It seems like an eternity since I last walked up a hill with the intention of camping out. I’ve done a few camps over summer with the bike, some of which I wrote up here, others I didn’t bother. Delving into the archives, it appears the start of June was my last bikeless overnighter.
Lochnagar is a hill I had a few misconceptions about, mostly surrounding the length of walk in before the ascent to the summit begins. I was convinced it was supposed to be a long, remote walk, I’m not sure where I picked up this idea, not that it matters. The drive up was lovely, with autumn colour fringing the asphalt from Blairgowrie onwards. I was perturbed to arrive in Glen Muick to signs about £3 parking charges, the chances of having change in my wallet were slim at best. I ignored them, I wasn’t about to turn back to go looking for a cash machine and somewhere to split an tenner.
The car park was busier than I was expecting, actually I wasn’t really expecting a proper car park at all, until the aforementioned signs anyway. I don’t ‘do’ people. Not at home, not in the hills. I hoped they were all heading somewhere else. It was relatively cool and I’d opted for a mix of Rab VR/Paramo and a Buff to stop my sweaty brow getting too cold. I headed off, thankfully alone, across the river to the Lodges. A group of mountain bikers were mincing around in Lycra up ahead, they took off just before I reached them. I followed the trail through the wood and out onto open hillside, a bit disappointed with the bulldozed track underfoot. Great for making progress, but not very ‘wild’ feeling.
I caught the cyclists having a breather/snack stop, gave a wave and pressed on. Off the wide track onto some bouldery singletrack, I thought I was making decent progress, until a group of girls overtook me, soon followed by a group of guys talking about artificial intelligence. The tennis shoes, skinny jeans rolled up to 3/4 and accents suggested St. Andrews, either that or UoE.
They stopped further ahead and I overtook them again, feeling like a bit of a pillock, all synthetic clad and walking pole wielding. Take that, posh boys, and I’m carrying and tent, sleeping bag and probably twice as many calories as I actually need. Clearly, having regained the lead in this imaginary duel, I had to bust a gut to ensure I remained ahead, poles clattering, sweat dripping and just as they were about to catch up again, veer off up Meikle Pap as a little ‘Fuck you, I’ve won, and now I’m going this way.’
Setting aside my petty, elbows out, one-sided ‘victory’ over my hapless, denim-clad, Bieber-haired adversaries, I really did have reason to be smug; the views from Meikle Pap, were mine and mine alone. Let the other fools climb Lochnagar first, I will savour the landscape north over Balmoral Forest, a velvety, treeless [!] expanse, punctuated by tiny lochans and rocky outcrops. Not a wind farm in sight, I guess the monarchy has its uses after all.
I watched as groups of twos and threes picked their way up from the bealach below, through the snowy boulder field on the shoulder of Cuidhe Cròm. I set off across the saddle and up the other side. Steep, indistinct with ankle snapping delights disguised under wet snow. I encountered a bushy eyebrowed and effusive Aberdonian [!] and his mute/glum friend [presumably also Aberdonian, but in character] descending the path. The mixed messages from this pair gave nothing away about what lay ahead.
Onward, across the slushy plateau I felt like Lochnagar was possibly one of the easiest Munros I’d done. Not that I was complaining. At least there was payoff. The view, the character of the hill, the cliffs and the loch below. Unlike, say Ben Chonzie, which whilst easy, is almost utterly devoid of charm. It’s a little known fact that Ben Chonzie actually has the highest fatality rate of any Munro. Most people die of boredom before the summit.
It was cold at the viewpoint. My merino-possum hat and gloves had been inexplicably stuffed into a drybag at the bottom of my pack. I made do with my liner gloves and the Buff. I shovelled handful after handful of nuts and raisins into my gob. Soon enough I was joined by an inquisitive stranger who directed his questions about my Inov8s [light, grippy, cold in snow], directly to the dSLR hanging from my chest. Thankfully, his companions distracted him long enough for me to bid him farewell and start my descent.
I hadn’t seen anywhere I particularly fancied pitching up on the way up and decided to head on down Glas Allt, as I needed water anyway. As I descended, I realised the route was a bit busy for pitching up beside. I decided to skip the overnighter and head home for a warm bed. A long day, but one rewarded with pizza and beer. I stopped to watch the hillside high above covered in deer, seemingly invisible one minute and then everywhere thereafter. The alpha male front and centre, eyeing me with suspicion. I goaded him with my walking pole antlers, and carried on past the waterfall, down toward Loch Muick.
As Glas Allt opened out onto the wooded hillside above the loch, I was struck by how yellow everything was. Beautiful. Down into the trees and out onto the loch side, my plans quickly changed from beer and pizza to pitch up and relish the solitude of this remote glen. The busy hill had guided me here, alone. Perfect.
I spent altogether too long getting a rather baggy TrailStar pitched on the sand. Collecting rocks to secure the horizontally buried pegs. With dusk came the endless, three-way, back and forth between rival bucks on the hillside above, calling out across the loch and glen. I fed and had a single, miserable Starbucks Via, one sachet insufficient in my Tibetan mug. Darkness fell and I wrapped myself up and lay back against a rock, staring up through the odd break in the cloud to the stars above. iPod on. Barn Owl, Ancestral Star the perfect accompaniment.
Lights over yonder, the other side of the loch, coming down Corrie Chash. Slow progress was made and I kept an eye on, unsure if they were up there through choice or not. The lights were bright and the telltale arc across the loch and hillside below, revealed it was bikes, slowly picking their way down. They eventually made the lochside and picked up the forest track around the head of the Loch, bringing them around by my campsite. I briefly considered the possibility they were killer mountain bikers, but they cycled past without incident, presumably oblivious to my presence.
Soon enough, I felt myself wanting to crawl inside the sleeping bag and read for a bit. Of course, I never got as far as switching on the Kindle and drifted off to the sound of the deer above still calling out through the darkness and the perpetual white noise of the Stulan Burn and Allt an Dubh Loch cascading down into the loch. I didn’t sleep well despite my exertions, waking later, cold and needing to pee. I got up to use the facilities and saw the cloud had cleared more. I watched in hat and long johns, taking photos and keeping an eye out for Orionids. I saw two. The Milky Way slowly emerged from the fringes of the cloud, barely noticeable at first, then arcing obviously from the north east. I easily counted thirty stars within Orion, more and more becoming apparent as my eyes adjusted.
Eventually, the cold and tiredness got the better of me and I returned to my sleeping bag. I dozed on and off until morning, enduring another slow overnight deflation of my POE Peak Elite. I wonder if that is why they rebranded? QC? Still, I actually won mine, so shouldn’t complain, but when it gets replaced, I think I’ll get an Exped and be done with it.
Morning started with a breakfast of coffee and Oatso Simple. I took my time, knowing I only had a short walk back to the car. The glen seemed a little gloomy, cloud hanging over the surrounding summits, then past the hunting lodge the sun crested the southeastern ridge and illuminated the hillside above me. The cloud broke to reveal a lovely autumn morning, cool and clear.
Back at the car, I disgusted onlookers by stripping off and changing into clear clothes for the drive home. Back up the glen, into Ballater for more food and coffee and past Crathie Kirk with a small police presence presumably awaiting a royal of some description. I followed what appeared to be a pre-production Range Rover Sport in camouflage wrap back to Braemar, its supercharger sucking in small critters from the roadside verge.
After a leisurely drive home, I feasted upon chocolate eclairs and Tunnock’s Tea Cakes and lay on the sofa, dreading the thought of returning to work Monday morning and the prospect of writing up a blog post for the first time in ages. The End.