Ulog 22: Serious Bagging – closing in on my goal!October 22, 2018
To be perfectly honest, I had thought this walk would be a little bit dull, and I would probably never have done it if I hadn’t been trying to reach my goal of 100 Munros, with Ben Nevis the 100th; and ultimately to climb all of Scotland’s 282 Munros.
Dull it was not – though the weather became pretty murky in the morning! But it made up for it in the afternoon with some lovely autumn sunshine.
I had been planning a couple of hillwalking days in the west of Scotland with two friends. It looked as if we were finally going to have a break in the relentlessly cold, windy and rainy weather, so we enthusiastically started planning a two-day midweek break.
But the night before our planned trip, one of my friends pointed out that the forecast had just changed to cloudy and rainy – however, in the east of Scotland the weather was looking much, much better. Especially at Lochnagar near the Balmoral estate in Deeside.
At this point, both of my friends decided not to go – one of them had already done this walk, and the other had started to feel unwell. But I’d noticed that the White Mounth circuit, which includes the mountain called Lochnagar, covered five Munros, with 500m less total ascent than the two Munros I had done the week before. This is because the entire area is at an altitude of more than 400m, so you get a high start.
The distance covered however, is 29km (18.25 miles), so I would need an early start if I was to get back before sunset at 6pm. I decided to book a bed at the Ballater independent hostel, 10 miles from the start of the walk. I ended up having the entire dormitory to myself, at an off-season price.
Lochnagar and the White Mounth mountains are on the royal Balmoral estate, and there have been reported sightings of royal personages in the area! This beautiful region was the inspiration behind Prince Charles’s book for children, The Old Man of Lochnagar.
I saw lots of hares during my walk, and a couple of deer, but no royals.
I set off at 7am, about 40 minutes before sunrise. I only had to use my head torch once, to check a signpost for Lochnagar. I didn’t want to risk heading off in the wrong direction.
There’s a lot of deer stalking in this area, and as a result the paths are in great condition. This helped me make brisk progress up the hill, and the outline of Lochnagar and a smaller top called Meikle Pap soon came into view.
Lochnagar at the centre, with Meikle Pap to the right
I had to keep the pace fairly brisk, as there were 29km to cover before sunset at 6pm, but I thought there was enough time to make a brief detour to the summit of Meikle Pap, a Munro top of 980m. The detour started at a high point, so it would only be an extra 70m of ascent.
I’m glad I did it, because Lochnagar was in cloud, so there were no views, but I got some nice views from the summit of Meikle Pap. There were also some interesting pancake-shaped rocks at the summit.
I enjoyed clambering over the rocks, and was rewarded with some great views.
As I looked down onto the loch of Lochnagar, the clouds were already starting to gather.
The walk around the headland should have afforded impressive views, but this was the last one I got before the clouds closed in.
Lochnagar from a higher viewpoint, looking north. This was the last view I got before lunchtime!
As I walked round the corrie, gaining altitude, heading towards the summit of Lochnagar, rain started to fall – light rain initially, but before long I had to put on my waterproof trousers and backpack cover. As I approached the rocky summit of Lochnagar, it was just a rain-lashed blur.
Summit of Lochnagar – Munro number 1 on this round, and number 95 on my bagging list!
I was soaked through, but happy to get to the first Munro summit of the day.
Royal ascent of Lochnagar
Queen Victoria climbed this mountain on 22 September, 1849, on horseback. She described it as “one of the wildest, grandest things imaginable”. Her husband Prince Albert had taken out a 27-year lease on the Balmoral estate the previous year, having seen paintings of it, and they later purchased it from the Earl of Aberdeen.
The painting “Morning in the Highlands: The Royal Family Ascending Lochnagar” by Carl Haag, 1853, depicts Prince Albert, Queen Victoria and their children climbing Lochnagar.
Not my toughest walk ever!
The White Mounth circuit is a long walk, but not exactly a tough climb. Once you’ve climbed your way up to Lochnagar, the remaining climbs are more undulating than steep. The climb up to the second Munro of the day, Carn a’ Choire Bhoidheach (“The Rocky Hill of the Beautiful Corrie”) was a walk of about two and a half kilometres with a gentle ascent of 60m. There should have been tremendous views over the “beautiful corrie” and Loch nan Eun, but all I saw was cloud – which means I’ll have to do this lovely walk again sometime!
