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A Good Friday on Glas Maol - and a brush with fame!

A Good Friday on Glas Maol - and a brush with fame!

Postby scribe64 » Sun May 01, 2022 7:02 pm

Route description: Glas Maol Munros circuit, Cairnwell Pass

Munros included on this walk: Creag Leacach, Glas Maol

Date walked: 15/04/2022

Time taken: 5 hours

Distance: 10.4 km

Ascent: 692m

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Easter school holidays meant a chance to add to Francis' Munro tally and the Glas Maol quartet looked tempting but I thought he might baulk at a 20km circuit so I decided to take them on in pairs over two trips. Part one would be Glas Maol and Creag Leacach, so on a cool and overcast Good Friday - and having paid for a permit at the cafe - we parked up in the southermost corner of Glenshee Ski Centre's enormous car park and saddled up to explore to the east side of the road for the first time.

Get Thee Behind Me! We eschew the Cairnwell and it's mechanical temptations.

No chairlifts this time, as we literally put The Cairnwell behind us and hoped the ascent of Glas Maol's considerable bulk would atone for our leisurely approach on the former just a few weeks previously. :oops:

Cloud on the tops.

It was hard to avoid skiing parapherrnalia entirely though. The first part of the route follows a service track as it weaves uphill alongside a network of ski tows and buildings. As we came up onto a crest at about 760m we finally got a good look at both of our targets for the day. Or not such a good look, really, since both were shrouded in low lying cloud.

Looking back westwards at Carn Aosda - and a lot of grey clouds.

The ski tows end - on this face at least - just below the subsidiary top of Meall Odhar. As we pressed on toward this, we checked back westwards to see if there was any sign of the clouds lifting or breaking. There was a fairly stiff breeze so we were hopeful that the situation might change.

Meall Odhar - the path up Glas Maol on the far left.

We paused for jelly babies at the cairns on Meall Odhar to celebrate our first Munro Top and to make a decision about whether to carry on directly up to Glas Maol or contour round onto the ridge to tackle Creag Leacach first. Most of the other walkers on the track seemed to be opting for the latter but - having chatted - this was because they were planning on doing the round of four. Not having that imperative, we opted for Glas Maol's flat top first on the basis that it might give the cloud a chance to lift and let us enjoy Creag Leacach's rocky ridge more.

"The only way is up, baby!" - Yazz

The path up to Glas Maol is easy to spot, very direct and - from a distance - dauntingly steep. Closer up, however it didn't seem too bad and the steepest section was a pretty short pull. We both managed it without too much moaning. Maybe we are finally developing some mountain fitness! :-D

Up into the clouds.

Once up on the summit plateau we were properly in the clouds. It was a shame to miss out on the famous views but the misty moor had its own charm, I suppose. It felt warmer for one thing - not sure of the science, but it really did. We also got to play hunt-the-cairn - which Francis won by shooting off so far ahead I thought I was going to end up hunting for him instead.

Glas Maol's 360 degree views.

Once we'd found the summit cairn and taken our obligatory photos there really wasn't much reason to hang around. So we got our bearings - literally! (I used the OS compass app on my phone to check that SW was where I thought it was) - and set off to find the ridge which would take us to Creag Leacach.

Francis and Monkey at the summit.

As we started to descend we quickly emerged from the cloud. And as we headed across toward the cairn at Bathach Beag we were excited to see that it was beginning to lift and open up the view along the ridge to the Creag Leacach summit. We kept our fingers crossed that things might improve further.

Creag Leacach emerging from the clouds.

By the time we got to the cairn things were definitely looking more promising. To the east you could see beyond Carn a Gheoidh to Glas Tulaichean. You could also see that there were quite a few groups on the route. Some further along the ridge and others coming down from Glas Maol behind us. We thought it best to press on and keep a bit of distance rather than bunching up - so a quick bit of flapjack and we headed off along the ridge.

Bathach Beag cairn - and finally some views!

The first stretch is gently sloping, grassy moorland but things soon get a lot rockier with a selection of boulder fields to stumble across. It's impossible to lose your way since there's a stone wall which runs all the way to the summit - with the best paths seeming to usually run slightly to the right of this.

Not the narrowest ridge in the world.

All in all, it's quite an impressive approach to a distinguished-looking peak - but I grew up in West Lothian and I couldn't help thinking that what it reminded me of was the - now vanished - Polkemmet bing which towered over my childhood and dominated the horizon between Whitburn and Fauldhouse. This is not a slur btw. I was very fond of that bing - at least until it caught fire and began to resemble a volcano!

A handsome bing-like summit!

There are a few undulations in the ridge but nothing too arduous and the path is pretty good for most of the way. It wasn't long before we were clambering up the rocky summit cone to the cairn.

Ups and downs. Glas Maol just about shaking off the cloud behind.

Unfortunately, by the time we got there the cloud had closed again a bit so the views were a little limited. What we could see though was the exciting looking SW Top further along the ridge. There were others on the summit who were heading that way and I tested the water with Francis about maybe adding it - but he was already looking north and contemplating the long walk back to the car. So instead we found a rocky perch out of the breeze and fetched out our sandwiches.

Francis on the summit. The SW Top behind him.

