Meall Ghaordaidh: master-work of the Functionalist aesthetic
by bobble_hat_kenny » Tue Nov 20, 2012 8:02 pm
Route description: Meall Ghaordaidh from Glen Lochay
Munros included on this walk: Meall Ghaordaidh
Date walked: 18/11/2012
Time taken: 5 hours
Distance: 9.5 km
Ascent: 895m19 people think this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
Let’s be honest, this hill has had a fair amount of Bad Press . However, having now had the opportunity to sample its pleasures for myself, I can vouch that if approached in the right frame of mind, and particularly with the help of a picturesque dusting of snow, it can actually offer a remarkably Grand Day Oot .
In fact, I’d say that it is time for Meall Ghaordaidh to re-invent itself as nothing short of a masterpiece of the Functionalist aesthetic. “Functionalism”, as I’m sure that I’ve no need to remind you, was an architectural movement mainly of the early twentieth century, driven by the key belief that “a building's size, massing, spatial grammar and other characteristics should be driven solely by the function of the building” (Wikipedia). A central tenet of Functionalism was that ornamentation serves no function and should therefore be avoided wherever possible. The resultant buildings, at their best, are characterised by a stark and elegant simplicity. Examples would include Aarhus University in Denmark, and Prague’s Veletrzni Palac (Free Trade Hall). Speaking of which, if anyone should unexpectedly find themselves in Prague with a few hours to kill (and who hasn’t taken completely the wrong bearing down off a summit on occasion ?), the Veletrzni Palac is well off the beaten tourist track and houses one of the world’s truly great modern art collections ... but I digress, as ever .
Consider how you might design a mountain on sound Functionalist principles, particularly with winter walking in mind.
1. It should be well signed from the road, with a nice handy car park near the starting point.
2. A key feature of a mountain is that it should be pointy. Even the staunchest of Gormophiles or Monadhlisiacs would have to admit that the majority of the Cairngorms would fail this functional criterion for a start, but Ghaordaidh IS recognisably pointy . See that first photo above if you don’t believe me.
3. However, to avoid the possibility of falling off it in an embarrassing and potentially fatal manner in the snow, it shouldn’t be TOO pointy .
4. In fact, it would be kind of nice if it could maintain a steady “Goldilocks” gradient (not too steep; not too flat; just right...) in a single sweep all the way from car park to summit...
5. It would also be kind of useful if it could have a clear path all the way up. Maybe with a Landrover track at the bottom to get you started. Oh, and maybe a handy way-marker to indicate where the path leaves the track ... a big metal pole, say.
6. I know we’re getting fussy now, but it might be handy just to have a single straightforward way up and back down, avoiding any tricky navigational issues or difficult route choices in winter conditions.
7. Okay, now it’s maybe starting to sound a bit, um, boring ... so as a concession, could we have a few gently craggy bits just in the last 250 metres or so? Nothing too Challenging or Dangerous, mind ; better make them all fairly easy to bypass.
8. Again, maybe we’d better stick some minor decorative feature round the largely unvisited back bit of the hill, as a concession to those irritatingly fit mountain athletes and related die-hards who could never bring themselves to climb anything by the obvious route . Something like, say, three mildly craggy spurs projecting up north towards that remote middle bit of Glen Lyon in a sort of pale imitation of the Three Sisters of Glencoe...
9. Oh, and it would be good if it could be less than two hours’ drive from Glasgow or Edinburgh. Oh yes, and maybe in a long, scenic glen with some other Munros nearby to give nice photo-opportunities .
10. And would it be too much to ask for a Trig Point? They always look that nice in summit photos. But then, a cairn looks good too . In fact, what about one of those handy big circular stone shelter things? Now, if you were to put a Trig Point in the middle of it, then that would just be the veritable Maraschino Cherry on top of the Icing on the Cake .
Amazingly enough, Ghaordhaidh does tick every one of these boxes. “Unrepentant heap”, indeed !
My own appreciation of Ghaordhaidh’s aesthetics was purely a result of me needing a quick “tick” on a short November day when the weather forecast wasn’t fantastic. Ghaordaidh was a nearby one that I hadn’t done, and it sounded easy enough. It was a pleasure not to have to set off ridiculously early – however, as I drove up the road, I was a bit taken aback by the amount of snow on the hills this early in the year ... “light dusting”, did I say ? Change that to Great Dolloping Shed-Loads of the White Stuff .
When I arrived at the wee car park off the Glen Lochay road (still early enough to bag a good space – Score !), I discovered that I’d forgotten to bring my balaclava, or any alternative headwear. Oh no – bobble_hatless_kenny ! Ah well, I’d just have to wind my scarf tight and keep my anorak hood up.
However, when I set out through the well-signed gate and up the handy Landrover track, it was a lovely sunny morning – MUCH better than the forecast, for once .
Continuing those sound Functionalist principles, there is a solid and well-maintained ladder stile leading out of the initial field (plenty of cowpats around, but then you can’t have everything ) and into the open mountain country, still on that Landrover track.
