The Cairnwell (933m); Carn a’ Gheoidh (975m); Carn Aosda (917m)
- Pronunciation: The Cairnwell; Karn uh Yoye; Carn Ooster
- Translation: Hill of Bags; Hill of the Goose; Aged Hill
- Total distance: 13.2km
- Total time: 4hrs 50mins
- Total ascent: 778m
- Weather: Misty all day – even at the Glenshee car-park. Heavy snow showers on the summits, driven by strong winds leading to localized white-out conditions.
- Start / end location: Glenshee ski resort top car-park – east side of A93 [OS Map Sheet 43 – Grid Ref: NO 141 779]
- Map: A map of route can be found here – it may take a few moments to load into a separate window. Unfortunately the map may not display on some Internet Explorer browsers.
These three hills are reputed to be the easiest little group of Munros to climb because you can start the climb at the bottom of the Glenshee ski resort, which is at a height of around 665m! This means that we only had to climb 268m (vertically) to reach the summit of our first Munro, The Cairnwell.
We parked up at the Glenshee skiers’ car-park amongst the hoards of skiers already getting prepared for a day of downhill thrills (oh, and ski-tows that whisk them quickly uphill again!). By the roadside we also noticed a pair of red grouse eating the freshly laid grit from the road, which aids their digestion due to a diet consisting mainly of heather shoots. From the car-park we headed southward down the main road (A93) for a few hundred meters, then adjacent to the radio transmitter mast we left the road and climbed the ploughed snow bank to access the hillside beyond. This positioned us on the eastern slopes of The Cairnwell, but all we could see in front of us was a thick dense fog that offered only 20m of visibility.
The climb to the summit of The Cairnwell at 933m or 3.061’ was reasonably steep, snow-covered but otherwise uneventful. When we reached the summit we were disappointed to see man’s influence being quite so noticeable, as the uninspiring summit hut was “squashed” unceremoniously between numerous, incongruous telecoms antennae: the price to be paid for ubiquitous mobile telephony?
From the summit hut we tracked a course NW following the ridge that marks the SW boundary of the Glenshee ski area, and then eventually arced round first to the west and then the SSW to follow a broad ridge to the top of Carn nan Sac (920m). From Carn nan Sac we headed 1.4km due west all the way to the second summit of Carn a’ Gheoidh at 975m or 3,199’. It was a real trudge in the deep snow and in very poor visibility, with the monotony only broken by sightings of several mountain hares and ptarmigan quite close by.
Once we reached the summit cairn of Carn a’ Gheoidh the weather deteriorated further with wind driven snow causing temporary local white-out conditions. For anyone who has not experienced true white-out conditions it is a hugely disorientating experience: there is absolutely no visual relief on the ground and no discernable horizon. In fact, it is hard to see what your feet are actually about to stand on – but so long as it’s not “free-space” then it is usually okay! This is where prior experience of accurately navigating with map and compass is so important: it is neither the time nor the place to learn the ropes!
We had to retrace our steps right back to the western boundary of the ski resort before turning north and then NE to climb the third Munro of the day, Carn Aosda, at 917m or 3.008’. Like the earlier two Munros, this summit appeared quite “suddenly” out of the mist as a small pile of rocks built up into a cairn on an otherwise flat plateau. After a quick photograph we turned back the way we had come for a few hundred metres and then headed south to trace our way back to the car-park via one of the ski runs. The ski-tow servicing this run wasn’t operating so the run didn’t have any skiers on it. It was a pity for the skiers as the condition of the snow on the piste was excellent – soft, deep and powdery. Likewise it was a shame for us that we too didn’t have our skis as it would have made for a very rapid descent back to the car-park.
Once back at the ‘van we enjoyed tea and homemade shortbread, whilst we watched a small flock of snow-bunting dive amongst the parked cars.