Christmas and New Years break, 2016 into 2017: Hiking Lochnagar

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Hiking the Munros of Scotland – Lochnagar!

Monday, 02-Jan-2017

The Lydecker’s like getting up early.

I am less enthusiastic about this… but somehow I make it out of bed at o’dark:30 with Sarah and Greta, and find myself sitting in the car, watching the sunrise over the munros… a significant time after leaving the house.

But it was worth it! We’re in Cairngorm national park by 8:00, with the pink sky lighting up the mountains, and a whole herd of red tailed deer (really the size of elk) wandering around in the pre-dawn light. It was amazing.

We started in at the car park near Loch Muick, having a short bit of an adventure with the parking machine not working, before Sarah remembered her training and literally kicked it back into functionality. Turns out, not all tropes are incorrect… sometimes the best way to fix electronics is just to smack them. With that settled, we headed up toward the summit of Lochnagar – a short hill compared to what we’ve got in Oregon, but a non-trivial ascent per Scotland’s standards.

We’d prepared as well as we could, bringing all sorts of winter gear, maps, GPS receivers, and extra layers. But we didn’t expect to use them… after all, this was a quick 3,500 ft hill walk, how bad could it be?

Well… it was bad.

It was bad, but we enjoyed every minute of it. Every boot planted in the river that we had to cross, soaking through our socks. Every parry during Sarah and my ice-jedi duel (we found some 2ft icicles, so… clearly fencing), and every dirty look from elderly Scotsmen who don’t take kindly to ice-jedi shenanigans on their mountains. But the weather kept getting worse, and the snow fall kept getting thicker around us.

The fun and games could only keep us going so long… once we rounded the south side of the mount, and started West, we felt the full fury of Scotland’s weather. It was cold. The wind was nearly enough to knock us over. Ice and snow and rain and pelting hail stung us. I mean… this was a serious, right out of a movie, full on Scottish storm. Or, as the older gentleman who passed us would probably say, a Monday in Cairngorm.

We went as far as we could, making to a large trail cairn before we really couldn’t make it any further. We placed our stones on top of the trail marker, and started our way back down. Our second river crossing wasn’t any easier than our first, but thankfully no boots got any more wet than they already were… and we didn’t have to walk very far anyways, because our short term target was right past the river…

A small pumphouse, nestled in the forest above the mansion that we’d passed earlier. A perfect spot to stop and have a sandwich, some water, and a granola bar. Also, a perfect spot to just appreciate the storm front that was coming in… from here, we could see the entire top of the Munro covered in a snowstorm, and could even see how quickly that storm was coming toward us.

We walked out a bit quicker than we’d walked in, enjoying the sparse deep forest, the picturesque mansion (seemingly straight out of Game of Thrones), and the moors that we had to cross. Then, instead of turning directly toward the car, we took advantage of the slowing storm and walked up to the edge of Loch Muick, the beautiful lake right nearby.

Here, I got my perfect view of Scotland: Small rivers running through a peat bog, with cliffs and a storm in the background, silhouetting the mountains slowly being covered in snow. Ohh my lord it was gorgeous!

And a bonus? We’d gotten up so early, that there was still light left in the day! We got to get some coffee, some scotch, and even pick up a new pair of boots for Sarah, and a super nice rain jacket for myself in the town of Ballater before heading back into Aberdeen proper for dinner with everyone else.

Malmaison was the dinner of the evening, and since we’d earned a few extra calories, Sarah and I both got the venison dish. It was amazing, but I’ll admit that Henry’s prime rib kind of out did it… though I did kind of prefer the sauce that came with the venison over the seared flavor of the prime.

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