The most easterly Munro

Mount Keen (939m)

  • Pronunciation:             Mount Keen
  • Translation:                 Gentle Hill
  • Total distance:             28.3km
  • Total time:                   5hrs 10mins
  • Total ascent:                957m
  • Weather:                      Dreadful! Started wet, then sleet above 400m followed by snow and gale force wind above 700m
  • Start / end location:   At the end of the public road along Glen Tanar. Small car-park for around 6 vehicles. Glen Tanar begins just 2km WSW of Aboyne in Royal Deeside [OS Map Sheet 44 – Grid Ref: NO 474 956]
  • 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.

Mount Keen is the most easterly of the Munros and stands alone at the head of Glen Tanar. It is, however, 10.6km from the end of the public road in Glen Tanar to the start of the ascent of Mount Keen, and if you choose to tackle it from this direction many climbers resort to using a mountain bike to eat up the long track in.

That was exactly what we chose to do. We parked up at the little hamlet surrounding Glen Tanar House and set off on our mountain bikes, taking the sign-posted detour around the western edge of the hamlet. The route, along a rough land-rover track, closely followed the course of the Waters of Tanar, a medium-sized river whose water, stained peaty-brown through run-off from snow melt-water and heavy rain, gushed noisily through the surrounding Caledonian Pine forest.

Fighting the elements at the summit of Mount Keen

The granite around this part of the Cairngorms is particularly friable and the track, constructed from this natural material, comprised a soft sandy loam. The track had stretches of hard ice that made for very slippy progress on the bikes, and where the ice had already melted it left behind a heavily pockmarked surface, full of muddy puddles that were hard to avoid. The water mixed with the sandy surface felt like we were cycling on soft snow: our tyres were constantly pushing a bow wave of soft sand before them.

Just beyond the “Half-way Hut”, a wooden stalker’s shelter, the pine forest petered out and the track continued through the open hillside: simply following the river. The track crosses the river first to the south and then shortly back to the north side before a fork in the track gives the option of crossing the river once more [Grid Ref: NO 407 895]. This last crossing point, 10.6km from the start point, lies at the foot of the north ridge running from Mount Keen.

It was here that we locked our bikes to one of the bridge’s wooden railings before crossing the river and following the heavily scarred bull-dozed track that cuts it way up the north ridge. By this stage, the heavy rain was being replaced with equally heavy wind-driven sleet. We were also rising up to meet the low cloud level, which quickly interrupted any views towards the summit. The rain and thaw had made the lying snow very heavy and sticky. It would not support our weight and so every step broke through the snow’s surface tension and plunged calf-deep into the wet snow. It was definitely a mental and physical challenge climbing Mount Keen today.

Plodding through the snow showers on the descent of Mount Keen

Eventually our battle was rewarded when we reached the large summit cairn with its Trig Point sitting on top. The wind had really picked up to the forecasted gale-force and thick rime frost was seen “growing” on all of the prevailing surfaces – especially the Trig Point. We managed one very quick photograph: to say we’d been there, before we turned-tail and retraced our steps back to our waiting bikes.

By this time we were absolutely soaked and weren’t really looking forward to the prospect of a cold and wet cycle back down the glen. Nevertheless, it had to be done and soon enough we were rounding the corner by the various buildings near the House of Tanar and back at the car-park.

When we got back to the ‘van, both the bikes and us were filthy with muck and grit from the track, and I was frozen to the core – but for some reason Elaine wasn’t particularly affected by the cold. We got changed into drier clothes as quickly as possible and then drove to a wild camping site that we’d spotted earlier in the day. There was a fast flowing mountain burn beside where we were parked, which I used to dunk our bikes in to clean them off a bit, as well as washing the muck off our gaiters. The challenge of drying everything in the ‘van then began in earnest!

On refection, we both agreed that this outing would have been fabulous in good (dry) weather – particularly the cycle through the mature Caledonian Pine forest. As it was, the mountain bike journey to the start of the climb was quite tough due to the icy track, the deep puddles and the friable sandy track surface. We actually felt that we’d done quite a bit of activity even before we started on the hill climbing part: and this was into the teeth of some worsening winter weather. Still, it was another peak to add to our growing Munro collection.

About Cameron Speirs

Born and brought up in the Scottish Highlands, Cameron, has been interested in outdoor pursuits since he was a wee lad. Over the last few decades he has climbed extensively in the Italian Dolomites as well as summiting the Matterhorn and several other 4000m alpine peaks. Closer to home he has spent many wonderful weekends mountaineering and biking in Snowdonia, Cairngorms, Glen Coe, Skye and Lochaber.
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