Getting back from work last night at around 2030 I checked the forecast to find that the next day was going to be the last day of good weather before high winds and blizzards came in from the west. I got in touch with about half a dozen people to find that they were all working or had other commitments so I was on my own. Conditions for climbing in Scotland can be unpredictable at the best of time let a lone this early in the season so Lochnagar was by far the best option for a day trip from Montrose. in my opinion it is the finest mountain East of the A9 and seems to hold the snow well compared to most mountains in the vast area south of the Cairngorm's.
I left at about 0745 and headed over the Cairn o'Mount road into Deeside. It was very cold which is generally good thing when it comes to climbing as all the rock and ice is solid. I got to the car park at around 0910 and headed off along the snowy track up through the forest and beyond towards the top of the pass at which point the path leads up to the col below the Meikle Pap. upon reaching the col the view of the cliffs were fantastic. they were very snow plastered although the snow appeared to be thin on the lower reaches of the corie.
cutting down into the coire there was a lot of deep powder snow that made the boulder field a bit of a minefield and working my way towards the Mountain Rescue post was very time and effort consuming. I stopped at the MRT post for a bit and got some food. I seen little point in putting crampons on at this point as the snow on the rocks ahead should be ice free like those I had already crossed. crossing the large boulder field to gain the lower reaches of the gully was nothing short of a nightmare but only took around 20 minutes before I was at the foot of the snow cone that forms at the foot of the gully.
The gully I was climbing is the Black Spout. it would be a suitable candidate for the finest Grade I gully in Scotland. It is a straightforward snow climb that can have an awkward cornice exit in heavy conditions. about half way up the gully splits into two branches. I had been up the main gully which is the Right hand branch some years ago as one of my first winter routes so I wanted to have a look at the Left hand branch.
I stopped at the last rocky outcrop before the gully proper, got out my axes and put on my crampons. Two guys at this point were behind me and had stopped at the MRT post to gear up. I headed on up the gully, the snow in the lower reaches was fantastic! the front points of my crampons were biting in solidly into the crispy neve.
upon reaching the junction of the 2 branches the guys were now at the foot of the gully below me. I moved off into the left hand branch and was met by a very short icy pitch where the snow was very thin and the gully steepened. a few easy but careful moves and I was up onto crispy neve again, I followed this to the top of the gully and exited onto the plateau.
the snow in the right hand branch was very loose and unconsolidated but was still easy to descend. I reached the Junction at the same time the pair of climbers I had seen below me did. I told them that the Left hand branch was in better condition and had a chat with them before continuing down. I went all the way down to the MRT post when I stopped to take my crampons off. beyond this the going was slow as I had to ascend the deep powder slope that was strewn with boulders. at one point my left foot got jammed after dropping about a meter and i had to dig myself out which was amusing.
By the time I reached the col the weather was closing in more. the cliffs where now almost totally immersed in cloud that was growing darker. I hadn't done the Corbett Conachcraig so decided to go up that after reaching the top of the track. while ascending up the from the pass I noticed the two guys some way behind me, I’m assuming they opted to go round the top of the cliffs rather than descend the gully. from the Corbett I descended back onto the track and then followed it back to the car park. getting back to the car at around 1530.
Conditions are looking good considering how early in the season it is. hopefully get some weather in January to match!