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Magical Light and Ghost Rainbows on the Glenshee Munros

Route: The Cairnwell Munros

Munros: Càrn a' Ghèoidh, Càrn Aosda, The Cairnwell

Date walked: 09/01/2022

Time taken: 6.15 hours

Distance: 13km

Ascent: 600m

Setting the alarm for 5.30am with a 20% chance of cloud free Munros, I really thought my husband Chris had gone nuts, suggesting that Glenshee would be a good option for our first hill walk in 2022.Over the years, our experiences of walking in full snow/ice could easily have been used by John Cleese (showing my age...1980s/90s?) when he made those work training videos on 'How Not To' do something. Crampons falling, off, puncturing trousers with crampons, using crampons not really designed for 3 season boots(because neither of us can face uncomfortable 4 season boots )exhausting ascents in deep snow when we were first on the mountain… it put me right off snowy mountains! :thumbdown:

ImageLooking across to The Cairnwell from Carn Aosda by Anne C, on Flickr

But we really wanted to start working on getting more hill fit this year and that meant just getting out there…Glenshee offered a benign, fairly short, non-hazardous re-introduction to the snow; the previous day, the Webcam showed that the mountains were absolutely covered in the stuff. We’d only be doing 600m over three Munros, certainly a more gentle, less daunting prospect than one biggie of 900m+. So Chris convinced me that we should just get on with it and take it as it came, mist and clag or not. Good exercise, I was reminded! :roll:

I know these hills above the Ski Centre aren’t many people’s favourites but I really like the long walk out to the most remote of them – Carn a Gheoidh – past lonely Loch Vrotachan. All the ski paraphernalia is left behind and there are great views of the Northern Cairngorms. I always think they are good, too, for anyone wanting something fairly safe to do in snow conditions if they are not used to that and want a bit of practice with crampons etc. Not that these were really needed today though personally, I couldn’t have done without my micro spikes.They just give me a lot of extra confidence with their great grip.But Chris was happy all day in just his boots.

After a 2hr 20 drive from home, we reached the Ski Centre, paid a fiver to park, then made our way up behind the café and onto the familiar track which leads through the fences and up to the col between Carn Aosda and The Cairnwell. The snow was much deeper and less consolidated than either of us had expected. Snow machines had firmed up some of the route but mostly it was quite tough walking, plunging down to knee level at times.(On summits it was much better.)

ImageHeading for The Cairnwell by Anne C, on Flickr

But encouragingly, the light was already really good over Glas Maol, set off by eggshell blue and lemony skies - true winter colours. The Cairnwell was clearing too. Somehow, I’d forgotten the sheer wonder of that ever- changing, atmospheric light and the intense colours of mid-winter when you are up high on snowy mountains - I was loving this already!

ImageFrom Carn Aosda summit.Lochnagar just visible (notch) by Anne C, on Flickr

Looking east as we ascended, was a glimpse into the Arctic...

ImageGood light on An Socach and B.Iutharn Bheag by Anne C, on Flickr

But little did we know what other magical effects of light, Nature had in store that day...

An hour saw us up on Carn Aosda (from where I have never enjoyed a view, always arriving in the clag.) But today, despite the forecast, the view was just wonderful. The Tor on the top of Lochnagar made it easily recognisable beyond the rounded summit of Carn an Tuirc.

ImageTowards the Northern Cairgorms by Anne C, on Flickr

ImageLochnagar zoomed beyond Cairn of Claise by Anne C, on Flickr

Behind us and away to the west, An Socach and the hills around Glen Ey beyond Braemar, looked lovely in the cold light. The big Cairngorm mountains were swathed in cloud – that was the 20% area right now! Maybe because it had been a long time since we’d been on the high hills when thick with snow, it was like falling in love with the mountains all over again.

We chatted to some guys that had set off the same time as us but had come up the steeper, direct route and one of them kindly offered to take our photo. It was almost windless, so although it was - 6C, there was no windchill and it made for great walking conditions.

ImageNext one - The Cairnwell from Aosda by Anne C, on Flickr

ImageOn Carn Aosda by Anne C, on Flickr

After 10 mins of admiring the views, already glad we’d made the effort to get here today, we made our way down to the col again with the plan to head up to The Cairnwell. By now, there were walkers all over the place! A big group of 16 was heading out to Carn a Geoidh and we wondered whether we should do that too – basically get the furthest out Munro under our belts.But it was socked in, covered in heavy cloud and didn’t look too promising. So we stuck to Plan A and headed up to Munro No 2.

