Hillwalking - The weatherman gets it wrong again

Snowy mountain
Snowy mountain

It’s not always that the weather men get their forecasts right; when they get it wrong in your favour it’s a bonus.

Given the good spell of weather, dominated by high pressure, that they’d promised us, I would have been more than happy had they got it correct. They told us to expect high cloud and, in the valleys, fog. But they got it wrong and we were delighted!

We left Montrose under a blue and cloudless sky. Imagine our joy on arriving at Glenshee Ski Centre, to find the sky still blue and cloud free. We were in for a belter!

The centre was already choc a block with colourfully dressed ski enthusiasts of all ages; we were not to have the lower slopes to ourselves.

And it was warm! With rolled up sleeves we took to the track for Meall Odhar. This is a handy track for the ski tows that serve Glas Maol’s Glas Choire. Where we left it, not far from the feet of Glas Maol itself, there are various buildings associated with the noisy tow engines. There is even a cafe!

We left the colour and the noise of children having fun and made across the iced col to the foot of the day’s steepest, though short lived, climb.

By the western edge of Glas Maol’s splendid snow filled Glas Choire, a rough path snakes its way upwards. Although there wasn’t a great deal of snow on this slope, there was plenty of ice; the eroded path in places resembled a frozen stream.

Only I had crampons. If my companions could manage this section without them, well I suppose I ought to also. As we gingerly stepped our separate ways upward we must have made a comical sight; (my friends looked even funnier later, coming down).

It didn’t take us long, soon we were on virtually flat ground, the remnants of some old fence pointing us in the general direction of the as yet invisible cairn.

But not so hasty! The day was one for gigantic views of alpine splendour. We turned to survey the western world behind us.

If we’d only been able to see the nearby Glenshee hills, we would have been satisfied, so majestic were they in their winter fleeces. But today we were treated to the entire Cairngorm range-the lot! The air was crystal clear and made every peak stand out as in a high resolution photograph. Even Ben Avon, probably the farthest away of them all and decorated by its very obvious black tors, looked touchable.

In the south west Ben Lawers, surrounded by his own acolytes, rose head and shoulders above the rest. Further south, where the sun was even then dragging up moisture to form an inversion, we saw Ben Lomond.

On hard snow and water ice we tramped across the plateau.

Soon we saw the snowy lump that was the summit ring of stones; by the bonny stone- built trig point we stopped for our elevenses. Only now, due to a keen breeze laden with an icy breath, did we need to don our coats.

There were other walkers about now; the majority would be going on to either nearby Cairn a’ Claise and thence to Carn an Tuirc, or perhaps to adjacent Creag Leacach, my undisputed favourite of all the Glenshee Hills.

But for one of my companions, an Englishmen unfamiliar with these hills, I had a treat. I wanted to show him Glas Maol’s good side. Her really good side!

We trotted off down Maol’s gentle eastern flank until we stood above Little Glas Maol; and the cliffs beneath our feet called Craigie Doubs.

What a viewpoint! Far below us the snow and ice gripped head of Caenlochan Glen. Around its head rose black cliffs of a splendour that took our breath away.

There was Craigie Glasalt, Druim Mor and Caderg, and beyond all this the rolling Braes of Angus and Scotland’s farthest east Munro, Mount Keen. Up here we saw ptarmigan and winter whitened mountain hares, these two species the hardiest of planet earth’s creatures.

After a long gawk we made our way back to the summit cairn and another cup of tea. And then it was time to wander more.

One of our party needed to be home for a home coming schoolboy, time was getting on; we decided to leave Creag Leacach for another day.

Given that today only I had crampons this was probably a wise decision.

From here the inviting snow fields leading to Creag Leacach’s sharp, boulder clogged summit ridge glistened in the afternoon sun in a way that suggested said slopes would be frozen hard and difficult for Vibram soles alone.

Nevertheless we trotted down to the broad grassy ridge that separates these two mountains. I say grassy, whereas today we saw no grass, just a splendid white desert that was a joy to walk on, crampons or not. Down here somewhere, a little spring bubbles from the ground, in summertime betrayed by the brighter green of the mosses that thrive in its freshness.

Today it might be given away by just a black trickle of water issuing from the hillside. Alas we didn’t spot it; likely it ran for some distance beneath the deeper snow on that side of the hill. Strange to think though, that this little spring is a source of the Brighty Burn, which itself joins The River Isla in the glen below.

The Isla eventually empties itself into the Tay, one of Britain’s largest rivers and, so at last, the waters of Glas Maol find their way into the North Sea near Dundee!

Time was marching on for schoolboys! We stood awhile longer, drinking in the scene out west. All those peaks of this morning were now invisible, hidden by a seething mass of thick mountain mist; only Ben Lawers rose proud above the fluffy inversion.

We contoured around Glas Maol’s western flank until we reached the edge of Glas Choire. Although much of the snow in this corrie will disappear quickly, for many months to come yet, (some years even into summer), the lip of the corrie, where we now stood, will carry a substantial wreath of old snow, a very distinctive feature of the mountain when approaching from the north. But for now the snow was deep and looked a little unstable; far below any danger from above, folk on ski resembled midges!

All that was left us was the crab crawl style decent of that final treacherous icy slope, then the gleeful sounds of ski-ers still enjoying the unseasonably warm and bright conditions as well as the paraphernalia they need to keep them happy and, finally, the road bound track.

As we strolled the last quarter mile back down we watched an already sinking sun lighting the snow flanks of those Munro twins, Carn Aosda and Cairnwell, to a brightness that almost hurt our eyes...looking homewards though, long shadows told us that our glorious day was coming to a close.