A scramble up the Stuic buttress to reach Lochnagar, returning to Keiloch via some lesser hills to the south of the Ballochbuie forest.
Date: 7th July 2013
Hills: The Stuic, Carn a'Choire Bhoidheach [Munro], Lochnagar [Munro]
Weather: Very warm with sunshine and incredibly clear views
Route: View on OS Maps
There aren’t a lot of scrambles on the east coast but one of the better known ones is that of the Stuic buttress, on the north side of the White Mounth west of the main summit of Lochnagar. Whilst Lochnagar is typically accessed from the Glen Muick side of the hill I hadn’t yet explored the approach from the north west and so under sunny skies I parked up at Keiloch where there was already a busy car park at 8:30am on a Sunday morning.
Crossing the A93 a small path disappeared off into the woods, leading me down to the River Dee where there is a bench and access to the rocky shore. After pausing to admire the views up to the Invercauld Bridge I followed a track along the river bank to the bridge itself, pausing to look up to the dark peaks of the Lochnagar massif.
Over the river the various tracks through the Ballochbuie forest led me steadily uphill until the rumble of the Garbh Allt Falls could be heard off to the left. Leaving the main track I followed a small path along to the falls itself, pausing for a snack as the water crashed down through a series of rocky
Returning to the main track I climbed up through the last of the trees until I emerged in the wide glen containing the Feindallacher Burn, coming down from the slopes below Carn an t-Sagairt Mor. Outside the cool shade of the forest it was very warm.
At a spot just beyond a new-ish tin hut the stream narrowed between rocky bands and I was easily able to cross, pausing near the bank to munch on a Snickers and refill my already diplenished water bladder.
There was now a healthy stretch of cross-country, the going made easier by the recent dry spell, as I wound my way between bog cotton and rapidly dwindling stretches of march to reach the stream coming down from the Sandy Loch. There were big views back to the Eastern Cairngorms basking under incredible, blue skies. With a decent track ahead I started to make steady progress towards Lochnagar, now visible beyond the rise in the land to the south.
To my right the Stuic Buttress slowly reared itself, hidden up until now by the land around Sandy Loch which I was drawing close to. I was surpised to see some substantial snow patches remaining in the high ground around Coire nan Eun.
I came up to the outlet of Sandy Loch, the surface still and wonderfully clear. The views across it brought me my first sight of Lochnagar's summit from this close north-western aspect. The track continued, faintly, hugging the western shore of the little loch.
The track left Sandy Loch and headed up towards Loch nan Eun and the increasingly impressive Stuic Buttress. It wound its way between boulders and across small streams where I was once again able to restock on water. Soon enough I was by the shores of this second, higher loch.
I lingered by the still, glassy waters for a short while, breathing in the quiet atmosphere of this almost unvisited place. I had thought about camping here the previous night but plans had altered. I think it will be a place to return to in the future. Across the loch the Stuic stood tall, its crags impressive and imposing. I knew there was a way up but it did look like the scramble would be a challenge and after some food I was keen to tackle it.
I returned along the loch shore and picked up a faint track leading up the initial grassy slopes. The path came and went but it was easy to follow as it headed somewhat east, bypassing the first few crags. Eventually though I was up amongst the boulders and started to have to scramble my way up, following the path as it came and went between grass ledges. Largely it was easy to follow and I only had to backtrack on one occassion after coming up against a precipitious drop with the blue waters of the loch now some way below me.
I came then to a craggy section where crampon scratches guided me up some interesting stretches of rock with a couple of big reaches. Adrenaline was pumping as I hauled myself up the final steep slab and then it was gentler slopes up to the top of the ridge. An excellent scramble.
I topped out to glorious views all around. Close at hand was the Munro of Carn a'Choire Bhoidheach but I lingered for a moment at the top of the Stuic, admiring the craggy views along the cliffs of Coire nan Eun and back down the buttress before I followed the clear path up the gentle rise to the rocky summit of this most featureless of Munros.
Despite the plateau like nature of this summit the views nevertheless were expansive and I spent a while basking in the sunshine gazing off into different directions as new peaks caught my eye.
Lochnagar was my next destination and I followed the clear track that runs around the rim of Coire nan Eun. Occassionally I would leave the path to peer down into the coire, getting a good close up view of the impressive snow patches, still lingering into the heat of July.
Eventually the track began to rise up the western slopes of Lochnagar and soon enough I was at the subsidiary top of Cac Carn Mor, a large cairn poised close to some of the most impressive cliffs and gullies.
I meandered my way along the cliffs to the summit of Lochnagar, stopping off to get some of the more dramatic views down to the lochan far below and back along the line of crags. It was a glorious afternoon.
Finally I made it up to the trig point and viewfinder on the summit of the Munro. It was reasonably busy with people coming and going so after visiting the top I found a quiet rock to perch on and eat my lunch, enjoying the fine views back across to the Stuic.
To make my way back towards Keiloch I now headed north, away from all the traffic visiting Lochnagar's summit via the standard route from Glen Muick, and dropped down an easy ridge that gradually became steeper and more bouldery. Once negotiated I was on a broad bealach above Sandy Loch with the Stuic and Coire nan Eun behind me.
I picked my way through the boulders and then traversed across the upper Blacksheil Burn where I was able to pick up some more water. In hindsight it probably would have been easier to stick to the high ground and follow the rocky line of peaks around to my next destination but the dry ground provided easy walking and I was soon following a large herd of deer back up towards the ridge which would lead me to point 830.
This area offered an interesting new perspective on Lochnagar and the ground provided easy walking across a few rocky tops before I finally reached Cnapan Nathraichean at the end of the chain of hills.
Another down and then a slow ascent got me up to this final summit which offered fantastic views across the Dee and up to the big hills of the Cairngorms. Far below I could see Invercauld.
Now it was time to descend. I retraced my steps slightly back to a bealach and then followed a trail down beside a swiftly descending burn until I reached heather-clad slopes which led me down to the Prince's Stone.
A clear track began here which I followed down the course of the Feith an Laoigh as it bumbled its way down over a series of little falls and pools. Eventually it came down to the pass below Cnapan Nathraichean. I crossed some boggy ground to reach the track which came up from Glen Gelder, turning north-west to follow it back towards the Ballochbuie Forest.
The good track led me gently downwards with fine views back to the shapely peak of Stob Daimh and then I tumbled into the trees where the path became more overgrown but nontheless navigable.
Eventually I was deposited down on the main track through the woods and followed this along to the west, enjoying the shade and slightly cooler conditions. I crossed the Garbh Allt and made my way back down to the Invercauld Bridge to recross the Dee.
Clouds were brewing now and the sun was soon lost behind them but I was heading back, first for a coffee in Ballater, and then home for a fish supper after a tremendously enjoyable day and a new twist on an old favourite.