ImageCarn an Sac on the way to The Cairnwell by Anne C, on Flickr

An hour after leaving Carn Aosda, we reached what I know is not the loveliest Munro summit with its radio towers and buildings but we were blessed again with some great light over Glas Maol, Cairn of Claise and Creag Leacach.

ImageThe Cairnwell - not the prettiest summit by Anne C, on Flickr

ImageEggshell blue sky from The Cairnwell looking east by Anne C, on Flickr

Out with the flask of hot water and a quick cup of tea made, then sandwiches and my usual need for something chocolatey - a Kit Kat. Despite the lack of wind, we cooled down quite quickly just sitting there and after 25 mins or so it was time to get moving again or we’d be frozen to the spot.

It was now 12.30pm and decision time - Carn a Gheoidh was still wrapped in fog, as was most of the route out.Not promising. But we were just so enjoying being here and there was plenty of daylight left, so we decided to make our way out there anyway. Who knows? Maybe it would clear; anyway, it seemed a bit off to finish the day after only 2 hours of walking.Plus, it’s a nice easy walk out.

So down we went then headed away from the snowed - over main track to pick a way across the moorland beyond a knoll. Out of the mist came the big walking group we’d seen earlier, which had just returned from Carn a Gheoidh. The leader was checking his compass to work out where they went next. One of the group said to us that they’d seen nothing on the walk and that the final slope up Gheoidh was ‘steep’ and tough given the snow. I didn’t remember this slope being particularly anything. Oh well…we’d soon find out! :shock:

ImageLooking east - A93 below - leaving The Cairnwell by Anne C, on Flickr

There are minor ups and downs on the first part of the route which I remembered. It was tough walking at times but the micros spikes really came into their own, giving good grip. Thankfully a lot of trail blazing had already been done :D plus some sections were firmer to walk on.But just when one of us said - 'this is pretty good underfoot' - we'd reach another deep section.It was a case of head down, watching where you put your foot every step, not sure whether you were going to sink a few inches or up to knee level. :) There was nothing to see as we were enveloped in mist but there was something about the crunch, crunch of our steps, the only sound in the almost eerie white silence and the freezing, still air , that made the walk an absolute joy - in fact, it felt good for the soul.

ImageHeading out to remote Carn a Gheoidh - about an hour away by Anne C, on Flickr

The route took us quite close to a spectacular corrie before detouring away from Carn an Sac and then a mild gradual pull up onto the ‘plateau’ as I call it. Now a few other walkers emerged from the fog, passing us in the opposite direction. Everyone said a cheery ‘hello’ and confirmed they’d had nothing but thick mist on the summit. MWIS (for once :D ) had got it right.
We spoke to two guys who told us we hadn’t far to go now but again, warned us about the final slope, that it was steep and tough going. Oops…another warning. :(

Finally the last steeper but short pull up to the summit loomed out of the fog. The snow was deep but Chris kicked steps and with the micro spikes it felt very safe and not really much of an issue. I had my ice axe but the snow was so deep and soft, you wouldn’t have slipped for long or very far. Chris reckoned the (young) folks that warned us were taking pity on a couple of old geezers who were looking a bit shaky :lol: I think I told him to speak for himself but he never heard me with all that crunching on snow going on :lol:
A short walk brought us to the cairn and although there was no view, it was just so good to be out here! Not a soul about, everyone had already headed back. Just that still quiet air, thick rime on the rocks , a hazy brightness beyond the mist but not a thing to be seen and a really deep sense of icy coldness.I don't think an Arctic explorer reaching the North Pole could have been happier than we were arriving on that summit. :)

Time for a sit down and the last of the tea and KitKat No 2. As usual, I had far too many layers on and had got over-heated so that I now felt a bit dehydrated and super thirsty; an odd feeling when it was so cold.

Yet even as we sat in the fog, the light began to improve and soon Glas Tulaichean emerged in ghostly golden light.

