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Loch Na Gar is one of the larger mountains in Scotland. The fact that it is over 1,279 metres (3,000 feet) means that it can be classified as a Munro1. Loch Na Gar 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 to 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.
Loch Na Gar is a busy mountain in summer, with a large number of walkers. This is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it means that you are always in reach of help if something goes awry. On the other hand, some of the walkers are a noisy bunch, so if you go up for the peace and quiet, or to see the mountain's wildlife you may be unlucky.
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 an absolute necessity if climbing, whatever the time of year.
A good pair of boots.
A waterproof jacket.
A map of the area you are in.
Some snacks - a couple of sandwiches, a packet of biscuits and a couple of packets of chewy sweeties.
Some water - at least one litre.
A good compass.
A whistle, a flashlight and possibly a mobile phone.
A small first aid kit with bandages, sunblock and pain killers.
Warm clothing and a spare change of clothing.
A good bag to carry all of the above, a rucksack or big satchel would be ideal.
If you are planning a trip alone, out of peak season, off the beaten path, or where there some difficult terrain, then you will need a lot more than this. If you do not have the following, or at least most of the following, and you have to be rescued, then the Mountain Rescue will not be happy. So, here's what to take:
A walking stick or possibly a ski pole.
A set of flare signals.
A sleeping bag.
A small gas stove or another way to brew up.
Some food to be cooked, but could be eaten raw.
Another change of clothes, or at least underwear.
A larger first-aid kit.
The Hike Up
From the car park, head through the small stand of trees, here is the last toilet stop here if you do not like going in the open air. Once through the stand of trees take the right turn and head across the glen. Cross the bridge and head up towards the house. Walk by it and turn off the 'main' road. 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 burn2 at the bottom. From here it is quite steep up to the saddle between one side of the Loch Na Gar corrie3 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, or small loch, in the corrie of Loch Na Gar. If it is a sunny day the lochan almost seems aquamarine in colour. From now on, the walk gets harder and harder.
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. However, if it's cloudy, visibility could go down to around ten feet, so beware. 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 and onto the summit.
The summit is directly 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 prominent landmarks. On a clear day it is easy to see the North Sea from here, with no problems. From here it is all downhill.
Once you have spent some time at the summit, looked around, taken photographs, and eaten lunch, 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 definitely worth it.
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 Muick4 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 water bottle 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 road. Turn left and follow the road along the loch. This part is just a slog, along a hard road, but the views make it worthwhile. Once you reach the head of the loch you can head straight on, past the houses and the bothy5 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 up to 12 miles, and you are probably going to be very sore.