Just a few hundred metres further on, I found that handy big metal pole marked the path branching off up Ghaordaidh’s gentle south-east ridge. The snow line was almost right down at the pole, but although the path itself quickly became obscured, there was a very clear line of footprints leading all the way up to the summit. Lots of others had obviously decided that Ghaordaidh was a good winter choice, and I said hello to several people on the way up (and even to one energetic soul on the way back down already ). Amazingly, the sun was still shining although there was quite a bit of cloud about. There were some great winter views over the hills immediately to the east: that prominent lump in the foreground is I think Meall Dhuin Croisg, which is a western outlier of the Tarmachans.
Away up to the head of the glen to the north was a distant snowy peak which I think must have been the Corbett, Beinn nan Oighreag:
Ghaordaidh itself, however, is a big convex hill, and its true summit stayed out of view for a long time. However, it was just a long, slow, comfortable snow-plod straight up that ridge.
A bit higher up again, and the weather was definitely a Game of Two Halves . To the north-east, it was just blue skies and sunshine on snow :
However, to the south-west, over that not-so-dynamic duo Meall Ghlas and Sgiath Chuill on the other side of Glen Lochay, a nasty big lump of Clag was brewing :
Obviously it was going to go one of two ways – and given that the wind was steadily from the south-west, I had something of a sinking feeling as to which it would be . Ah well, probably no summit views yet again. I made the best of the views up to the north while they lasted:
A bit more snow-plodding, and I arrived at a bit of a levelling, above which Ghaordaidh’s mildly craggy summit cone reared up surprisingly impressively:
Ah well, at least I got a quick look at it before the Clag closed in. Which of course it did shortly thereafter. However, the snow was really pretty deep by now, and following the trail of footprints to find the easiest way up through those slightly craggy bits provided good distraction, until the summit trig point and stone shelter eventually came into view:
Munro Number 49 for me. Nae summit view right enough, unless you count this very hazy view out to the north:
I paused here for my M&S Cheese & Onion Sandwiches, plus a banana. Then it was time to plod straight back down the way I’d come up. Despite those wee craggy bits, this was surprisingly easy for the first few hundred metres, as it was just a matter of following the obvious trail of footprints again. A bit lower down, where the snow started to turn slushy, I did transiently develop some Staying Upright Issues ... on the plus side, however, the Clag started to clear, so at least I had some nice views across Glen Lyon to distract me while I rolled around in the slush .
The Tarmachans were also looking rather spectacular to the east:
Lower down, the snow had now melted substantially as the temperature rose through the day, and there was a rather startling glimpse of the white dome of (I think) Beinn nan Oighreag again above Ghaordaidh’s grassy lower slopes:
So, Ghaordaidh – a boring hill? Not on your nelly ! Ghaordaidh is a Functionalist masterpiece, boldly eschewing the Gothic arrowhead peaks and complex ridge systems of, say, Glencoe, or the unergonomic Victorian clutter of minor-humps-masquerading-as-mountains that characterises the high plateaus of the Cairngorms or the Monadhliadh, for a simple-yet-elegant modern aesthetic with no unnecessary twiddly bits. Straight up, no-nonsense, all the way from car park to summit, and straight back down again. It might almost have been designed with the slightly overweight fortysomething winter walker in mind. This particular slightly overweight fortysomething winter walker thoroughly enjoyed it, and isn’t ashamed to admit it .
by davedanson28 » Tue Nov 20, 2012 9:24 pm
by goth_angel » Thu Nov 22, 2012 2:03 pm
Yet to do this one as well - doesn't sound dull to me!
by BoyVertiginous » Fri Nov 23, 2012 12:01 am
You might want to consider minimalism for your next one
by heatheronthehills » Fri Nov 23, 2012 7:44 am
by kevsbald » Fri Nov 23, 2012 1:15 pm
Love the prose - a good wee hill in Winter, no doubt about it.
by bobble_hat_kenny » Sat Nov 24, 2012 1:11 pm
Not sure about Minimalism; Beinn na Lap maybe ...? It's a bit like Functionalism though. Another Extended Archtectural Analogy might be beyond my literary skills, to be honest .
by JB likes a beer » Sat Nov 24, 2012 10:11 pm
by quoman » Sun Nov 25, 2012 7:26 pm
by simon-b » Sun Nov 25, 2012 10:02 pm
by Grisu » Wed Sep 05, 2018 8:53 pm
by M4RTIN » Mon Dec 03, 2018 3:21 pm
Couldn't have found a more useful report for a hill I have long had on my "short-day / quick-win" list.
Thanks for the effort in puting this one together; right up my street in the way you pulled this together.
Now hoping I can orchestrate a Festive Family ad-Fentute, for our first Munro of 2019.
by Chris Mac » Wed Dec 05, 2018 9:53 pm
Looking forward to Meall Ghaordaidh now, might move it up the list for this winter...