Walk Report: The Cairnwell Munros

The forecast for yesterday was pretty poor. Strong winds all day and heavy rain approaching in the afternoon. Normally, this is the sort of weather condition that would have me crawling back into bed and giving up on hiking completely.

Not yesterday, though!

I deliberately chose my walk based on the weather forecast. I’d heard numerous reports about The Cairnwell and Carn Aosda, and none of them were particularly encouraging – they’re eyesores, they’re not worth the effort, too easy, etc, etc.

As a result, I’d been deliberately avoiding them, but when the weather forecast came up showing such poor weather, and with yesterday being my only day off work (I work 1 in 4 Sundays, but as compensation, I get a long weekend the next week), I decided to give them a go. After all, even the easiest munros can be interesting in the right weather conditions!

I was joined today by my friend Sheaghna (pronounced Sheena), who I work with. Janie couldn’t make this one, as she had something else on.

We arrived at the Glenshee Ski Resort at just after 10:40 yesterday morning, and headed straight off for Carn Aosda. There wasn’t any particular reason for going for this hill first, over The Cairnwell, but in hindsight, it worked out to be quite a good choice. We took the route up, past the ski lifts, rather than the longer, easier, route, so it was slightly more challenging. It was a good way to get the blood flowing before reaching the summit!

The Ski Centre from half way up Carn Aosda

When we got to the summit, well, Sheaghna got a bit of a shock. This was her first munro, and she’s never experienced winds at this sort of height. With gusts up to 70mph yesterday, it was stronger than anything she’d ever experienced before! There were times when we were both struggling just to stay upright!

It’s not a bad thing, really, as the summit didn’t really have much to encourage people to linger. Not the prettiest summit in the world, although, in fairness, what I saw of the views before being forced off the summit were not too bad.

We hadn’t noticed the wind so much on the way up the hill, as we were reasonably sheltered, so it hit all of a sudden. It was a bit of a shock.

I’d been up in the hills in similar conditions before, so I knew what was coming, and I’d tried to warn Sheaghna, but, let’s be honest, the only way to really know what it’s like is to experience it!

From Carn Aosda, we walked down the easy slope, then took the turn off to the right, towards Carn a’ Gheoidh. This was easily the longest part of the walk, and in terms of scenery, easily the most interesting. The views along the walk were pretty stunning (shown below, with The Cairnwell to the left). We also managed to see some wildlife along the way, including Mountain Hare, Red Grouse, Golden Plover and Wheatear, which isn’t bad, considering the winds!

Good views along the walk

The clouds descended on the final approach to the summit of Carn a’ Gheoidh, obscuring the view. For the last 100 feet of ascent, approximately, visibility was reduced to about 30 feet. This was another thing that Sheaghna hadn’t experienced before, so I was quite glad that it happened. I definitely think it’s good for people to (safely) see some of the hazards involved with hillwalking, and how quickly the weather can change.

The summit shelter of Carn a' Gheoidh

Once at the summit, we took cover from the wind in the little shelter. After a quick breather and a piece of flapjack, in my case, off we went on the return trip. At this point, Sheaghna decided that she wouldn’t make the attempt of The Cairnwell. Basically, she had walking trousers on, but no overtrousers. (a mistake she’s already promised she won’t be making again!) As a result, the biting wind and light rain had really got to her. Numb legs only begins to cover it!

Once we reached the junction on the way back, Sheaghna went left, and back to the Café for a nice hot cuppa, while I went right, to make the ascent of The Cairnwell.

I can safely say that this hill was significantly more challenging for me than it would be for most people! When we climbed Carn Aosda, the wind was predominantly behind us. For Carn a’ Gheoidh, the went was attacking us from the side – The Cairnwell was a full-on frontal assault, into the wind!

When walking by myself, I can struggle with motivation at the best of times, but this was a real killer. On at least 3 occasions, I had to force myself on – the thought kept on in my head that nobody would be any wiser if I didn’t actually reach the summit. I guess it was personal pride that kept me going to the top, but I made it! And my reward for completing the hill? It certainly wasn’t the view! The cloud base was still low, so there was no view to speak of. However, on the return journey back down to the ski centre, I did manage to get a good view of a Ptarmigan. Well worth it, just for that!

Overall, I think we were both in agreement that the walk was ‘an experience’

We do differ slightly, though. In Sheaghna’s case, it’s one she’d prefer not to have to repeat again. For me, it was a thrill and a challenge. A real case of testing yourself against what nature has got to throw at you. I really enjoyed it, and it made what would normally be dull, ugly, boring munros significantly more interesting and challenging!

Sheaghna may not get the choice in a repeat performance, though.

On 25th June this year, she’s walking upBen Nevis to raise money for charity. If anyone is interested in supporting her, and her worthwhile cause, please do click HERE. At least now, if she experiences poor weather conditions on the day, she’ll have learnt from yesterday’s lessons and have a better idea of what to expect.

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