Hills: Lochnagar (traverse from Spittal of Glenmuick to Crathie)
Date: Friday 2nd January 2015
Company: Myself, Dan and Drummond
Distance: 19.5km, Ascent: 970m
Time: 7Hrs 15Mins

Lochnagar is one of the finest hills in Scotland. It is not a hill to visit once in any weather merely to tick it off from the Munro list; it is a hill worthy of visiting time and time again.

I have been fortunate to ascend Lochnagar on many previous occasions. I first ascended Lochnagar in 1982 with my school hillwalking club. Since then I have revisited many times via several routes. I have ascended via the standard route from Spittal of Glenmuick at least six times. I have undertaken the Lochnagar horseshoe taking in five Munros. I have even ascended via Eagle Ridge one of the best rock climbs in Scotland (worthy of its four-star rating). I had not however previously ascended/descended Lochnagar from Balmoral.

On 2nd January we used two cars to undertake a traverse from Spittal of Glenmuick through to Crathie. After leaving a car in Crathie, we drove round in the other car to the Spittal of Glenmuick. It was snowing as we made our way round to the Spittal of Glenmuick and the weather forecast was suggesting 70mph winds. We knew that we were in for an "interesting" and perhaps challenging day.

Click here to see a map of the route undertaken

From the outset we were walking into the wind. The wind was fairly strong at the Spittal of Glenmuick so we knew it was going to be wild up top.

Despite arriving at the Spittal of Glenmuick at around 8.30 we were not the first party to head for Lochnagar. We could see numerous footprints in the snow.

Track leading to Allt-na-Giubhsaich:

During our walk in, the visibility came and went with every passing snow shower, but the wind remained constant.

Top of Mount Keen just visible in distance:

We used the stepping stones to cross over the Allt-na-Giubhsaich which was fairly high owing to recent rain.

Dan and Drummond on Allt-na-Giubhsaich track:

I think we only stopped once during the ascent of the Allt-na-Giubhsaich track and that was only a very brief stop to take photos of a Red Grouse.

Ascending the Allt-na-Giubhsaich track:

We could see several people ahead as we reached the col between Lochnagar and Conachcraig. From the footsteps in the snow we could see that they had retreated from Lochnagar and were ascending Conachcraig instead. In the distance we could see two others ahead still heading for Lochnagar.

Looking back to Conachcraig:

Myself and Dan on the track leading towards Meikle Pap and col (photo by Drummond):

As we walked towards the col between the Ladder and Meikle Pap we could see lots of spindrift. At one point we could see the spindrift coming towards us and when it hit us the wind speed increased by an estimated 20-30mph. It was fairly cool to watch the gusts coming towards us in the form of spindrift.

Dan on the track leading towards Meikle Pap and col:

On reaching the col between the Ladder and Meikle Pap, I went a short distance beyond to take a photo of the coire and cliffs. The wind speed was now very strong.

Lochnagar cliffs:

Instead of ascending the Ladder, which is very rocky and would have been tricky in the strong wind, we ascended the main path up Lochnagar a short distance before the Ladder thus avoiding almost all the rocks. At the col we passed the two other walkers that we had seen ahead. We believe they also turned back.

Dan and Drummond sensibly put on their goggles before ascending onto the coire rim.

On the rim of the coire above the Ladder:

Coire rim (photo by Drummond):

On reaching the coire rim and Lochnagar plateau the wind speed was incredible. My eyes started to hurt with the strength of the wind and driving snow/ice. I had to stop to put on my goggles too. Without goggles we would not have been able to see.

Myself kneeling down getting ski goggles out of rucksack (photo by Drummond):

Dan and myself (photo by Drummond):

Lochnagar cliffs (photo by Drummond):

Looking back towards Cuidhe Crom:

As we walked round the rim of the coire, staying well-back from the edge, the views came and went. There were some great views looking south and west.

Snowy hills:

Snowy hills:

Dan at the summit of Cac Carn Mor:

Beyond Cac Carn Mor it was just a short distance to the summit Cac Carn Beag.

The Stuic:

On reaching the summit we were blasted by the wind and swirling snow. The summit rocks did provide a degree of shelter so we stopped there to have a hot drink and lunch before continuing on.

Dan at the summit of Cac Carn Beag (Lochnagar):

Myself at the summit of Cac Carn Beag (Lochnagar):

Until now we didn't need to use a map or compass or even refer to the GPS as I knew the route up Lochnagar well. However as none of us had previously descended towards Balmoral we got the map out and took a bearing before continuing on. Before starting our descent, I put my camera into the rucksack.

The descent from Lochnagar was more straight-forward than expected. I had some concerns around the closeness of contours during 100m of the descent. This section proved to be fairly easy.

On reaching the col we made our way to the next target of the day, Meall Coire na Saobhaidhe (a Munro Top of Lochnagar). On reaching the summit of Meall Coire na Saobhaidhe we faced perhaps the strongest winds of the day.

Dan at the summit of Meall Coire na Saobhaidhe:

Dan and myself just below the summit of Meall Coire na Saobhaidhe (photo by Drummond):

We took another bearing at the summit of Meall Coire na Saobhaidhe towards Creag Liath. As we approached the next col we decided to head directly for the start of the track leading out to Gelder Shiel.

Descending Creag Liath (photo by Drummond):

The descent involved crossing numerous snow drifts. We all had some fun glissading during the descent.

Descending Creag Liath (photo by Drummond):

Onto the track leading to Gelder Shiel:

It was nice to visit Gelder Shiel and have a look inside the bothy. It is a really nice single room bothy with eight bunks. It does not however have a fireplace or stove. We spent around ten to fifteen minutes inside the bothy. Good to have a seat and get some respite from the wind.

Gelder Shiel:

Looking back to Lochnagar from Gelder Shiel:

Myself inside Gelder Shiel bothy (photo by Drummond):

The walk out from Gelder Shiel was pleasant albeit cold. The skies were starting to clear of cloud.

Looking back to Lochnagar from just beyond Gelder Shiel:

Looking back to Gelder Shiel and Lochnagar:

Looking back to Lochnagar:

We eventually reached Balmoral and then made our way down to the South Deeside Road.

Moon above Balmoral forest:

We were aware that the Balmoral Bridge was closed for repair so we instead used the nearby suspension bridge to get back across to Crathie.

Suspension bridge over the River Dee (photo by Drummond):

Despite the fairly wild weather, this was a really enjoyable day .