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Munros #4-13: Two Trips, Six Walks, A BIG Gap

Munros #4-13: Two Trips, Six Walks, A BIG Gap


Postby willyrawley » Fri Feb 04, 2022 3:12 pm

Munros included on this walk: Cairn of Claise, Càrn an Tuirc, Càrn Aosda, Càrn Gorm, Càrn Mairg, Creag Mhòr (Meall na Aighean), Meall Garbh (Càrn Mairg), Meall Ghaordaidh, Schiehallion, The Cairnwell

Date walked: 09/07/2021

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What a joy to be back in Scotland!

The two trips on this log are bisected by the Covid restrictions and as different as the conditions were between a trip to Braemar in February 2020 and Killin in July 2021, the difference in my own mindset at points over that period is probably greater. But don’t worry, a few ranting sentences will be all that separate you from some second-rate photographs of polar opposite conditions in which Englishmen that live in flat places slowly grind their way to the top of a Munro! We've also got a trip to Torridon planned for the end of February so my mind is naturally turned north.

My quick view on the period between our trips: it's been grim. The fact that, at times, we were effectively banned from being in the countryside or travelling between regions of our own country has had a detrimental effect on people. It has become clear to me, that not being able to do the things which form the identity of an individual through having free choice has caused a series of health (and economic) problems that I fear will be far longer lived and more damaging than this virus could ever have been. Seemingly countless people have now begun to raise this point in the media, even articles on WH have rightly dealt with long-covid and the benefits of being outdoors if not just solely among the Munros. I also do (did) judo. I have only just started again after nearly two years. I was on the cusp of my blue belt but have definitely been less able since returning. It might be Netlfix/Disney+/Amazon/Youtube Syndrome!

Sadly, I knew someone that paid the ultimate price, caused by social isolation and depression. A well-educated man in a long term career. I know others that have considered, if not consciously intended to do the same, one a very close friend. In November 2020 during the second English lockdown, I was in that group and was again in January 2021 due to the cumulative effect of a number of nasty matters at the time. I don’t think I would have gone the final step, but to even consider it… I shudder at it now. I used to think my mind was a fortress, unbreakable, but it was frighteningly more fragile than I knew. Luckily, those feelings are in the past and life is pretty much back to normal. The memory of them will stay with me and I hope form a low point but those mental health stories need heeding by the powers that be.

I know of far more people that have been negatively affected by the effects of lockdowns in less severe ways, primarily by the lack of choice in how to spend your time and money. That number is far more than I know than have been affected by the virus itself. Far more. So it is with absolute joy that I can find cause to write another report on here.

The process of writing about climbing, hiking and walking is both cathartic and cements the memories. While I don’t believe in the ‘put it on the internet or it didn’t happen’ philosophy, putting my experiences down in words and pictures on a dedicated, almost esoteric forum definitely strengthen my memories. I have used this site for years and have used the experience of others in their reports to reduce my chances of making mistakes on the hills so I hope other people can benefit in that way, or even if it is by just looking at the pictures.

That all off my chest, I hope you enjoy my ramblings about our ramblings in the glorious Scottish mountains!


Munros #4-7, Braemar, 28th February to 2nd March 2020

I didn’t write these up at the time as they seemed so utterly pathetic and the pictures have less colour than a blank piece of A4 paper!

Munro #4, Carn Aosda,

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We flew from Bristol to Edinburgh on the red-eye, picked up our hire car, got our provisions in Perth and headed for the car park at the Glenshee ski centre.

We were keen. Keen to bag a Munro, maybe the three on the west of the road above the ski centre. So keen that we decided against going to decant our luggage at the cabin in Braemar we’d rented and getting well prepared in peace and comfort in favour of getting changed in a blizzard that filled the car with snow and probably took more time than the drive and drop off would have. What complete and utter wallies. I think we have since learned the art of patience but only a trip to snowy Scotland with repeat temptation will prove it.

That keenness had its seeds in the previous trip, our first to bag Munros in March 2019. It had been an underwhelming one in terms of the numbers bagged, only three, so we were still very green, low on numbers and impatient to turn red dots to blue. I’d like to think we are reasonable and sensible people but, on this evidence, we should have been taken away by the men in white coats.

Often cited as the easiest Munro, Carn Aosda was bound to be a doddle, the first of a three-bagger.

It wasn’t.

