Scottish mountain literature is liberally sprinkled with descriptions of Lochnager, and more often than not they are prefixed with the word �dark�. This term is certainly appropriate when this great peak is viewed from Deeside, for the cliffs of its huge north-and-east-facing corries lie in shadow for much of the day � and from afar they have a sombre look to them.
Breathtaking Highland views
But this bleak frontage is only half the story, for across Lochnagar�s summit plateau and all around its flanks are some of the finest sights the mountains of the highlands have to offer. The draw of reaching Lochnagar�s summit � the highest peak in this part of the Cairngorms � is understandable.
But to do it in a mad �up and down� summit dash would be a crime. You would miss out on the haunting rattle of the ptarmigan as you tread across the wild sub-arctic terrain of the plateau. You would not be able to stand dumbstruck below the soaring granite walls of Creag an Dhub-loch. You would not be able to finish the day by the crystal waters of Loch Muick, possibly the most idyllic loch in Scotland. No, the only way to climb Lochnagar is by exploring it, not simply touching its summit cairn.
Lochnagar is such a big mountain it�s hard to pick a route that encompasses all its best bits. So any single day route you do is going to be a bit of a compromise. The route that holds the fewest compromises is the circuit from Glen Muick that traverses east to west along the main summit crest then returns over Carn a� Choire Bhaidheach and along the lonely waters of Allt an� Dhub-loch.
This route has the distinct advantage of gaining height over the well-graded and relatively easy path from Spittal of Glenmuick. It can be a little busy and frustrating at peak times but all the hustle and bustle is soon forgotten as you near the top.
Perch at the edge of Lochnagar�s great cliffs and peek the thousand-odd feet down into the Corrie of Lochnagar below. Once at the summit you can then head west across the plateau.
At this point the nature of the hill changes and the feel of the wilderness gets a stronger grip. The route follows the plateau around the steep edges and crags of Coire Lochan nan Eun to gain the lonely summit of Coire a� Bhoidheach. This is a long way out, but if you have time it's definitely a summit to savour. The views change and they are both expansive and detailed so allow time to take it all in.
Descending by the dashing waters of Allt an Da Chraobh Bheath, you leave the wilderness of the high sub-arctic plateau behind and enter a world of Alpine drama. The mighty cliffs of Creag an Dubh-loch swing into view and you might think you�re looking at one of the great faces of the Alps. Indeed, the vertical height of this granite bastion is equal to those of its continental counterparts.
The only thing it lacks is altitude. The stretch down the glen above Dubh Loch for over 3km and will be in view all the way down to Loch Muick, delivering you back to the start. It�s a fair few miles along the loch, but the elation of the day will carry your tired legs along the last long mile.
Start/Finish Spittal of Glenmuick N0307850. OS Explorer 388
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