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Scorching Mount Keen circular

Scorching Mount Keen circular

Postby denfinella » Wed Jul 10, 2013 11:27 am

Route description: Mount Keen by Glen Tanar

Munros included on this walk: Mount Keen

Date walked: 06/07/2013

Time taken: 7.25 hours

Distance: 28.5 km

Ascent: 1120m

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Summer had properly arrived in Scotland this week, so it was time for the longest walk of the year so far and an opportunity to finally tick off the closest Munro to home - Mount Keen. With the help of some tips from the forums, we went for a circular walk from Glen Tanar, following the walkhighlands route for the approach, but choosing a more easterly return route.

It was perfect shorts and t-shirt weather temperature when we set off from Aberdeen. Yeah, at 8 o'clock. We were hoping that the gusty wind forcecast would keep us cool enough. Rucksacks were cut down to a bare minimum with next to no chance of rain, warm nights and long daylight hours - 90% of what we were carrying seemed to be water. The (free) second car park in Glen Tanar is less than an hour from the Granite City, making this one of the shortest drives to the hills from here. It must have been about 15C at this point, but the blue skies above us showed a real scorcher was in store.

Glen Tanar pines

The track was wide enough that we weren't completely in the shade on the long walk up through the forest, but there was a gentle breeze coming down the valley which just about kept things on the comfortable side. After a few kilometres we stopped for a break where the river flowed over some huge, smooth rocks. The water level was pretty low so I made the smart decision to jump across a small channel onto an island of rock in the middle. Not a good idea - the rock on the other side was really slippery, causing my left foot to end up in a muddy pool and - more alarmingly - causing me to throw the paper map into the river. I just managed to grab a corner before it floated away downstream.

Time for an extended break then, with the map drying in the strong sun and held down by walking boots at the four corners. I guess this is one of the times that buying those horrendously-overpriced "active maps" is actually a good idea... never mind. I then spent the next few minutes picking nasty wormy things off my legs which the muddy pool had turned out to be full of.

Eventually the map was dry enough at one end to fold some of it away, so we continued along the track, with me holding the map stupidly spread out in front of me like a foreign tourist looking lost in a city centre. The halfway hut was reached without further incident. It was a perfect spot for a snack - still cool and shady inside. The graffiti ALL OVER the walls was disappointing though - you might claim it's history, but no-one really wants to see that Bill and Rosie were here in 2010.

Halfway hut

Soon after, we left the trees and the heat hit us. Ouchies! Out of any breeze it was horribly warm, but thankfully there was a pretty strong headwind for most of the next couple of hours which made it much more comfortable. The track continued to wind slowly up the glen.




The bulky figure of Mount Keen gradually hove into view, actually looking quite impressive for what is sometimes referred to as a dull, rounded mountain.


The first several miles of the walk had been almost totally flat, but this always has to come to an end eventually when you're climbing a hill! After crossing the river for a third time on a new bridge, we finally began the ascent proper. The track cut across the side of the hill at first and was a bit of a slog especially as the breeze had lessened a bit, but there were good views back down the glen, as well as into the upper reaches of the valley.


A good deal of sweaty climbing later, we reached the fork where the old Mounth road heads off to the right and the Mount Keen path heads left. The terrain improved here, transitioning from slippery gravel to mud and stones - sometimes a rougher path is a better one. The breeze returned and the gradient eased before the final steep section to the summit. The last steep bit was over fairly quickly, and the trig point soon appeared ahead.


Mount Keen can be seen from a lot of places in Aberdeenshire, Angus and the Cairngorms - and in turn, you can see a lot of places from the summit. There's a particularly fine view of Lochnagar, perhaps surprisingly fine considering you're looking at its corrie mostly side-on. Of course, we also met the "crowds" (about 8) who had presumably come up from Glen Esk.



One happy bf

After lunch, we set off down the eastern slopes of Mount Keen. There's a surprisingly well defined path for much of the way across to Braid Cairn. Although the path does randomly stop and reappear at times, the ground at the moment was bone dry and the heather not too high. Mount Keen looks quite pretty from this angle, with more of a scattering of rocks.

Mount Keen from Braid Cairn

One remaining snow patch on Mount Keen

On the reascent towards Braid Cairn, we passed a man who, to our surprise, was wearing sandals! I don't think my feet would cope with that - given that Braid Cairn is several pathless miles from the nearest road. Presumably he was headed for Mount Keen too, which would make it an even longer walk.

We bypassed the very top of Braid Cairn and headed north along its shoulder towards Gathering Cairn. This has another fine outlook on Glen Tanar and the northeast.

Gathering Cairn

From the top you can make out faint tracks descending towards much more defined ones on the far side of Sauchen Stripe burn. Its easier just to make a beeline for the clearer track at first, picking up the (very) faint paths and tyre tracks if you happen across them. The clearer track was reached near the bealach, where there's currently an ugly scattering of rubbish, a dilapidated shack and, for some reason, a brand new solar panel and satellite dish. The tracks look new and this part in particular looked to be poorly constructed and a real scar on the landscape.

Glad to have left this section behind, we headed west towards Clachan Yell, passing a good sized lochan (between Black Craig and Clachan Yell at the 535m point) which doesn't appear on OS maps - it must be a permanent feature given it had survived this dry spell!

Clachan Yell with unnamed lochan in the foreground

We didn't take any more pictures after this point, but it was a straightforward walk and very gradual descent all the way back to the car park in Glen Tanar on a good track. Unfortunately the breeze deserted us and was replaced by an uncomfortable number of flies, which gradually became more annoying as we lost height and the temperature increased. The forest edge is further away than it originally looks, and it took until the River Tanar itself for the flies to buzz off somewhere else!

Apart from the flies and the heat at the end, it had been an enjoyable walk, and surely better than a long "there-and-back" route. Don't knock Mount Keen - it's better than Chonzie and probably better than a lot of other Munros out there!
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Re: Scorching Mount Keen circular

Postby basscadet » Wed Jul 10, 2013 12:03 pm

Oh I'm glad you made the route :) Looked like you had a cracker of a day for it, and Glen Tanar really is a bonny spot :wink:

The guy you met in sandals wasn't a German named Helmut was he? I've seen him and heard tales of him wandering about this area before.. Usually has a big backpack, full of bibles :lol:
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Re: Scorching Mount Keen circular

Postby Gordie12 » Wed Jul 10, 2013 8:29 pm

Hi denfinella

Scorching day.

I was just to the south of you on Hunt Hill from the Glen Esk car park and on the upper slopes there was a good strong wind blowing then when sheltered from the wind it was baking hot.

Not sure about the shorts, I saw too many adders around Loch Lee to be comfy in shorts :shock: :shock: :shock:
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Re: Scorching Mount Keen circular

Postby denfinella » Tue Aug 06, 2013 10:39 pm

Sorry - forgot to reply to your comments until now.

@Gordie12: agree about the weather that day. Amazing how much difference the wind makes to the comfort factor! Obviously in the winter it's the other way round...

Snakes are still something I've *never* seen in Scotland in the wild, much to my dismay. Especially as everybody else seems to be seeing them left, right and centre in the Cairngorms this summer. Probably why I'm not cautious about shorts though. I guess I'd be pretty unlucky if the first one I met was when I stepped on it and it went for a bite...

@basscadet: yeah, it was a good route, and a good day. Just a bit hot at the end! I didn't catch the name of the guy with sandals - just the usual hello. I don't recall him having a heavy backpack though. Sounds an interesting story about Helmut!
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