Weekend Wonders: Lochnagar's mighty cliffs

Words and images I've submitted to Adventure Travel magazine for publication in their 'Weekend Wonders' section (a regular 2-page spread where they share some 'cracking UK adventures to help people make the most of those precious two days').

Alex Haken walking along the top of the summit cliffs of Lochnagar, a Munro in the East Highlands of Scotland.

Alex Haken walking along the top of the summit cliffs of Lochnagar, a Munro in the East Highlands of Scotland.

Lochnagar, a 1155m high Munro in the Cairngorms National Park in Scotland, is a mountain with royal connections. The peak, located nearby Balmoral Castle, is the summer home of the Queen and the Queen's first son, Prince Charles, has been known to climb the hill when the family is in residence.

I had made two attempts to climb Lochnagar before this image was taken. Both times were in the depths of winter and on neither occasion did I meet another soul on the hill, royal or not. On my first attempt, I didn't get past the bealach beneath Meikle Pap, regularly unable to stand on two feet due to strong winds, and on my return I was thwarted at Cac Carn Mor, a giant cairn on the plateau at 1150m, just 5m shy of summit height but 0.5km away of the true summit, Cac Carn Beag. Not because it is slightly confusing (I believe a Mor is 'bigger' than a Beag so you would be forgiven for thinking it would be the summit) but again because of the weather. Great gusts of wind that had built speed over the surrounding rolling hills swept across the plateau and threatened to launch me off the top of Lochnagar's spectacular cliffs. These cliffs, some 200m high in places, hold lots of summer rock climbs and winter ice climbs. I don't believe they are appropriate for base jumping (even with a parachute) so, after a few calls that were too close for comfort, I half walked half crab-crawled my way back to the relative shelter of the approach path and returned with a friend in more amenable weather.

Getting there and around 

Lochnagar is usually climbed as a day trip from the Spittal of Glenmuick. For added spice, head in from the North near Invercauld Bridge on the A93 Ballater to Braemar road and climb the great Stuic Buttress, a grade 1 scramble that takes you out onto the plateau near the summit of Carn ' Choire Bhoideach. From there, it's a simple 2km stroll across the plateau to Lochnagar. Alternatively, to enjoy the peak during an overnight trip, walk along the shores of Loch Muick and camp beneath the great cliffs near the Dubh Loch. You can tick off four Munros as you make your way back across the plateau to Cac Carn Beag and your fifth Munro of the day.