An Socach: Roaming Free

It feels like a long time since we’ve been in the hills and December has been a long month so far. Despite my best intentions to be active, the dark nights and life in general have conspired against me; a general feeling of malaise and a lack of motivation to get out at all. Thankfully, with the holidays now upon us I had a newfound desire to get out and was delighted to be met with a good forecast for the weekend.

After a little deliberation thanks to Bruce’s planning with various options of offer, but primarily due to the car parking area being full, we made the decision to park a few hundred metres further along and head up An Socach. I had a desire to get up high, and Loch Callater just didn’t hold the same appeal today. We were also in agreement that it’s a better option when the loch is frozen and it’s not cold enough for that as yet.

It did amuse me somewhat that Bruce made mention of the extra walk (all 300 metres of it, making a 600 metre addition in total). I sometimes think similar thoughts when parking in order to go for a run or walk; bizarre given the total distance you’d cover without thinking about it in order to achieve the planned route itself. Anyway, along the road we set, and within a very short time were on the correct route, a good track that leads to the path for ascending the munro.

The first obstacle in our path was a small stream crossing. This shouldn’t have presented any difficulty with a few small rocks and boulders paving the way, but on my crossing I managed to slip on one of the stones, thankfully only dipping my toes in and not getting wet feet, but still enough to make me wary of the others. This later led to us thinking perhaps we could head around and ascend via another route that we could see opposite us.

Heading up to An Socach

Continuing up, I was in a thoughtful mood and my mind wandered to a running friend who has recently passed away. He and I had talked hills on a few occasions and it seemed fitting to say a quiet goodbye as we reached the windshelter cairn on An Socach.

Windshelter cairn on An Socach

The wind on this broad plateau had picked up and it was beginning to get chilly. However, the sun came out and provided warmth as we moved off. We had decided not to go to the second windshelter (the true summit cairn) as we’ve done this munro previously, instead deciding to roam free and head off in another direction rather than retracing our steps. Heading down we followed a large snow patch and it was fun going over this. I have to admit that I did generally follow in Bruce’s footsteps making the going easier for myself. I decided that this was Type 1 fun. This was a topic of discussion at the Dundee Mountain Film Festival, and this is genuine fun where you’re enjoying the here and now. This changed to Type 2 fun, the type of thing that isn’t particularly fun at the time, being challenging or tough and involving mind over matter, when we realised that we were in fact heading into Glen Ey, not where we wanted to be at all!

On a positive note, this forced us into testing our navigational skills. With the help of the map, compass and OS Locate to give us very accurate grid references, we realised that we had to head back up towards Sgurr Mor in order to pick up the path back towards our track again. This proved to be quite a slog and involved both boggy ground and heather bashing. On the upside, we saw a herd of deer on the hillside and several mountain hares who made bounding up the hill look very effortless indeed!

Navigational skills being tested

Repeated checks of the map proved that we were on the right line, and reaching the flatter path on the approach to Sgurr Mor we could see where we were aiming for.

Strava elevation profile

Finally we made it onto the path down the opposite side of the stream and had views back to An Socach again looking clear in the late afternoon sun. It was a relief to be able to view the track on which we’d return to the car. Despite never being lost and always feeling confident in our navigational ability, there had been a moment where I’d wondered if we’d be needing our head torches for the return leg. As it transpired, we made good time and got back with daylight remaining.

Back on the correct path, descending from An Socach

All that was left to do was head to The Bothy in Braemar for coffee and cake. Today’s offering of Lemon Drizzle Cake was outstanding and really put the shine back into the day.

Three cheers for Hazel! Joining an awesome lady on her 10th compleation of the munros!

I love being out in the hills on a fine day, so was quite intrigued by Bruce’s suggestion that we join Hazel Strachan to complete her 10th round of the munros. Hazel is one amazing lady. We follow her on Twitter (@StrachanHazel) and she’d sent an open invitation to join her in the final munro of this circuit, Carn an Tuirc. As I learned from chatting today, not only has she completed the full round of munros ten times, she also manages to hold down a job as a Scientist and maintain a relationship with her lovely husband, Ian, who accompanies her in their camper van. Major kudos on managing all that!

The walk was initially scheduled for Saturday but was sensibly postponed due to a very wet and windy forecast. Checking the weather before setting out I’ll be honest; I was less than thrilled with the potential for 50-60 mph gusts on the top today (Sunday). Our only hope was that it would blow over earlier than planned as later in the afternoon was reportedly better. On the upside it was dry, albeit foggy.

Arriving at the car park, a few miles out of Braemar, we were greeted by the sight of a couple of cars and a camper van. Sincere thanks to both Hazel and Ian for the hospitality; we were warmly welcomed and invited in where we met Chris (@jepsonscotland) initially, swiftly joined by John (@KingGuiding), then Craig (@csa_adventure) all enjoying a chat, a few nibbles and the shelter from the wind. Others arrived over the next wee while and so we moved outdoors to get boots and rucksacks ready. All in all I think there were 20 people setting out. We had a quick round of introductions and one last offer of coffee in the van with a lorne sausage bap thrown in from Ian as an alternative to the walk; I was almost tempted.

Setting off, we established a comfortable walking pace and there was easy chatter among the group. It was really enjoyable being able to talk to different people, learning about their experiences in the hills with many compleatists among them, several more with less than a handful to go. Somewhat boggy, the path was clear making easy walking.

Heading up Carn an Tuirc
A wee procession up the hill toward Carn an Tuirc

The joy of being in such a large group was that time flew by in the best possible sense. There were lots of others to follow, an easy crossing of a small stream, and before long we were heading to the munro summit, clearly visible all the way – no fog!

The ascent fairly steady and gentle, the group spread out a little as people stopped to take photos, admire the views, or add extra layers as the wind picked up. The odd gust here and there knocked me a little bit but on the whole it was very tolerable and warmer than expected. We made it to the summit, touching the cairn before heading for the wee wind shelter.

Bruce & I on the summit of Carn an Tuirc
Bruce looking steady while I try to avoid blowing over!

More people joined us and then the lady herself appeared, having allowed others up ahead of her. We quickly assembled to form a guard of honour, Hazel walking under the clacking sticks to big cheers in order to reach the summit cairn.

Photographs were taken and further congratulations offered by the assembled friends; I retreated to the sanctuary of the wind shelter for a snack. Meanwhile, Alan (@MunroMoonwalker) was scouting around and had found a sheltered spot, dropping down off the summit slightly. Assembling here, Hazel kindly cracked open several bottles of champagne allowing us to toast her achievement in style.

Slowly people began to drift off back up and over the summit, down the hill as the chill began to set in. I’m not sure if it really was quite mild or if it was my new jacket, but I remained pleasantly warm throughout.

Heading down I enjoyed the company of John, chatting about his role as a Guide and our mutual enjoyment of running. Bruce followed in our wake, chatting with others, and before long we were back at the road, greeted by Ian who had enjoyed the peace, a good breakfast and his book. I’m now seeing more and more advantages in acquiring a camper van somewhere down the line!

Our final stop on the road was The Bothy, my favourite coffee shop in Braemar (and Ballater for that matter) where we gathered for coffee, cake and chat.

Many thanks to Hazel for extending the invitation. It was a joy to be part of such a momentous occasion! Thanks also to everyone that turned out; it was a pleasure meeting you all today. Look forward to hopefully doing it again in 2020 when Hazel aims to complete her 11th round. Maybe I’ll have passed 150 munros by then!

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