arrived at the cliff edge at the minor col between Cuidhe Crom and Lochnagar, at the top of a gully called Red Spout. There's a dramatic view of Loch Nagar.

From the same spot, a view along the cliff edge to Lochnagar's summit.

There's a choice of routes beyond Red Spout; you can choose to keep to the cliff edge for the dramatic views or you can take a more straighforward line directly for the summit, which joins a path coming up the valley of the Glas Allt from the top end of Loch Muick. This is the retrospective view from the main route.

A little further along the path, and another look back.

Not much over ten minutes later I arrived at the cairn of Cac Carn Mor, once considered a "top" of Lochnagar but now considered too minor to be listed seperately. This is a major route junction

That's the view to the southwest, where I'll be heading after lunch; the gentle dome of Carn a' Choire Bhaideach

But now there's a simple stroll of just 600 metres to Cac Carn Beag, the summit of Lochnagar.

There's some interesting cliff scenery on the way, however. This nameless yet spectacular gully lies between the Pinnacle and the West Buttress.

The gully plunges straight down to the hollow of Loch Nagar (not seen). The Balmoral estate lays beyond; Balmoral Castle is out there somewhere.

Another view of the gully.

I've arrived at the summit of Lochnagar, the highest point of the Mounth; and at 3789 ft the 21st highest mountain in Britain. And my 29th Munro.

Out there is what I hope will be Munro no.30; Carn a' Choire Bhaideach, the White Mounth. It mirrors Lochnagar in having its own line of north-facing crags, with the pretty Loch nan Eun situated below.

The Balmoral estate and the Dee valley to the north.

Lochnagar's summit tor. Curiously, the trig pillar is situated on the lower of the two principal summit boulders.

The view to the northwest, Invercauld is in view, and the high Cairngorms form the skyline. The ridge with the line of snow is Beinn a' Bhuiridh.

I ate my lunch in the lee of the summit cairn. The day was pleasantly warm yet there was just enough breeze to make a light pullover desirable. After I'd finished eating I set off to the south west. Yet again the terrain was almost totally benign and I ignored the path for most of the way. Forty five minutes later I arrived at  Carn a' Choire Bhaideach, or the White Mounth; 3642 ft, the 42nd highest summit in Britain, and my 30th Munro. There had been a fair number of walkers on Lochnagar but I had Carn a' Choire Bhaideach all to myself. 

This is the view back towards Lochnagar.

With the time now past 2.30 I considered my options and decided against pushing on further; the full round of the Dubh Loch was a considerable undertaking and I thought it wise to call it a day here. But to avoid retracing my steps I came up with the idea of following the path alongside the Glas Allt, to the east, down to Loch Muick. To get there I decided on a bit of pathless free-ranging. I strolled back to the White Mounth / Lochnagar col but instead of reascending the hill I countoured round to the right. It was a straightforward expedition and took just fifteen minutes; others had obviously had the same idea as I came across scraps off path here and there. Before long I found myself on the upper reaches of the Glas Allt path, and turned right for the descent.

It's a long way, the Glas Allt route; some three miles back to the loch, involving some 2500 ft of descent. I don't think I'd fancy coming up this way. The path itself was absolutely first class, however, and once again I saluted the skills of the Balmoral estate's footpath maintaiance gangs.

Getting on for three quarters of hour later, I've got about half way down the path. The trench of Glen Muick is beginning to reveal itself ahead.

The path switches to the south side of the Glas Allt about five hundred metres before reaching the steepest part of the descent.

There's little warning from above but the path ducks out of sight of the stream for a couple of minutes as it tackles a steep section. There's a roaring noise to your left. And suddenly they are revealed; the Falls of Glas Allt.

From here the path zigzags down through the heather (midge hell on a dank, overcast day no doubt) to reach the top end of Loch Muick.

From there it's a long walk along the northwest side of the loch, and then across the foot of the loch to the main vehicle track back to Spittal of Glen Muick. I was back shortly before 6pm, eight hours after setting out. There's a phone at the visitor centre, which was lucky as there was no mobile phone signal; I called the taxi but had to wait almost an hour before he arrived. No matter, for it had been a superb mountain day. I measured the route on the laptop once I was ack at the hotel; it came to just under 16 miles and involved over 3700ft of ascent. No wonder I felt tired. But it was well worth it.

Back to Mounth index page

This page last updated 16th October 2006

[an error occurred while processing this directive]