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Going a bit off-piste at Glenshee to include An Socach

Going a bit off-piste at Glenshee to include An Socach


Postby bobble_hat_kenny » Sun Jun 21, 2015 9:45 pm

Route description: The Cairnwell Munros

Munros included on this walk: An Socach (Braemar), Carn a'Gheoidh, Carn Aosda, The Cairnwell

Date walked: 20/06/2015

Time taken: 7.5 hours

Distance: 17.5 km

Ascent: 1210m

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Out on my own again (summer holiday season :( ), and the weather forecast wasn't fantastic (although probably better than average by the standards of our current Alternative Scottish Summer :lol: )... so after some reflection, I thought this might be a good opportunity to tick off the much-maligned 'Cairnwell Three', up at the Glenshee Ski Centre. However, it would be a long way to drive from Glasgow for just half a day's walking, so I had a look at the maps and the various 'Munros' guides to see if there were any sensible options to extend the circuit a bit and make it that wee bit more interesting. Surprisingly enough, it turns out that the otherwise reclusive An Socach is actually a fairly straightforward add-on to the round of the three Cairnwell Munros, so I thought I'd give that a go.

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I got a reasonably early start, and the Ski Centre car park was fairly empty when I arrived. Still too early to nip into the cafe for a coffee and a bacon roll, sadly :( !
WR1 - ski centre car park.jpg
The initial route up wasn't immediately obvious, but I just started up to the left of a ski fence that looked to be heading in the right direction for The Cairnwell (which was completely invisible in the Clag at this stage). It was a steep start to the day, but it got me up quickly. Before I had time to get my breath back, I found myself up on The Cairnwell's north ridge, complete with a big landrover track, where a slightly broken sign was pointing right for Loch Vrotachan and Carn Aosda. Ah well, I guess The Cairnwell must be off left, then :? ...
WR2 - Loch Vrotachan & Carn Aosda sign.jpg

Sure enough, just a few hundred metres further down the track, The Cairnwell's summit loomed into view through the Clag, looking a bit threatening with its radio masts and ski-tow huts: to be honest, Checkpoint Charlie sprang to mind!
WR3 - Cairnwell Industrial Zone.jpg

The Cairnwell's summit cairn is one of the most bizarre I've seen yet: basically a big conventional cairn, with a wooden crate sat on top, which is then piled up with even more stones. Anyway, I paused long enough for a quick Summit Selfie, and then scuttled off quickly before any over-zealous Stasi Special Forces decided to round me up...
WR4 - Cairnwell summit selfie.jpg

Thankfully, I soon left the Cairnwell Industrial Zone behind, and around the same time the Clag gradually began to clear. It was a quick walk back down the short north ridge to the point where a faint path, gradually growing more distinct, heads off westwards towards Carn nan Sac and Carn a'Gheoidh. The ski paraphernalia was soon left behind, and this proved to be a surprisingly enjoyable wee ridge walk. Unfortunately however, the craggy Coire Dirich - apparently very scenic on a clear day - was still full of Clag, so no views to the south. Nevertheless, there was a good view back east, to Loch Vrotachan with Carn Aosda behind it:
WR5 - Loch Vrotachan on way to Carn nan Sac.jpg

The undulating ridge of the minor top Carn nan Sac sports a series of marker cairns. Today, the first one came complete with Grouse:
WR6 - Carn nan Sac cairn with grouse.jpg

A bit further along there were two very cute wee ridge lochans. Here is Lochan #1:
WR7 - CnS Ridge Lochan 1 with Vrotachan in background.jpg

And Lochan #2, with a small snowfield in the background (and tomorrow would be Midsummer's Day, too):
WR8 - CnS Ridge Lochan 2 with snowfield.jpg

A bit further along, and there was a very pleasing view back to Loch Vrotachan with a hazy Carn Aosda behind it.
WR9 - view back to Vrotachan & Aosda.jpg

Soon enough, Carn a'Gheoidh's summit was looming hazily through the Clag.
WR10 - Gheoidh looming through Clag.jpg

