Finding Sandy’s Hut: A Surprising Test of Winter Navigation

The hill forecast today was excellent. Following a day of wind and snow, the skies were due to be clear for most of the afternoon with no wind; no better opportunity to get out. Our initial hope had been to head south to the Angus Glens to walk Mayar and Driesh; however, the latest dump of snow gave concerns about how backed up Corrie Fee would be, so instead we opted to head out towards Ballater again.

Various options under consideration we parked up at Glen Muick. Toying with the idea of Conachcraig, a lovely corbett up the Lochnagar path, we finally settled upon heading along Loch Muick with a view to going to Sandy’s Hut before cutting across and going down Corrie Chash or skirting Broad Cairn to head back towards Glas-allt-Shiel.

The purpose of the walk was twofold: making the most of such a cracking and trying out our new winter boots. Following our training day with Braemar MRT we’d become aware of the need to get proper winter boots if planning on using crampons as although the old Meindls can take a crampon, ultimately the soles are too flexible and could lead us into danger.

A trip to Tiso Aberdeen last weekend (and a lengthy boot fitting with Kyle who had the patience of a saint) saw me sporting a rather awesome pair of Salewa Ravens. I’m most delighted with them having walked ten miles today (over 6 hours walking) my feet feel great! They also look pretty cool and I love the colours which is an added bonus!

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Back to the walk … Setting out from Glen Muick it was a little cloudy but soon started to clear as per the forecast. We walked along the south side of the loch following the path until we reached the bridge over the Black Burn. The underfoot conditions weren’t quite as good as we’d hoped for (no need for the crampons as the snow was a little soft) and this made it slow going.

We continued up the zig zags after the bridge and from this point onwards took turns breaking trail. The snow was on average about a foot deep (at times knee deep) so this was pretty tough. On the upside, the skies were clear and the views back down to a Loch Muick and around the White Mounth were stunning! It truly was one of those days where you can’t imagine being anywhere better!

Stunning blue skies stayed with us as we moved across the plateau. However, on stopping for the obligatory Baxter’s tomato soup it started to get a little foggy ahead of us. Conditions very quickly deteriorated after this and it truly did become a test of our winter navigation skills. With everything around us white and with very little variation in the terrain there was nothing by which we could navigate. The OS Locate app proved its worth here and allowed us to take grid references in order to try and find our way to Sandy’s Hut.

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It was during this part of the walk that Bruce took a tumble. A small drop of about 3-4 feet was completely unseen by us both until he stepped off it and went flying! This very much drew our awareness to how easy it would be to step off a cornice in these conditions with no realisation at all!

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Finally reaching the hut we stopped to consider our options. The snow had really slowed us down and we’d only covered 5 miles in 3.5 hours. The decision was therefore to bail and retrace our steps. Logic dictated that going back would be far easier, and the risk of trying to find a snow covered path down the Streak of Lightning (Corrie Chash) outweighed the benefits on this occasion.

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Typically the weather then appeared to clear, the views opening up once again. On looking back though it could be seen that the fog was still clinging to the tops and the decision was the right one.

Back down the zig zags and across the Black Burn we started to notice the thaw. One saving grace today was that temperatures were good, above freezing, and if anything we were running hot. A bit of a plouter at times, we followed the south side path again back to the sanctuary of the car.

All in all not a bad day on the hills, even if it wasn’t what we’d hoped for. Biggest low of the day? Getting to Ballater to discover the coffee shop closes at 5!!! Next time!

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