Saturday 8 September 2012

A Day of Contrasts on Lochnagar

Sunshine, a rarity this summer, filtered down through the pines. The air was hot and still. Out of the trees the waters of the loch and the river shimmered in the bright light. High above the dark crags of the mountain rose into the deep blue sky. I was on my way up Lochnagar, the finest hill in the southern part of the Cairngorms National Park. Above the cliffs white clouds were spreading across the sky – just enough to break the blueness and make it more interesting. I hoped they would amount to no more.

As I climbed the stony path through moorland where the heather was still purple but the grasses were red-tipped and fading into autumn colour a gentle breeze sprang up, taking the edge off the almost-stifling heat. As the ground grew rockier I reached a col and suddenly the wind, sweeping up from the lochan in the deep corrie below, was colder and stronger. A faint slanting path led down to the head of the wind-rippled lochan, the actual Lochnagar whose name has become applied to the mountain in whose arms it lies. 

Above the loch rose the great splintered and gully-riven cliffs, impressive and grim. The clouds were thickening and darkening now and the cold had me donning a windshirt. The summer’s day was over, at least up here. Those white clouds were the leading edge of solid greyness, hidden from below by the mountain.

Rounding the loch I set off up a broad shoulder, linking bits of paths through the rocks. This led to the summit plateau just a step away from the little pile of boulders of the highest point. From the crest of these I gazed north and west to cloud-capped hills. The sunshine and blue sky had retreated far to the south and east. 

Turning away from the windswept summit as the first tendrils of mist began to drift across the rocks I followed the edge of the cliffs, high above the lochan, revelling in the change in perspective, which is one of the great joys of walking in mountains. Not long before I had been down at the water’s edge gazing up at the crags. Now I was high above, gazing down those same crags to the lochan far below.

Reaching the col I had crossed on the ascent I began to retrace my route back down. I’d only dropped a short distance below the col when the temperature changed abruptly and I was suddenly far too hot, sweating inside the windshirt. The cold wind was now a warm breeze. I stopped to remove the windproof and within seconds the midges had found me and my arms were covered in bites. A hasty descent ensued under the overcast sky with no sunshine to deter the wee monsters.

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