Winter is the best time to go. Its stony ridge-cum-plateau, a NW-facing crescent over a mile long, is of roughish terrain that does not make for fast summer walking, but with a firm pavement of snow the traverse becomes a winter delight. Given that the 944m Munro is at the south-west end and a 938m subsidiary Top at the north-east end, that traverse is commonly undertaken twice on the popular northern approach from Baddoch.
When Jimbo, John, Lindsay and I were there in November it most certainly was a winter outing. The freezing level at 900m was aggravated by the significant 35mph wind chill but the snow already had a firm base in places to ease the traverse and, best of all, we had clear visibility.
Originally tabled as An Socach (East End), the current Top was the Munro until 1974. Maps from the 1920s had it at 3,073ft (it’s now 3,077ft) and the SW end at 3,059ft (now 3,097ft). The NE summit was seen as the highest and most commanding point. It has also suffered a series of name changes, from Socach Mor to now An Socach, East Top.
Being a relatively remote hill, An Socach can be climbed from all points of the compass – from Glen Ey to the west, from Altanour Lodge and the almost hidden footbridge over the Ey Burn; from Gleann Taitneach to the south, following the Allt Elrig to the Elrig/Baddoch watershed or continuing up the glen to Loch nan Eun; and from the east, from Carn Aosda and Cairnwell via Loch Vrotachan, or from Carn a’Gheoidh, descending to the Baddoch Burn track-end.
However, the easiest, most popular, route is from the A93 at map ref 138832. A short road crosses the Clunie Water to a track leading past Baddoch, a somewhat desolate spot on the east side of the Baddoch Burn. The track later crosses the burn by a bridge and reaches the Allt Coire Fhearneasg. Cross the stream and climb south-west. Frost-bound ground helps to firm up the oft muddy path. Pass a tall cairn on a knoll at 675m; an area mapped as Socach Mor, the big nose being the NNE-facing aspect.
It is then a steeper climb to the subsidiary Top which has long had a large, well-constructed cairn marking the high point above Socach Mor. Apart from a minor mid-point dip, the entire length of the plateau is above 900m and, bearing in mind the distance between the two summits, casual observation is unable to detect the height difference of 20ft.
In the early days the SW summit, situated amid a featureless area, had no cairn at all. Now there is a choice of two, both a jumble of stones.
It is a long way back retracing steps, but still quicker than descending from the mid-point of the ridge to the top end of the Baddoch track.
A December 1982 “failure” had been a Shackleton-type decision to turn back in blizzard conditions when near the summit; the right thing to do for we were already 20 minutes beyond our self-imposed turn-time. It was a rapid descent on the snowy slopes of Socach Mor, but we were unable to keep up with a fox. This time we came across a hare that did not make it; a recently killed carcass judging by the fresh-looking blood everywhere. Noting the claw marks on the snow, Lindsay reckoned we had disturbed an eagle.
Map Ordnance Survey map 43, Braemar & Blair Atholl
Distance 10 miles
Terrain Track and worn path to stony plateau
Start point Small parking area off A93 near Baddoch, map ref 138832
Time 6 hours
Nearest village Braemar
Refreshment spot Glen Shee Ski Centre café