ImageGlas Tulaichean by Anne C, on Flickr

Before our eyes, the thick mist lifted like a veil revealing the outline of An Socach and Carn an Righ and Beinn Iutharn Mhor.

ImageAn Socach and Beinn Iutharn Mor etc by Anne C, on Flickr

It was superb, stunning in the winter light and snow, especially given how clothed in fog the summit had been all day.

ImageClearing towards the Cairnwell - mast visible by Anne C, on Flickr

ImageThe Cairnwell - took us 1hr 20 to C.Geoidh by Anne C, on Flickr

ImageA privilege to be on the mountains in these conditions by Anne C, on Flickr

ImageAfternoon winter light on the mountains by Anne C, on Flickr

There is something about these great whaleback hills that I absolutely love - layered one upon the other, sitting above deep glens and with that lovely sub Arctic tundra terrain. I know they don’t have the drama of the pointier, sharper mountains of the west but they have their own beauty and allure.

I went a bit crazy taking photos (a common occurrence) then Chris warned that it was now 2.40pm and time to head back. We had also cooled down considerably to the extent that Chris put his balaclava on to cover most of his face and it was time for the fleece-lined Goretex mitts. Yes, it was great walking weather but the cold was a reminder of how easy it would be to freeze out here. I had noticed that as we’d walked out , Chris’s eyebrows and moustache had a coating of frost and my hat was rimmed with ice. Any moisture just froze very quickly.

But the Hill of the Goose had another surprise in store. Just as we walked away from the summit cairn, a Ghost Rainbow formed before our eyes.

ImageA fog bow! A white rainbow, unusual and so beautiful! by Anne C, on Flickr

ImageFog bow and Glen Clunie by Anne C, on Flickr

Wow! It was so near to us that I couldn’t capture the whole bow in the camera. This Fog Bow or White Rainbow, framed our descent route, as if we were walking through an enormous white arc. It was other-worldly. Apparently, the Bow is created not by raindrops but by small droplets inside fog. It takes a million of these droplets to make one raindrop! They are too small for light waves to refract and separate into the more familiar rainbow colours. Instead the light blends and becomes pure white. The resultant bow is thicker and closer to the ground than a rainbow, which was what we experienced. I have only seen a fog bow once before and that was on a trip to the High Arctic in summer, when one formed over sea ice.

ImageOur route back in nice light.A day of very long shadows! by Anne C, on Flickr

Thrilled with what we thought was today's final drama, we headed down and began the walk across the plateau.

ImageThe Cairnwell and Glas Maol straight ahead by Anne C, on Flickr

But Nature hadn't finished with her magic tricks just yet.The sun was sinking quite quickly now and with each step, the light changed dramatically. It was jaw drop beautiful and it was impossible not to keep stopping just to take it all in. Lavender clouds, skies of duck-egg blue and lemon, rose pink snow and Cairn Toul and Braeriach looking nearer every minute. As the glens and lower hills softened into pastel coloured shadows, the highest peaks turned a deep gold as they caught the last rays of the afternoon sun.

ImageBraeriach, Cairn Toul and Angel's Peak clearing by Anne C, on Flickr

ImageAnd again plus Ben Macdui by Anne C, on Flickr

The steep corrie bowl below Braeriach seemed just a stone’s throw away, it was so clear. Another two giants appeared – Ben Macdui with the impressive cliffs of Sron Riach and Derry Cairngorm. They looked gorgeous.

ImageBen Macdui in sunlight by Anne C, on Flickr

The Tors of Ben Avon caught the afternoon light...

ImageTors of Ben Avon by Anne C, on Flickr

The plateau where we stood, now lost the sun completely and turned a chilly, icy blue.

ImageLooking back to Carn a Gheoidh's final slopes by Anne C, on Flickr

We needed to get a bit of a move on now with the light going (or more accurately, I did :) ) so a concerted effort was made to push on, up and down the wee knolls, now brightly lit by the sun.Then we headed down a short, steeper slope to pick up snowy footsteps on a slight short cut that would take us back to the col.

ImageThe little knoll on our route, Carn Aosda behind by Anne C, on Flickr

Loch Vrotachan appeared below us, completely frozen with An Socach behind. I’ve always fancied that as a camping spot though maybe not today! :think:

ImageAcross frozen Loch Vrotachan to An Socach and Northern Cairngorms by Anne C, on Flickr

ImageAn Socach in purple glow by Anne C, on Flickr

The drama of golden light and cold blue shade was glorious...