Summit of Carn a’ Choire Bhoidheach. The two fingers show that this was my second Munro summit of the day, although it could also be seen as a sign of victory over the terrible weather.
The ascent of third Munro, Carn an t-Sagairt Beag (“The Big Rocky Hill of the Priest”), was my toughest climb of the day, mainly because I stepped off the path to avoid a big boggy section, and then just climbed straight up the face of the hill. The wind was also against me.
At one point the clouds briefly lifted, so I took this photo.
It was a bogfest. But the weather was about to get better. It was a relief to get to the top of Munro number three, and number 97 on my list: Carn an t-Sagairt Mor.
And I even got some views. Not really spectacular enough for my phone camera to pick up, but they were views. I could see things in the distance at last!
View from the summit of Carn an t-Sagairt Mor.
The Hill of the Cake
After that, the sun really started to break through, and the day got much better. The next Munro was called Cairn Bannoch, or “The Hill of the Cake”. Things were definitely looking up!
As I walked hungrily towards The Hill of the Cake (it was lunchtime after all) the views started to appear at last!
View down to the Dubh Loch from Carn an t-Sagairt Mor.
This was another ridiculously easy Munro climb. I was at the foot of Munro number three at 12.46pm and at the summit of Cairn Bannoch at 1.10pm! It was about 80m of ascent over roughly one and a half kilometres.
The summit of Cairn Bannoch coming into view.
Summit of Cairn Bannoch, or “The Hill of the Cake” – the fourth Munro of the day, and number 98 on my bagging list!
Cairn Bannoch was described as “bleak” in my guide, but I loved its rocky summit and glorious views. The wind was very strong by now, but I found a sheltered spot behind some boulders to sit down and have some lunch – and, of course, cake.
Refreshed, I got up to conquer the final Munro in the circuit – Broad Cairn!
Final Munro of the day
The walk to Broad Cairn was slightly more undulating than the previous Munro, and I was soon rewarded with this view of the summit, apparently with quite a few people on it.
The people turned out to be a group of school children, aged around 9 or 10. I was surprised that their teachers, or supervisors had chosen such a bouldery hill to climb, as the potential for accidents (more likely to be the broken leg kind than anything much more serious) was quite high. However they all seemed to be having a whale of a time, and they all got safely back down over the boulders.
Summit of Broad Cairn. I’m not giving a cheery wave in this photo – I was holding up a triumphal five fingers to show that I’d done the fifth Munro of the day, and my 99th overall.
This was a good moment for me. I had completed the White Mounth round of five Munros with time to spare – and that fifth Munro, Broad Cairn, took my overall tally to 99!
Which means I’m ready to do Ben Nevis at last!
In some ways, the best part of the day was still to come, because during the two-hour walk back to the car park, there were some absolutely gorgeous views. I could see why Broad Cairn is a very popular mountain to climb in its own right.
The mountain at the back is the White Mounth, viewed from the summit of Broad Cairn.
I got my first view of the beautiful Loch Muick.
As I walked back to the car park I was treated to views of Lochnagar to the north.
The summit of Lochnagar is the dark shape in the centre, at the back.
Panorama of Loch Muick and the White Mounth mountains.
As for Ben Nevis…
I just have to find a reasonably good weather window. I was originally planning to climb Nevis from the CMD arete, which starts from another Munro, Carn Mor Dearg. But if I do that now, Carn Mor Dearg will be my 100th Munro, and Ben Nevis will be my 101st! Not exactly a massive problem in the great scheme of things, but it did inspire me to come up with another exciting plan.
The Ledge Route
There’s another way up Ben Nevis, called the Ledge Route. It’s a scrambly route, and I love scrambling. But at this time of year, when there could be some ice and snow, I might be better off doing the Ledge Route with an experienced guide. Me and a friend are looking into this. We’d probably be able to descend the mountain via the CMD arete, which would make for a really exciting day.
It all depends on the weather!