It was a fairly gentle ascent up to Gheoidh's summit cairn, where I met two other parties - a couple of young guys who very kindly took my photo, plus an English chap who was up for a week's walking in Scotland. I commiserated that he hadn't been luckier with the weather!
WR11 - Gheoidh summit cairn.jpg

So far it had been very straightforward walking, but now I would have to go slightly off-piste to make the connection northwards across the glen of the Baddock Burn to An Socach. As I set off down Carn a'Gheoidh's northwest ridge, the Clag rapidly started to clear, and the views opened up. Fairly soon a path even developed, and this gave a rollicking, carefree descent - to my surprise, one of the highlights of the day. An Socach was raising its long snout dead ahead, making navigation very straightforward. This hill doesn't get a good press, but it actually looked rather scenic from this angle.
WR12 - An Socach from Gheoidh south ridge.jpg

However, it hadn't escaped my attention as I was stoating merrily down Gheoidh's NW ridge that I was losing a fair bit of height, all of which was going to have to be painfully re-gained on the other side of the Baddock Burn. As I got further north, it just started to look further and further down and back up...
WR13 - Baddock Burn trench & Socach re-ascent.jpg

It was a quick descent though, and to my relief it also proved straightforward to ford the Baddock Burn, with plenty of boulders to use as stepping stones. On the other side of the burn I found the track that runs along the glen, but to my disappointment there was no obvious ascent path up An Socach. (As I found out on descent, there is actually a very good ascent path a couple of hundred metres further east. Ho hum.) Anyway, I just headed straight up through the grass and short heather in the direction of the skyline notch between Socach's east Top and its main summit. Despite the lack of path, the going was pretty good and it wasn't too painful. I soon found a grassy stream gully that allowed me to avoid the worst of the Bonny Blooming Heather. There were some substantial summer snowfields lingering in this gully that had to be traversed around :shock: :
WR14 - Snowfields in Socach ascent gully.jpg

As I got towards the top of the gully, I finally found the Ascent Path, which gave a straightforward final ascent up the final steepening onto Socach's long, stony summit ridge. A relatively brief plod westwards took me to the flat summit. Perhaps not surprisingly given the amount of loose rock lying around on this hill, An Socach sports two substantial summit cairns, a conventional one plus one of those wind-shelter thingies. It turned out to be an unexpectedly good viewpoint. To the north, the Cairngorm giants still had a surprising amount of snow for this late in the year:
WR15 - Cairngorm giants from Socach summit.jpg

It's that man again!
WR16 - Socach selfie.jpg

From the wind-shelter cairn, there was an intriguing view of the rather elusive and oddly-named Beinn Iutharn Mhor: "Big Hell Mountain", no less :shock: !
WR17 - Big Hell Mountain from Socach.jpg

There was also a good view back to Carn a'Gheoidh, and its shapely west top of Am Bhinnein:
WR18 - Gheoidh & Am Bhinnein from Socach.jpg

Although not quite visible from the summit itself, Loch Vrotachan is easily visible from just a hundred metres or so eastwards along the ridge. Interestingly, when viewed from here, the Cairnwell and Carn Aosda are completely dwarfed by the big gormless hulk of Glas Maol further east:
WR19 - Vrotachan & Cairnwell from Socach ridge.jpg

Anyway, enough with the photography: it would be a fairly long walk back across to the Glenshee car park, and I still had another Munro to do on the way. I set off back eastwards along An Socach's featureless ridge. I was a bit worried that I would miss the point where the ascent/descent path branches off to the right (south), but in fact it turns out to be very obvious in clear conditions.
WR20 - An Socach descent path.jpg