ImageA difficult place to leave (unless you wanted hypothermia) by Anne C, on Flickr

ImageThe Cairnwell brightly lit now by Anne C, on Flickr

Braeriach and Derry Cairngorm began to catch the last of the light...

ImageBen Macdui, Sron Riach and Derry Cairngorm by Anne C, on Flickr

Three mountain hares, with thick white coats and dark ear tips, bounded ahead of us across the moorland, alarmed at our presence. They all stopped at the same time and watched us warily as we continued on. Handsome chaps (or chapettes.)

ImageThree Mountain Hares by Anne C, on Flickr


ImageHeading off point 808m to pick up the col. by Anne C, on Flickr

ImageA last view of The Cairnwell by Anne C, on Flickr

At the col, we paused for a final look at the sunset out west, then made our way down the slopes to the ski centre.

ImageBen Macdui and Derry Cairngorm sunlit, Cairngorm NP by Anne C, on Flickr

ImageNorthern Cairngorms in eggshell blue and lilac by Anne C, on Flickr

ImageAn Socach, B.Iutharn Mhor, Carn an Righ -Cairngorm NP by Anne C, on Flickr

But the drama wasn’t over as Carn an Tuirc and Glas Maol were now turning a pale rose. Ski paraphernalia or not, it was glorious.

ImagePink snow by Anne C, on Flickr

ImageA93 and Carn an Tuirc by Anne C, on Flickr


Six hours 15mins after setting off, we arrived at the café at the back of 4pm.There were more skiers about now (though only 2 tows were on) and lots of children with snow boards. I’d almost forgotten how busy and popular Glenshee is at this time of year; the café was busy too and there were a lot of touring campervans in the car park.

Back at the car we both felt euphoric. It has changed my opinion completely about walking when there is deep snow - or at least being prepared to choose something not too steep or long in these conditions and just get out there. The round in normal conditions takes about 4 hours but we dilly – daddled and I’m really glad we did because sometimes the early bird doesn’t get the worm, so to speak and later in the day, as often happens, the cloud lifted and the light improved dramatically. Lang may Glenshee’s lum reek and it’s mists lift for what are relatively easily won but wonderful winter rewards for anyone who loves the mountains.Roll on the next snowy meander up a wintery (but not too scary)Munro.

(POSTSCRIPT - Since writing this, we are just back from another day in Glenshee with a 70% cloud free Munro forecast and on the Carn an Tuirc round, had deep clag all day!! I suppose it was good navigation practice :roll: All the snow gone too :( )

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Comments: 6



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Anne C


User avatar
Activity: Walker
Pub: Any wild camping spot
Mountain: Quinag
Place: North Uist
Gear: Zamberlan Boots
Member: john Muir Trust;NTS;RSPB;Historic Scotland
Ideal day out: Mountain beside the coast or coastal walk with lots of wildlife spotting

Munros: 142
Corbetts: 29
Grahams: 32
Donalds: 29
Wainwrights: 1
Hewitts: 1
Sub 2000: 47
Islands: 57



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Statistics

2022

Trips: 1
Distance: 13 km
Ascent: 600m
Munros: 3

2021

Trips: 3
Distance: 18 km
Ascent: 1385m
Corbetts: 1
Grahams: 1
Sub2000s: 1

2020

Trips: 8
Distance: 119 km
Ascent: 5135m
Munros: 8
Sub2000s: 2

2019

Trips: 1
Distance: 16 km
Ascent: 65m

2018

Trips: 2
Distance: 16 km
Ascent: 1079m
Grahams: 1
Sub2000s: 1

2017

Trips: 4
Distance: 31 km
Ascent: 2460m
Sub2000s: 2

2016

Trips: 1
Distance: 20 km
Ascent: 813m
Munros: 2

2015

Trips: 1

2014

Trips: 3
Distance: 31 km
Ascent: 1653m
Munros: 1
Corbetts: 1

2013

Trips: 2
Distance: 25 km
Ascent: 600m

2010

Trips: 1
Munros: 1


Joined: May 14, 2010
Last visited: Jan 18, 2022
Total posts: 270 | Search posts