On Christmas Eve I experienced a tiring two-mile traverse from Carn Aosda to Cairnwell, the easiest of all the Munros but the least attractive in overlooking, and indeed being part of, the Glen Shee ski centre.
As a result of recent dumps of fresh soft snow, it took me three hours, 50 per cent slower than usual. I had originally planned to include 975m/3199ft Carn a’Gheoidh, tucked away to the west, but quickly realised that that was out of the question.
I returned on a raw February day, this time with John, to tackle Carn a’Gheoidh, hill of the goose, originally given as Carn Geoidhe on maps circa 1900 and in the original Munro Tables.
Bad weather delivered 40 to 55mph westerly winds, with gusts of 70mph, making mobility difficult on a day of severe wind chill. Given the conditions, we made no excuse for using the most popular, and easiest, route; a plus-600m starting height from the ski centre.
This approach gives an unfair impression of this underrated hill. Carn a’Gheoidh can be viewed in a different light when tackled from other points of the compass; from the south via the Corbett, Ben Gulabin, which is really part of the same mountain; from Gleann Taitneach to the south-west via the Allt Aulich, the most direct route, or via Coire Shith; from An Socach to the north around the Baddoch Burn; from Rhiedorrach to the south-east via the Allt Coolah or over Creag nan Eun to Carn nan Sac.
The popular route is to climb west from the ski centre to a small bump, map ref 130782, then follow the north-west rim of Coire Direach (not named on the 1:50000-scale map) towards 920m Carn nan Sac, then westwards on a twisting route to the summit. This was our return route. However, on our gale-tossed day, and losing my hat in the process, we sought respite from the wind by using a longer but more sheltered ascent from the west end of Loch Vrotachan.
From the ski centre we headed WNW to map ref 127786, the lowest point at 800m on the ridge between Aosda and Cairnwell. Scarcely able to stand, we descended to the northern shores of Loch Vrotachan. From the western end of the loch it was a slightly more sheltered ascent to the hidden-on-our-day twin lochans north of Carn nan Sac. Carn nan Sac gives a good navigational fix in poor visibility, so a small diversion to its summit may be sensible. At one time it was a Munro top, but was understandably deleted in 1981 because of the minimal re-ascent. It was then quite a battle, heading west over flattish ground by the line of the worn path, well hidden on our day, to the small stony plateau. There are two cairns, the largest and more southerly being the highest.
It was our good fortune to have a brief period of visibility – the forecast had a 60 per cent chance of cloud-free summits at 3000ft. One mile south-west is the far shapelier peak of Carn Bhinnein, at 917m the sole subsidiary top. The two-mile out-and-back visit to the top is normally a delight, but we were not tempted. Glen Shee already felt far enough away.
With the wind now behind us, and the mast on Cairnwell just showing, it was a quick return to Carn nan Sac. It was then a battle curving round the rim of Coire Direach. I never thought I would be quite so pleased to get back to the bustling ski area and the crowded, steamy wet but refreshing café.
Map: Ordnance Survey map 43, Braemar & Blair Atholl
Distance: 6 miles
Terrain: Popular route from ski area, partially pathed, unless snow covered
Start point: Ski centre café, map ref 138782
Time: 3 to 4 hours
Nearest village: Braemar
Recommended refreshment spot: Glen Shee Ski Centre café