Conachcraig - 865m
Cac Carn Beag (Lochnagar) - 1156m
Carn a' Choire Bhoidheach - 1110m
& Tops

Sunday 6th January 2019

Weather/Conditions: Misty, cool and drizzly! Some nice breaks into the cloud on Conachcraig, closing in by Lochnagar. Things were really minging all the way to the end, with damp mist all the way through Glen Muick. But not a winter day, really - everything a bit damp and thawing. Only evidence of winter were sheets of ice in the watercourses - sometimes actually quite treachrous.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 26.5km / 1430m / 6h 10m
Accompanying: Alone

I'd meant to climb Lochnagar just before Hogmanay, but folded in the face of big winds and went convenient on Brown Cow Hill instead. That was a windy day and I wasn't in the mood for a big day out. But I wanted to get to Lochnagar eventually - partly because it’s part of my third Munro round but also because I've started to cast an eye to the Munro Tops. There are no shortage of them on the Mounth plateau!

In the early morning I'd awoken dehydrated and with tight muscles. When morning came, I wasn't fast in moving. It’s a strange one, in that I didn't feel terrible but I sometimes have an incredible inability to move! It's hard to get going, especially when the drizzle is falling outside. The hills seemed very far away. I hummed and hawed but knew I'd have to head to up Glen Muick anyway. I drove up to find myself first in line of a procession of cars: people all heading for the first-Sunday-of-2019 walk.


Things picked up: I packed and got the bike out. Though you don't need to use a bike here, I motored across the mile or so to the other side of Glen Muick, leaving it in the trees. My plan had switched to Conachcraig, a Corbett beside Lochnagar. The Lochnagar path was busy, it was a sociable day for many. Instead, I was to take a route well away from the crowds. I turned off right, onto moorland and plodded up through the mist. Conachcraig was just a long gentle slope, rising to a few summit tors. Just prior to the summit, the mist drew back a little and presented Lochnagar draped in mist and it's snow-streaked crags dripping in this January thaw.

A few folk milled around the summit, and I followed two others at a distance over to Caisteal na Caillich. They were sitting having lunch on the caisteal; I just continued walking. The next section of my walk would take me along the moors beneath Lochnagar.

Meall Coire na Saobhaidhe & Lochnagar

Lochnagar has a northern top; Meall Coire nan Saobhaidhe, but it doesn't really link into any other summit except Lochnagar. This makes it awkward to tag on, so a few moorland miles would be needed to make the link. Having found Conachcraig a bit of a slog, I’d geared up to pace this hill out. But it didn't turn out too bad: sometimes things get easier when you expect them to be a drag. The mist closed in and I saw nothing of Lochnagar's crags above.

The wind was gusty and drizzly on top of Meall Coire nan Saobhaidhe, and I continued quickly to Lochnagar: this approach must be little-frequented and it’s certainly a different way to reach one of the grandest mountains in the Highlands.

I had good memories of this place from 2013; it was the buzz of hitting Munro #100 of the summer. I recall the afternoon summer sun, the glowing plateaux and the sense of just being bloody fit. That was a good day. It was also over five years ago and I still hadn't been back here. Today, the summit was just drizzly and empty, in spite of all the people earlier. The summit also looks 'well used', a bit like Nevis with erosion, litter and orange peel pressed into the mud.

Carn a' Choire Bhoidheach & Eagle's Rock

My day would now take me over one Munro, Carn a' Choire Bhoidheach, and then over a multitude of tops on the way back to the car. Things started to feel a little wilder. The mist was in, and I had only Viewranger for a map - which I was happy to do, but it makes it harder to take a bearing. The day was wearing on, and I disappeared off across the plateau alone, in the mist with just a phone app to guide the way. Something felt curiously lonely.

The path to Carn a' Choire Bhoidheach almost bypasses the top, then takes a 90 degree bend off to the cairn - worth knowing because I don't remember that at all from the my previous visits. Those trips weren't yesterday either: 2012 and 2013.

From the Carn, I took a bearing to Top of Eagles Rock, a Munro Top. The weather has been interesting of late; the ground conditions are serious with sheets of solid ice draped across the watercourses. So while the rest of the mountain is in damp summer condition, I would find myself skidding across a watercourse. They were easily the most treacherous part of the day.

Creag a' Ghlas-uillt, Little Pap & An t-Sron

Creag a' Ghlas-uillt was next, just a short walk from the top of Eagles Rock. I had little sense of where I actually was. I was just wandering around on compass bearings. I also felt isolated, and looked forward to making headway back to the glen. The way to my next Munro Top, Little Pap, was interesting. I'd already climbed its parent summit; Cuidhe Crom, so reaching Little Pap necessitated a few kilometres of traversing. This was a good route finding exercise, a nice contrast to the moorland plodding just prior. I'd drop into one burn, cross it, go around the hillside beyond and try not to change altitude – any altitude lost or gained was waste effort: I was already at the altitude of Little Pap. I crossed a second burn, the main line of Glas Allt. The following traversing slope was bouldery, though I love hopping through this terrain. Little Pap followed soon after, and I couldn't wait to get off the hill. I headed on a bearing straight to my last hill, An t-Sron, which is a simple lump above Glen Muick.

The afternoon was glum and desolate. But I enjoyed that. There was little life; only the bog heather and shifting mist on the breeze. For a while it got a bit wet, too. The way to An t-Sron saw me among peat hags with little visibility. It must be one of the only times I've nearly gone properly off-course. I took my eye off the compass after a break, and began walking about 100 degrees in the wrong direction – it was quickly corrected because I was aware I was being lazy. It’s good to see how easily this can happens though, and that I knew it was happening in spite of having not checked.

An t-Sron was just an easy top. I didn't see anything either. I dropped out the fog to find Glen Muick draped in grey blankets, the pine trees of Alt na Giubhsaich grey against grey. All very atmospheric. I sloshed through the water-laden bogs to the track, where I picked up the bike and in a moment was back at the car.

It was a good day, and a wet day. I drove straight to Ballater unsure what was happening next. Plan A was perhaps to meet James again, but the weather was looking a bit naff. I had a chat with Dink around the Co-op for half an hour, bought some supplies, and then went to the Indian again for food. I was unsure about another hill in the same area: I wanted to move elsewhere at least.

But I phoned dad who'd just arrived on Skye, and made a plan to head to Sleat. That’s what I spent the rest of the evening doing, on empty roads via Inverness and down Glen Carron to the west coast.

Times (Time relative to 0.00)
(0.00) 10.18am Spittal of Glenmuick
(0.58) 11.16am Conachcraig
(1.16) 11.34am Caisteal na Caillich
(2.37) 12.55pm Meall Coire nan Saobhaidhe
(3.11) 1.29pm Cac Carn Beag (Lochnagar)
(3.49) 2.07pm Carn a' Choire Bhoidheach
(4.10) 2.28pm Top of Eagles Rock
(4.19) 2.37pm Creag a' Ghlas-uillt
(4.55) 3.13pm Little Pap
(5.32) 3.50pm An t-Sron
(6.10) 4.28pm Spittal of Glenmuick
Written: 2019-01-15