It was a quick descent back to the Baddock Glen track, aided by the descent path that I'd missed on ascent. However, the route back up to Loch Vrotachan and Carn Aosda wasn't initially so obvious. I headed down the track for a few hundred metres (I should have gone a bit further, in retrospect) and then followed a much rougher track that branched off right to descend to the Baddock Burn. I was hoping for a helpful path on the other side, but once I forded the burn ... Nada :roll: . I headed off on a bearing from where I reckoned I was on the map in the general direction of Loch Vrotachan, making a rising traverse eastwards. Unfortunately this took me into some rather difficult terrain in the flat bowl of land around GR115785, to the immediate northwest of Vrotachan, where there was some hugely entertaining peat-haggery to contend with :( !
WR21 - peat-haggery on Aosda ascent.jpg

Luckily this didn't go on for too long, however, and actually the terrain wasn't really as difficult as it looked. All the same, it was a bit of a relief when Loch Vrotachan finally came into sight, with Carn Aosda's broad west ridge immediately to its left.
WR22 - Vrotachan - a welcome sight.jpg

As I rounded the north shore of the loch, I picked up a faint path - quickly becoming more established - which took a beeline for Aosda's summit. I encountered a lot more ski-related paraphernalia during the final ascent, but to my surprise the actual summit cairn proved to be uncluttered and surprisingly scenic:
WR23 - Aosda summit panorama.jpg

I was a bit knackered by now, though, and arguably the best view of the day was the one from Aosda's summit straight down the line of the Butchart ski tow, to the car park just immediately below. There was a fine view of the Cairnwell from here too. Ah, so that's what it looks like!
WR24 - lovely view of car park & Cairnwell.jpg

I enjoyed this round a lot more than I expected - the inclusion of An Socach proved to be fairly straightforward on a reasonably clear day, and it made this much more of an outing than it would otherwise have been. In particular, that long trudge back up through the peat hags certainly made a proper Mountain out of the 'molehill' of Carn Aosda :lol: !
Last edited by bobble_hat_kenny on Mon Jun 22, 2015 2:02 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Going a bit off-piste at Glenshee to include An Socach

Postby spiderwebb » Sun Jun 21, 2015 10:19 pm

Nice one, I can't imagine many folk thinking of adding that one to the three :D
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Re: Going a bit off-piste at Glenshee to include An Socach

Postby jac the lassie » Sun Jun 21, 2015 11:29 pm

Nice report! :D
I was over the road on that day. I left my van on the other side of the road at glenshee, but it's not in your last photo! Now beginning to think it gets up to stuff when I leave it! :shock: :lol:
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Re: Going a bit off-piste at Glenshee to include An Socach

Postby bobble_hat_kenny » Mon Jun 22, 2015 1:59 pm

jac the lassie wrote:Nice report! :D
I was over the road on that day. I left my van on the other side of the road at glenshee, but it's not in your last photo! Now beginning to think it gets up to stuff when I leave it! :shock: :lol:

Spooky :? ! Stephen King could probably make a movie out of that one :lol: ... Did I put the right date? It was the Saturday 20th June...?
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Re: Going a bit off-piste at Glenshee to include An Socach

Postby jac the lassie » Mon Jun 22, 2015 2:43 pm

Yip was there from 6pm on Friday till 6pm Saturday. On the gravel bit before the path on the left hand side of pic heading up maol glas. Defo a Stephen King novel in the making!!! :shock: :lol:
*glancing at van in a worried manner* :lol:
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Re: Going a bit off-piste at Glenshee to include An Socach

Postby richardtiplady » Fri Dec 28, 2018 10:45 pm

Thanks for this report, Kenny. I've been putting off bagging the Cairnwell trio because of the ski slope debris and because, well, they look a bit boring.

But I read this report the other day, and today I followed in your footsteps (well, in reverse - I did Carn Aosda first, then An Socach and Carn a' Gheoidh, ending with the industrial wasteland that is The Cairnwell).

The addition of An Socach made it a jolly good day out (even if that double 300m+ descent and reascent is a bit of a killer!). Thanks again for posting.
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Re: Going a bit off-piste at Glenshee to include An Socach

Postby ancancha » Sat Dec 29, 2018 3:28 pm

Good effort :clap:
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