Cairn of Gowal - 991m
Cairn Bannoch - 1012m
Saturday 9th February 2013
Weather/Conditions: Proper winter conditions on these hills. Serious "silent" whiteout on the plateau, careful navigation needed.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 24.2km / 1000m / 8h 30m
Accompanying: Struan and Paul for the whole trip, James and Dougie up to the head of the loch. Julia and Andrew had planned come but made it as far as Braemar (their car went off the road at Glen Shee).
I'd had an exciting time the night before just getting to Braemar. After stopping in Blairgowrie for food, the Glen Shee road gave some exciting driving among the white stuff. I was never quite sure how careful to be, but the next morning Julia and Andrew ended up with their car off the road, so who knows...
I arrived in a dark Braemar to find the guys in the pub, having a good night. I gladly joined them.
In the morning, we met Julia and Andrew who had arrived safely, but unfortunately would have to return southward with their car in the state it was. The rest of us piled into Paul's Landrover and headed off to the car park at the Spittal of Glenmuick.
An odd pall hung over the hills - overcast cloud blocked out the plateaux, and snow lay to ground level, but fundamentally it was "settled" conditions. All was monochrome, and our plan was to try the five Lochnagar Munros. Whether we'd actually make that, we'd have to see. I felt like Lochnagar was the one to go for first, but the guys seemed to want to go up by Broad Cairn. The walk along the shore is relatively long, then the path wound up the side of the glen, on it's way to gain the plateau.
Following the track to the plateau meant crossing a large path of deposited snow, which I was nervy about crossing. We decided to go straight up to the plateau, which equally felt a little nerve-wracking, and I almost didn't make it by the route we chose. I didn't trust the snow as a medium to commit my weight to. Struan didn't have such issues, he didn't even bring an ice axe out to climb that last hard slab of snow. What he didn't see was that the fall line sucked - a hard snowfield dropping straight onto boulders...
But once up, I was "in there", and I didn't especially want to go down that way. I'd climbed the only thing that would stop me, and the rest of the day had now opened up, to be gained by persistence and careful navigation. Dougie and James had turned around though, and headed over to the other side of Glen Muick to have a look at Lochnagar instead.
From here onward it was just Struan, Paul and I. It actually turned into an enjoyable navigation exercise, often in complete whiteout. Broad Cairn was gained by a hard slog up it's flanks, and from there, a good rhythm could be picked up on hard snowfields. We just walked, and stayed perceptive to changes in topography. It was a thrilling thought to know the abyss of Creag an Dubh-loch was out there, but we needn't worry - my navigation was up to this.
I love the pictures I took of this ethereal silent whiteout, with Paul disappearing off into the distance of that white world. We got to Cairn Bannoch without incident and stood by the cairn thinking about our options. It seemed obvious: we'd pushed pretty hard to get to this point, and darkness was now approaching. To complete the round of five, we would be in with a very hard, tedious slog - I think all three of us were satisfied with having got this far, and that to descend down by Allt an Dubh-loch was there and then the best course of action.
We stumbled down in the whiteout, to emerge into a shallow bowl, out of the cloud, which slowly broadened out into a snow-covered glen. Then just around the corner, Creag an Dubh-loch appeared. At each outline of cliff I got excited and incrementally, it revealed itself. What a magnificent place. What a magnificent cliff. If you approach on descent, from higher in the glen, you seem to look down the strata of the cliff and it as such bares teeth in a singularly impressive way. If you approach from Glen Muick, it seems to look more pudding-like. So I was glad to have come upon it in this way, and watched as it's colossal walls subtly rotated as we walked.
It was a cause for awe on a walk out that was otherwise long, and unfortunately hard-going. At Glas-allt-Shiel, we were in ankle-deep snow, and this continued all the way back down the lochside track, exceptionally tedious. It is perhaps well that we didn't go for the five Munros today, and darkness fell when we arrived back at Spittal.
A fantastic, and testing day.
(0.00) 9.50am Glen Muick parking
(3.55) 1.45pm Broad Cairn
(5.00) 2.50pm Cairn Bannoch
(8.30) 6.20pm Glen Muick parking