The summit was a busy place. Quite a few groups passed through as we were munching our lunch. Most were completing the round of four Munros - making us feel like the lightweights we were. One bunch of guys had also added Tolmount and Tom Buidhe for the six and tramped off happily in the direction of Meall Gorm. Impressive! (We finished our mini cheddars and calculated if we could get back to the ski-centre before the cafe shut! :oops: )

Francis contemplates the route back to the car!

As we began our return route, we experimented with descending to the NW a little and then countouring round below some of the boulder fields to try and cut out some of the ups and downs of our approach route. To be honest it didn't seem to save any time or energy. :thumbdown:

We abandon our contouring experiment and rejoin the path.

When the path levelled we hopped over the wall for a minute and took the chance to peer down into Glen Brighty. We could trace the continuation of the ridge to the SE over Black Hill to Monamenach and pick out (I think) Duchray Hill on the horizon.

Looking South along Glen Brighty.

As we headed once more for the cairn at Bathach Beag we passed another flurry of fellow walkers and stopped to chat. Again, most were completing the circuit of four and were - justifiably - excited that the end was in sight. The low cloud had done nothing to dampen their enthusiasm. "No such thing as a bad day if you're out on the hills" one gentleman told me.

The path to Meall Odhar.

The enthusiasm was infectious and it put a spring in our step as we picked up the path which would take us back to Meall Odhar across the western flank of Glas Maol. The cairn made it simple to find and the going was easy, allowing us to enjoy the view back toward Creag Leacach and Meall Gorm.

Looking back at Creag Leacach and Meall Gorm.

Then, miraculously, the clouds to the north broke open to reveal blue sky and allow the sun to finally poke through. I was so excited, I swear I could hear the Hallelujah Chorus playing in my head! :clap:


The singing stopped with an abrupt needle scratch when we got to the steepest part of the slope and found the path disappearing under a series of mushy snow patches. It would've been easy - and fairly typical, tbh - to slip here and end up 20m down the hill with a badly sprained ego. Francis watched (disappointed, I suspect) as I negotiated these hazards with excessive caution.


Dignity intact, I came onto the safety of the bealach and eyed Meall Odhar ahead. Did we really have to go back up and over what was a pretty unremarkable top? It was then that the Voice spoke to me. And the Voice was Murray Wilkie. And the Voice whispered "sneaky bypass".

Onto the marshy bealach before Meall Odhar.

Yes! I remembered that in one of Murray's videos he'd suggested a bypass path on the southern side of Meall Odhar. And, lo, there it was right in front of me. Not for the first time, I gave thanks to the Buddha of the Bens and altered course.

I perhaps ought to point out that Murray is an absolute hero of mine. Without the inspiration of his videos - which I stumbled over during lockdown - I'm almost certain that I wouldn't have contemplated returning to the hills or dragging Francis along with me. I am, and will remain, eternally grateful.


The bypass.

I should've remembered that Murray is a man who scampers along the Aonach Eagach for fun before breakfast. Wheras I am.. not. So when the bypass suddenly involved crossing a couple of small streams on rocks slippery with mud, water and snow - and I nearly took a header into the heather - I found myself taking the great man's name in vain - much to Francis' amusement!

"What's the problem?" Francis enjoying making it look easy.

He was still chuckling and I was still grumbling when we rejoined the main path - and walked straight into one of those 'couldn't make it up' moments of serendipity which life throws at you sometimes. There, marching up the track towards us - with his friend Paul - was a familiar figure. Brightly coloured hiking trousers. Serious camera mounted on the shoulder strap of his pack. It was the man himself! I couldn't quite believe it and laughed out loud. "Murray?" :shock:

"I can see the car from here. And two blokes.."

I'll gloss over the amount of excited jabbering which followed. Suffice to say that both Murray and Paul were gracious and patient as I blabbered inanely about sneaky bypasses and memorable videos and dodgy knees. I was genuinely excited to get the chance to meet him and tell him how much I enjoyed his work - even though I could sense Francis rolling his eyes behind me!

I finally shut up and let them escape - taking up Paul's suggestion of a second sneaky bypass which got us back down to the car more quickly. I was grinning all the way down, still enjoying the ridiculous coincidence of it all.

And the postscript? The two bypasses saved us enough time to ensure that we got to the Ski Centre cafe before it shut! Hot chocolate and Tunnocks teacakes to round off a memorable Good Friday! :-D
Last edited by scribe64 on Wed May 11, 2022 12:26 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: A Good Friday on Glas Maol - and a brush with fame!

Postby dogplodder » Sun May 01, 2022 7:30 pm

Having done these two from Glen Isla, almost all in clag, it was great to see the infinitely better views you got coming from the Cairnwell side. Amazing to bump into Murray Wilkie too! :clap:
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Re: A Good Friday on Glas Maol - and a brush with fame!

Postby scribe64 » Mon May 02, 2022 11:06 am

dogplodder wrote:Having done these two from Glen Isla, almost all in clag, it was great to see the infinitely better views you got coming from the Cairnwell side. Amazing to bump into Murray Wilkie too! :clap:

Ha! Yes, I just had a read of your report and I think we were definitely luckier with visibility! That circular route from Auchavan looks like a good day out though - if I can nudge Francis along toward coping with longer distances!
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