Loch Na Gar is one of the larger mountains in Scotland. It is a Munroe, being over 3000 feet1. It is an example of what happens to a tilted plateau after several periods of glaciation. As Munroes go it is one of the easier mountains to climb, taking between five and eight hours to complete by the route described here. The going is easy, with only one scramble, of about 100 feet, over large rocks. This scramble is the steepest part of the climb, being about 1 in 4.
Loch Na Gar is a busy mountain in summer, with a large number of walkers. Loch Na Gar and Glen Muick2This is both a blessing and a curse. As a good thing it means that you are always in reach of help if it all goes pear shaped. As a curse some of the walkers are a noisy bunch3, so if you go up for the peace and quiet, or to see wild life you may be unlucky. Saying that each time I have climbed this there has been plenty of quiet time and spotted something interesting4.
The amount of people on the hill means that during the summer, and especially at weekends, you may not need to take everything that would be needed during winter. The following are the items that are a MUST if climbing, whatever the time of year.
- 1. A good pair of boots5
- 2. A waterproof jacket.
- 3. A map6 of the area you are in.
- 4. Some vittles - A couple of sandwiches, a packet of biscuits, a couple of packets of chewy sweeties
- 5. Some water - at least a litre
- 6. A good compass
- 7. A signalling device - a whistle, a flashlight and possibly a mobile phone7 >
- 8. A small first aid kit - Plasters, bandages, sunblock, pain killers
- 9. Warm clothing, and a spare change of it.8
- 10. A good bag to carry the above, when not in use - A rucksack or big satchel would be ideal
- 11. The ubiquetous towel :)
If you are climbing alone, or out of season then you really shouls also take a walking stick, tent, sleeping bag, flares. Your first aid kit should be larger and you should have enough food for at least another day, preferably two. If you do have to be hauled out of there Mountain Rescue will not be happy puppies if you do not have all of these. This section formed the kernal of Preperations for a Hillwalk in the Scottish Highlands, which should also be read if you are considering this walk.
How to Get There
Take the A93 road from Aberdeen. This takes you down Dee-side. When you reach Banchory you can cross to the B976. This will take you the back route to Ballater, the scenic route or rather the more scenic route. If you stick to the A93 this will get you to Ballater quickly. Once at Ballater cross the river, onto the B976, and turn right9. Take the second turn off to the left. This single track road will take you down Glen Muick. At the end of the road, several miles along, there is a car park, though you are best to get there early for a space. This is where you leave your vehicle and start the hike.
The Hike Up
From the car park head through the small stand of trees, here is the last toilet stop if you do not like the open air. Once through the stand of trees take the right turn and head acros the glen. Cross the bridge and head up towards the house and the bothy. Walk by them and turn off the 'main' road10. Take the less travelled track into the woods. Follow this track as it slowly undulates up through the wood, and out onto the hill. This road takes you most of the way up the flank. As you travel further along Loch Na Gar will come along your left side, here the road levels out. A small sheep path leads from the vehicle track and onto the hill itself.
Follow the sheep trail off the main vehicle track. Drop down and cross the burn at the bottem. From here it is quite steep up to the saddle between one side of the Loch Na Gar corrie and the slightly smaller peak of Conachcraig. As you near the saddle the going gets slightly more rocky, and the top of the saddle almost seems cobbled. From here you can get the first glimpse of the lochan in the corrie of Loch Na Gar. If it is a sunny day the lochan almost seems aquamarine in colour. From here is the hardest part of the walk.
From the saddle you head up to the crest of the Loch Na Gar corrie. This is the hardest part and may involve using hands to scramble up over the rocks and boulders. This slope only lasts for 100 feet or so, and gives some of the best views of the corrie's cliffs, the lochan and the foothills beyond. Once to the top there is a broad path, worn by walkers feet, which you follow around the corrie. The way is mostly level now, except for one last steep rise. Once beyond the rise walk past the outcrops of rock, which look like they are carved into Escher-esk whales, and onto the summit.
The summit is dirctly opposite Conachcraig, and is a final outcrop of rock. There are some steps in the summit, making it easier to climb to the cairn on the top. The triangulation point there has a table showing all the prominant landmarks. On a clear day it is easy to see the North Sea from here, with no problems. You have made it to the summit, congratulations. From here it is all downhill :)
Once you have spent some time at the summit, looked around, taken photographs, eaten lunch et al. it is time to head back down. You could return by the route climbed up, but it is possible to return by a different route and end up walking a large circle back to the car park. This route is slightly longer, but is definatly worth it. This is the route described here.
The return starts by heading back along the way that you came. Past the rock outcrops and down the steep rise onto the broad path along the top of the corrie. Instead of following this path back, head down a small path that follows a burn down a small glen. This path rapidly gets broader, due to recent work on it and has bridges over the burn. As the path heads down to Glen Muick it appears that it just stops at an abyss. The going gets steep as it drops down from the hanging valley above. The steepness can be difficult as the path can get dusty, when dry, or muddy, when wet, which makes it slippery. Once past the worst of the steepness, there is a small path off towards the burn. If you follow this it takes you to a spectacular waterfall, another natural stopping place, where you can refill your waterbottle with some of the finest tasting water anywhere.
From here, when you decide to move on, the path heads down again, and falls the rest of the way from the hanging valley to Glen Muick. Once at the foot of the hill climb the wall and enter the small stand of trees. As you walk through the trees you come upon a road11. Turn left and follow the road along the loch. This part is just a slog, along a hard road, but the views make it worth while. Once you reach the head of the loch you can head straight on, past the houses and the bothy12, or head across the glen, following the head of the loch. No matter which way you take they both take you back to the car park. Your tour of Loch Na Gar is over, you have walked 10 - 12 miles, and you are probably going to be sore tomorrow13.
This is a nice gentle walk, compared to some, and though hitchhikers will find themselves a bit stiff the next day, it will be a good strechy kind of stiffness. It shouldn't affect the average hitchhikers activities, and all symptoms will be gone in two to three days.