After taking almost an hour to get ready in the car park, it took us another 15 minutes to clear the ski centre. 35 minutes later we were at the top having hacked and slipped our way there, seeing a few ptarmigan skip across the icy surface with a strange grace. At the top, the wind revved-up. I don’t know how fast it was blowing but even with the ski lifts as a guide, the visibility was very poor as the new and old snow swirled and standing still for summit pictures was testing. We didn’t linger and 23 minutes later, aided by gravity while noticing they’d closed the pistes, we slid our way back down to the car with half a thought to drive back in crampons, masks and jackets, ignition, air-con on and GO!

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Wasn’t that a review worth waiting for?! If nothing else, it shows the extent of the conditions you can experience and should expect. It would’ve been simple even up there on the easiest and one of the most boring Munros to go down the wrong flank of the hill in those conditions.

Back at the digs, one of the lodges run by the Braemar Lodge, we unpacked, washed, put on some pizzas and got stuck into some whisky while laughing at the state of us only hours before.
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Munros #5-6, Carn an Tuirc and Cairn of Claise

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If the day before was chaotic and rushed, this was the opposite. A serene sleep, 9am wake-up (unheard of with young children), bags packed the night before, food prepared the night before, kit lying ready, even the porridge was ready in the fridge having soaked overnight.

We eased our way into this one, looking at the extent of what we could do in the snow. The aim was initially the six on the east of the Glenshee road but it was another forecast showing poor visibility, fleeting glimpses of sun if any and likely whiteouts.

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We got to the parking spot just north of the ski centre and were ready to go in moments of the car turning off, crampons ready but not on immediately. We headed for Carn an Tuirc over the little bridge and across the solid heather. That terrain in summer is a leg-ripper, but now it was a solid mass with the odd patch where too much Christmas excess caused you to go through the snow layer. Higher up, the rivers became smaller and eventually frozen over at the point we headed straight for the top, keeping right of the main scree field.
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After a brief period of blue skies, we turned towards Cairn of Claise and decided to practice a technique of a person walking towards a point on the hill or horizon. After 20m or so, the second person would walk behind them and then the third, following each other’s footsteps. The straight line on our gpx half way between the two Munros shows how effective this was. We wanted to try it again and while it might not be the best in sheer-faced terrain, it worked on these hills and reduced the effort of each ploughing our own path.
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At the top of Cairn of Claise we considered trying to bag the lumps of Tolmount and Tom Buidhe but it was too risky given the daylength, not really knowing if the conditions would remain, improve or worsen. The fact that we had to shout to talk in the wind was enough to have the unanimous (but annoyed) vote against it so we headed toward the ski slopes of Glas Maol.

The wind was by now ferocious but in the lea of Glas Maol the wind dropped and allowed me to try my new toys; Snowfeet. This wasn’t the place to try them. They attached to any footwear and are very rigid and a bit of a cross between skis and skates. I hadn’t skied in almost six years and these slopes were icy. You really need a good piste for them and a measure of ability but at least the other two got a good laugh!

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I love this photo, it's atmospheric and shows the wind.

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From this...

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...to this, in less than 10 minutes. I love it!


Putting them back in the bag, we wrapped up in our layers and goggles and strolled down the steep slopes of Sron na Gaoithe as the snow shower became a blizzard. By the higher footbridge, a van had got stuck facing downhill so we helped get him out and got back into the whiskey once home.


Munro #7, The Cairnwell

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This was the windiest and snowiest day of the three. Another that should be simple, we hoped to walk out to Carn a’ Gheoidh as well but it took such effort, in such a cold and strong wind to get to just the Cairnwell that we didn’t bother. The snow was thick and supported no weight off the pistes so even this 90 minute walk was hard going.

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'Summit' of The Cairnwell


Instead, we had a good laugh at the skiers and snowboarders hitting an ice patch just below the lift and thought it better to get down and go to the Royal Lochnagar distillery instead. That really is all I can say about it. I could describe the snow types but I’d be making it up!

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A habit is forming


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It's a long way back from the bottom of there


We rounded this trip off with a night in the Fife Arms in Braemar with a good feed of haggis and tatties, a sing-song, two bottles of whiskey something else and a bit more after that. And a £400+ bill between the three of us. Success! Not many Munros but extremely enjoyable on reflection and a chance to go and blow out the cobwebs at the Linn of Dee.

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Fife Arms. We had to go the left bar because they sensed what was coming!


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Linn of Dee looking upstream


What next?


