Distance: 15 miles
Time: 5.5 hours (including breakfast)
Munros: Broad Cairn, Cairn Bannoch
Start: Car Park at the Spittal of Glenmuick
Weather: Beautifully clear, cold start but later overcast
Route: View on OS Maps
So, sometimes it's good to shake up the normal routine of a weekend. After going to see Star Trek with friends I got back and looked up on a velvety blue sky shimmering with stars. The summer triangle was creeping above the horizon and looking at my laptop the weather forecast promised a continuation of this clear spell at least until midday. MWIS concurred with the eastern hills being given an 80% chance of being cloud free during Sunday morning.
With the promise of a good sunrise and the stars signalling the return to short summer nights I packed the sack, made some food and quietly loaded everything into the car, trying not to disturb the neighbours.
I rolled out of Aberdeen, accompanied by a few taxi drivers and wandering revellers a little after 2am and was soon alone on the A93 behind the far-reaching beams of my headlamps. The roads were, of course, quiet and I passed unnoticed through the villages along the Dee, eventually crossing the river at Ballater and picking up the road to the Spittal of Glenmuick.
It was eerie making my way down the single track. Every passing place sign and snowpole was illuminated far in front of me by my lights. More unnerving though were the small packs of deer that, at my approach, decided they wanted to be on the other side of the road as quickly as possible. Thankfully I made it to the carpark without harming any wildlife.
A campervan, a car and an estate truck were the only vehicles in evidence at the car park at 3:30am. I found I only had £2.90 in change (the rest being 5ps which the machine does not accept). I left the car without ticket thinking that I'd be back and out before the crowds arrived anyway.
The night was still and peaceful and it was a delight to walk along the good track towards Loch Muick. I had the headtorch but after passing through the trees switched it off, letting my senses adjust to the sights and sounds of the tranquil pre-dawn. In the east there was already a lightening of the sky evident, the hills standing black against it.
I made steady progress along the west side of the Loch, stopping occasionally to watch as the glow in the east steadily grew. The colour of the Loch was wonderful. In front of me I saw Broad Cairn emerge from the gloaming, its peak scattered with snow.
As the light grew I climbed the zig-zagging track up to reach the high plateau leading up to Broad Cairn.
The clouds were sticking over Lochnanagar and also Broad Cairn, sitting at around 900m. Above, the sky was turning red as a glow appeared beyond Mount Keen under a dark band of cloud.
As 5am approached I dropped my sack and sat back on a rock perched high above the Loch to watch the sun arrive. The changing quality of light was magnificent.
After this I carried on, passing Sandy's Seat and getting views into Glen Clova. The snow of the past week had transformed Mayar and Dreish.
The climb up Broad Cairn is straightforward, with a track much of the way and only a bit of clambering required to ascend through the boulder fields. The only slight difficulty was the rocks encrusted with a thick layer of frost.
As 6am approached I was at the summit, clambering up to the cairn and sitting down just out of the bitingly cold wind to enjoy the views and some breakfast.
I got a couple of shots as unfortunately the cloud drifted in once again, obscuring the sun and plunging me into a cold mist.
I took a bearing off the summit for the next top but just below the cairn picked up a good track which wound its way across the plateau, across the top of Cairn of Galloch, and then up and on to Cairn Bannoch.
The rise was hardly anything which was appropriate as neither was the view. After only a couple of minutes spent in the swirling mist I headed down from the summit.
In clear weather it would have been good to head down to the crags above the Dubh Loch but in the conditions I went south west from the summit and picked up a snowfilled burn which took me down towards the Allt an Dubh-loch. I carefully picked my way across to the fast flowing stream, the views starting to open out. Most impressive was the waterfall tumbling down the Eagle Rocks.
I crossed the Allt and followed its left bank downhill towards the Dubh Loch which could now be seen between the steep sides of the crags. It was an impressive sight despite the overhead cloud.
As I dropped down the faint traces of a path could be seen and I now followed this until it became more distinct as shown on the map. Close to the Loch it was very boggy but as it rose up at the Loch's foot it became much better and progress was good.
The path drops impressively down the side of the head of Glen Muick towards the Loch with the views opening out on all sides. Besides me Broad Cairn was starting to emerge from the clouds.
On a good path I was soon at Glas-allt-Shiel, pausing by the Loch in front of the house. After this it was a walk back down the side of Loch Muick, passing the boathouse and returning to the car just on 9am.
As I sat drinking a brew the first daywalkers were pulling into the car park and booting up. It felt good to have had this busy place completely to myself.