The Glenshee Circuit – [# 125 – 130]

Creag Leacach (987m); Glas Maol (1068m);
Cairn of Claise (1064m); Tom Buidhe (957m);
Tolmount (958m); Carn an Tuirc (1019m)

  • Pronunciation:              Krayk Lairkoch; Glaz Merle; Karn of Clash; Tom Booyer; Tolmount; Karn ern Toork
  • Translation:                   Crag of the Bare Hilltop; The Grey-green Bald Head; Cairn of the Hollow; Yellow Knoll; Hollow of the Mounth; Hill of the Boar
  • Total distance:              22.4km
  • Total time:                     6hrs 37mins
  • Total ascent:                 1234m
  • Weather:                        Glorious – blue skies and sunshine all day.  A cool breeze continued to blow over the high tops and summits, but not as much wind-chill as recently.
  • Start / end location:   Car-park on the A93 about 2.5km south of Glenshee ski resort. [OS Map Sheet 43 – Grid Ref: NO 140 757]
  • Map:                                A map of route can be found here – it may take a few moments to load into a separate window. The map displays on most browsers, but not unfortunately Internet Explorer.

Still just a little snow to play in

The Glenshee Circuit is most conveniently tackled if you can employ two cars: with one left at the end of the walk. Fortunately, having the ‘van and the car we are able to circumvent the horrible 5km walk along the A93 passed the Glenshee ski resort to get us back to our starting location. We were also rather fortunate to find an excellent over-night camping spot very close to the starting point just 2.5km to the south of Glenshee.

Approaching the summit of Creag Leacach

After a quick shuffle of dropping the car off just over the brow of the Glenshee Pass we returned to the starting point in the ‘van and got ourselves kitted up. Ensuring that we had the car keys with us we set off. We dropped down from our parking space to cross the Allt a’ Ghlinne Bhig burn and then followed a tributary burn ESE just below Meall Gorm. After following this tributary for 600m we turned SSW and climbed to the broad col to the WNW of the top marked 943m on the OS map, which we also then climbed. From here we took the wide ridge that arced to the NE to easily reach the summit of our first Munro, Creag Leacach, at 987m or 3,238ft. This route to the summit was marked by an old stone dyke wall, which would have once denoted a district or regional boundary. It is hard to imagine the amount of effort that must have been expended to construct such boundary lines in days gone by.

Male ptarmigan on dry stone wall

Female ptarmigan on dry stone wall

The amazing thing about the Glenshee Circuit is that once you’ve made it to this first Munro a great deal of the hard physical effort is behind you and you are left to enjoy a high-level traverse across the remaining five Munros.

As we followed the boundary stone dyke we encountered two ptarmigan standing quite nonchalantly on the wall. It was a male and female pair and they stood quite happily as I grabbed a couple of photographs. Standing side by side it clearly highlighted the differences in plumage colouration between the sexes. Both are camouflaged but for different backgrounds: the male better suited to the light grey boulder strewn slopes, whereas the female more easily blends into a grassy or heather habitat.

When we neared the top of the rounded slopes of Glas Maol we came across half a dozen dotterels standing in a little group. This was the first time that we’ve seen these birds at such close quarters.  After this encounter it only took us moments to reach the summit Trig Point at 1068m or 3,504ft.

Elaine at summit Trig Point of Glas Maol

Continuing in a general NNE direction we followed our high-level traverse. Despite the huge scale of the ski resort just to the west of us in Glenshee this was the only point on the walk that we spotted some of the ski paraphernalia: the top of one of the ski tows that stretched up from Glas Choire plus a few snow retaining picket fences. Just below Glas Maol our route crossed the ancient Monega Drover’s Track that runs from Glen Isla in the south through to Glen Clunie in the north. We then turned east and along the broad ridge sandwiched between Garbh-choire and Craigie Glasallt. A final 1.5km in a NE direction took us passed a tiny lochan and onto the summit of Cairn of Claise at 1064m or 3,491m.

Looking south from Cairn of Claise towards Monega Hill

Cameron at the summit cairn of Carn of Claise

Our route now took us due east over a huge expanse of undulating heather moorland dotted with small outcrops of friable rocks occasionally breaking through the surface that were being weathered and eroded into paths of fine shingle gravel. This habitat appeared to be an ideal playground for mountain hares as we saw dozens of them: grey-brown coats, white socks and puff tails. Sadly, we came across a dead one on the path but we didn’t see anything outwardly to suggest as to its demise. Up close we did get a better appreciation of its size, which was at least twice as big as a rabbit. We then crossed over Ca Whims (905m) and 3km after leaving Cairn of Claise we reached the summit of our fourth Munro, Tom Buidhe, at 957m or 3,140ft.

Tolmount, our fifth Munro, was only 1.2km away to the NNW and we only had to make a minor detour from this straight-line approach to reach its summit at 958m or 3,143ft. The view from Tolmount’s summit towards the Cairngorms to the north showed that they were still playing host to quite a few large ribbons of snow filling their gullies and crags – and this on their south facing aspects was testament to their arctic credentials.

Elaine at the summit of Tom Buidhe

Looking NNW towards the Cairngorms from the summit of Tolmount

We now retraced our steps back along and down Tolmount’s SW ridgeline for 500m until we’d cleared Tolmount’s cliffs at the top of Glen Callater where we then swung round NW to follow the rim of the corrie and avoid climbing over the slight bulge that extended down NE from Cairn of Claise. Once round this bulge we headed for the obvious small col formed above the back-to-back corries of Coire Loch Kander and Cùl Riabhach. From this col it was a short climb westward up the boulder-strewn summit of Carn an Tuirc at 1019m or 3,343ft. Shortly after we arrived at the summit we met an older chap who was also climbing the six Munros. He left us to our lunch stop at the top and took a direct route down the west ridge. We, instead, went back ENE along the summit ridge to a small depression, only 300m from the cairn, before we dropped NNW and then steeply NW to reach a derelict hut (marked on the OS map) where a good stalker’s path took us back to where we’d left the car earlier this morning.

Approaching the stony summit of Carn an Tuirc

We got changed out of our walking gear and then jumped into the car to take us over the prow of Glenshee Pass and back to the ‘van parked at our starting point. A few minutes up the road and we stopped to offer the chap that we’d met on the final summit a lift to his car that was parked near our ‘van at the other side of the pass. He accepted gratefully and we found out that he’d spent many years in an RAF mountain rescue team.

It had been a reasonably long outing but the weather had been excellent and for only 1234m of ascent we’d managed to successfully bag six Munros to bring our tally to 130.

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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