Munros #8-13, Killin, 9-13th July 2021

This should have been a trip to Torridon to do a winter skills course on Liathach in January 2021. Thanks to Boris and Nicola’s restrictions one-upmanship (presumably conceived during 'work events'), we had to push it back to April and then again to July. I had been looking forward to that January trip throughout lockdown so to have it canned was a blow. I saw it as an escape. But, be gone, foul thoughts! Torridon has been rearranged for this month, February 2022! I am also pleased that two more old mates decided to join us in Killin.

For this trip we stayed in a terrific place called Craignavie Cottage in Killin. It had table tennis, darts, a bbq, good beds and kitchen, loads of lounging space and was right on the river. Airbnb is often a bit pricey, but this place was worth it for the location alone, on the river Dochart just before it descends over the Falls of Dochart. If you haven’t seen them, have a quick look on Youtube of the falls in spate after a storm. Sheer power. How that bridge doesn’t get washed away is testament to the high quality of its construction.

The Falls of Dochart Inn is ideal for a scenic view of them and is a very decent pub besides. Often, pubs with great positions are let down by poor management owing to the draw of the location guaranteeing regular trade but this is not an accusation that can be levelled at The Falls of Dochart Inn. I enjoyed the excellent food of Scottish tapas (tappash?) and linguini, the drink, the scenery. All together, that makes the experience more than the sum of its parts so I was more than happy to give them my money. See you again soon!
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Upper Falls of Dochart from the bridge


Munro #8, Meall Ghaordaidh

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The keenness mentioned above rose its head again here, like the little red devil of your conscience that eggs you on in positions of uncertainty and potential immorality. Our initial aim was to walk the Lawers ridge to bag the seven Munros up there. Another early start, a flight from Birmingham to Glasgow, faffing in Stirling waiting for the fifth of our party to arrive by train and dawning realisation of the effort involved meant we reigned it in and decided on an outlier of the range, Meall Ghaordaidh. Lessons from Braemar partially learned (no snow to counter!).
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View from Stirling Castle.

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Meadow track just off the road through Glen Lochay, there's a green sign on the road pointing the way


The theme of this trip is humidity. Every walk began in among the ferns and bracken. This walk thrust us into the arms of the humidity monster from the off. Three litres of water gulped back on a 10k walk! Christ.
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Not the top


The soggy flanks of Meall Ghaordaidh did little to remove the humidity and the cloud cover, while stopping us from getting burnt, seemed to make it more oppressive. All that aside, I was delighted to be in the mountains and a couple of hours after Glen Lochay had appeared, disappeared and reappeared from view we headed into the clouds capping the top. The cloud was now an ally as it took the temperature down about 10 degrees. We sat at the top, had a dram each and some boiled sweets and biltong, and started the stroll down.
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Meall Ghaordaidh summit

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The hair is not receding...


The top of this mountain seems like a nice place to be, even having a touch of scrambling that the lower slopes wouldn’t suggest are up there but it was another without a view thanks to the cloud not being an ally now. Minding the big holes that had appeared in the peaty path, we even had a jog down for 10 minutes thanks to the boiled sweets and springy ground. Back into the bracken, that all stopped as the monster returned and we trudged back to the car. With number eight in the bag we drove back to the cottage and had plenty to drink and food of fried haggis, black pudding and chips to eat from the Killin chip van which would be closed the next day as the staff all had Covid!
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You lift, I'll pull


Munros #9-12, Glen Lyon Carn Mairg Circuit

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We had to park west of Invervar as the car park was full and parking on the road clearly attracted the local traffic wardens. Overzealous might be a fair description. I know the roads are narrow and verges have to be kept intact but he’d ticketed 15 people! Maybe a bigger car park is the answer here rather than this as it can do nothing for the appeal of the place. It seems predatory at worst.

I said humidity was the theme. At the start of this I couldn’t hear anything because the sound of me sweating with no physiological benefit was deafening me. My sweat was sweating. I thought the Invervar Burn was the rushing noise but it was just water pouring off my face! When we first walked past some of the pools of the burn, we thought it would be a good idea to have a dip when we were back there after the walk. We were spent by the end and just wanted to get clean so didn’t bother. The sapping nature of high humidity is so energy intense when you are not used to it and it is with a slight grimace that I recall it.
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The sweat created a v-shape formation in the landscape


The route up Carn Gorm is similar to Meall Ghaordaidh in a lot of respects; springy turf, streams, bracken and a little rocky top. While it is good to be on the mountains, sometimes a bit of a scramble is much more satisfying and usually leads to a quicker ascent so I’m looking forward to those sort of places. The cloud was higher than the previous day, around 1,100m so allowed a view across Rannoch Moor to the terrific v-shaped entrance to Glencoe. That really is a fantastic view.

