The summit tor of Lochnagar is a great viewpoint. Looking to the south west past the Ordnance Survey trig point you look straight into the "other" corrie of the mountain which contains another dark lochan - Loch nan Eun (loch of the birds). The prominent ridge just to the right of the lochan leads straight to one of the "tops", known as the Stuic (pronounced Stoo-ee). Although I've been to the Stuic several times, I've yet to reach it via this ridge.....so there's a good excuse to climb the hill again!
Crouched out of the wind amongst the summit rocks, I could see the next batch of snow showers building to the north. Rime ice on the boulders showed how cold it had been up here, perhaps a good omen for a proper winter season to come?
Across the valley of the River Dee the view was closed off completely by the approaching weather - it was time to take bearings for two descents and make a start.
I decided to head down the bold ridge which bounds Lochan na Gair, partly to get the best view of the crags and partly because it's a good line on the mountain. A little way below the summit, at the head of the ridge, there's a super view along the crags - though your gaze may well be drawn downward......
...into one of the branches of Black Spout gully!
The views continue as the ridge is descended. This is "granite noir"; seen in close proximity the line of 1000ft crags are an impressive sight; massive and slightly menacing . This is Byron's "Dark Lochnagar" and also one of the great winter climbing arenas of Scotland.
You get well down the ridge towards the lochan before the steep rocks relent and there's gentler ground on which to rest. I've done this ridge in both directions, and rate it both as an ascent and a descent.
On the floor of the corrie the crags dominate the view - my compact camera didn't got to a sufficiently wide angle to image the whole scene!
Rather than contour around the base of the Meikle Pap to regain the track back to Glen Muick I decided to cross the corrie and climb back out over the bealach between the Pap and the Ladder. My advice to anyone thinking of doing likewise is...don't! The going is very difficult through moraines of house sized granite boulders with deep gaps between them - especially tricky with snow on most surfaces. It took an inordinate amount of time and effort to get to the slope beneath the bealach and I several times reminded myself that a fall here would be serious as it's an unfrequented part of the mountain.
I plodded up towards the bealach in a stinging snow shower and a whirling wind, fortunately blowing from behind me. The back edge of the shower passed through as I reached the bealach to leave blue sky......
...and the descent back to the track took me, it seemed, out of winter and back into autumn. I stopped to rest and eat below the snowline on the boundary of Balmoral estate in what seemed relatively warm conditions. All that remained was to retrace my outward route down the track back to Glen Muick whilst reflecting that Lochnagar, once again, had given a superb day out - and the first winter day of the season.