Skirting the west flank of An Sgorr, the path up to the giant metal hedgehog was a bit slower as we decided on lunch at the top. Going uphill after eating isn’t the best if you know what I mean, but the view across Rannoch Moor is arguably better just that little bit further north and a better place for rest. It’s another lumpy hump with a small boulder field but it’s the view that counts here. It was a shame it wasn’t a bit clearer but it didn’t lack for atmosphere. I can’t imagine what that expanse must have looked like to a Roman or pre-union English solider (not certain if they got this far at any point). Daunting I’d imagine.

It's another trudge of about three miles to the next Munro, Carn Mairg but the walk is pleasant and by now, wisps of cloud and a refreshing breeze had started rising meaning no midges or overheating allowed it to be genuinely enjoyable. Amazingly, there were still a couple of snow patches on parts of the Lawers range visible from here, while Ben Lawers and An Stuc remained in the cloud. If the Scottish hills were just a bit higher, say 10%, permanent snow would be almost certain. Carn Mairg itself is the most interesting of the four as well as the highest. The huge, bright white lumps of quartz(?) at the top are starkly out of keeping with the rest of the walk and the rockier lower top to the south is worth scrambling over for the view into Glen Lyon but the best view of that is left to the last Munro, Meall na Aighean and it’s subsidiary. The ribbon of the river was like foil in the valley and is eventually hidden by the mountains there. Still, what a view and I’m glad to have seen it. The walk to that final Munro is very steep coming off Carn Mairg, we went over boulders for a lot of it. When looking back I’m not certain that was necessary but it kept you focussed before another trudge up to Meall na Aighean and a final stifling trudge back to the car by which time any thought of a swim had gone as we were shattered. Maybe we need to grow some!
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Steep descent of Cairn Mairg


For the Sunday we had planned a trip to the Aberfeldy distillery with a taxi provided by Bob of Saltire Taxis (highly recommended). We did a taster session, which we all agreed was the best we'd done to-date, bought some to take home and got some more food and drink ahead of the football.
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Aberfeldy put on a welcoming and easy going tour


We ended up watching that on a laptop as we couldn’t get into a pub and the one failing of the cottage was that it had no telly! As I booked it, it was entirely my fault that I failed to foresee the need to watch England in a major final! I can’t be bothered with football usually but did feel some disappointment at the result, not that most of Scotland care!!! After some masterful ping pong and full bore reminiscences (we all went to school together and have been mates for 25 years since the end of secondary school but as with most people we had barely seen each other for more than a year), we recalled embarrassments, victories, stag dos and generally acting like children away from the gazes of the mothers of our children, while one of us (not me!) was tremendously decorative in being unwell, sprinkler fashion. Rotter.

Munro #13, Schiehallion

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With my new hangover cure of blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, grapes, avocado and coconut water the final walk of the trip was as easy as possible but again, started among the bracken. I felt so sluggish that I considered bailing out. This pursuit needs to be fun and not just a box ticking exercise and it isn’t when you’re that uncomfortable.

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Squally


The top was again shrouded in cloud which turned to rain about 500m from the top. For me, this was entirely welcome and put a spring in my step, it was instant relief. I put on only my rain jacket while the other two put on their full waterproofs. The one that was unwell the night before didn’t fancy it and the other wasn’t awake so we were only three now. The top of Schiehallion involved a lot of hopping across rocks made slippery by the rain and lichen and we only stayed at the cloud-bound summit for a couple of minutes before heading back, not bothering with eating at any point and hence the lack of photos. One day we will get optimum conditions but we had to be content with the pin turning blue really.

That drew the trip to a close. We had another bbq and a good drink before a fairly early night. The next day we drove to Edinburgh for a few hours before James caught his train back to London and then on to Glasgow to a nearly deserted airport.

None of these walks were perfect but they were most welcome and fondly remembered and to labour the point, a relief from the monotony of the last year. The parting of the ways on these trips is always sad for me. I miss people and my good friends in particular more than ever but there are so many more reasons to go up to Scotland for more Munros (only 269 to go!) that I find great cause for optimism.

I hope you enjoyed this. I look forward to writing up our trip to Torridon.
Attachments
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Looking up Glen Lochay towards Ben Challum.
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willyrawley
Mountain Walker
 
Posts: 11
Munros:15   
Sub 2000:3   Hewitts:161
Wainwrights:214   Islands:1
Joined: Jun 20, 2014
Location: Cirencester

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