Carn Liath (Beinn a' Ghlo) - 975m
Saturday 19th February 2011

Weather/Conditions: No rain/snow, mist and lying snow down to c. 500m. Had some break to blue sky on the summit and the sun came out more, later in the day.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 18km / 850m / 7h 50m
Accompanying: Dougie

This weekend was a lot of fun. The weather wasn't great just meant testing hills.

Getting there was a different issue. I went from Glasgow City Centre to Perth on a crowded train only to arrive at Perth to discover the Perth-Pitlochry one was delayed by an hour. A broken down train near Edinburgh Haymarket was a blame. Five minutes after leaving the platform, police shouts echoed through the station to the tune of "Get back!... GET BACK!". Other shouts were heard but it didn't amounted to anything. A cold wait followed in grey Perth and I wandered around the town while some guy seemed to be involved in a stand-off in the train station. An hour later, I got on the train for Pitlochry with a great deal of relief and on it, I met Dougie and Diane as planned.

We stayed in the Pitlochry Backpackers Hostel on the main street. It's a nice place and a German guy worked there on the weekend we stayed. It is closed on all but weekends through winter but will open 7 days a week on the 1st April.

In the evening we went to the Moulin Inn, a great place out at the top end of Pitlochry, although it seemed a bit expensive all round. Back at the hostel, Dougie consistently beat me at game after game of pool. When Diane and Dougie had gone to bed, I played in a two-against-two match with the German and two guys living temporarily in Pitlochry. I was teamed up with one of the two. I forget who they were but in the light of getting my ass kicked by Dougie I was surprised to be find myself pulling off spectacular shots and potting the balls. It was a good run, but I still lost.

Carn Liath

The following morning brought snow to Pitlochry - enough that we started to feel that going for something like Beinn a' Ghlo was a bit crazy. While it hadn't fallen very thick, the road to the Beinn a' Ghlo car park at Loch Moraig would be out of bounds. If we did Beinn a' Ghlo, we'd have to walk from Blair Atholl. But, why not? We phoned a taxi and got on our way.

Interestingly, snow hadn't fallen in Blair Atholl and we got some distance up the road before it lay. Since no others may come up here today, I was aware we would be completely on our own. I find that pretty thrilling. Up at Loch Moraig, the wind blew hard and we continued walking on the drifted Shinagag track to a locked wooden hut set alongside the track. It was here that we turned off up Carn Liath.

We crossed a boggy area which led to a path following a dry stone dyke. On this occasion, the bog was well frozen and we crossed with no problems. Continuing upwards onto the hillside, we would soon go into mist. With snow covering everything, everywhere, the valley was an atmospheric scene. I could only imagine the scale of the Grampian plateau to the north - with snow and mist it would be very difficult, and maybe undesirable, to navigate through. Go north from here and you may not hit a public road for 50kms. The thought of what lay beyond our view gave rise to the thought of it being an inhuman place, frightening but compelling all the same. The funny thing is that in summer, these mountains are almost just hills, perfect for long peatbog romps. In winter, they are transformed.

My enduring memory of Carn Liath is that it seemed to go on forever. It became a small battle of will to make upward progress. But we plugged on, still enjoying it. A mountain with Dougie always seems to end up in some kind of philosophical discussion and it's always chilled out, even when the temperature is nothing other than completely freezing like it was today. At the summit, the terrain flattened out. We passed one cairn and continued on an easy gradient to the summit trig point, where we saw the most spectacular rime ice I've ever seen, anywhere. See the middle picture, above. The rime had built into contorted daggers hanging over a metre off the side of the trig point. We made special care not to destroy it!

Also worth noting was that if it had been cold on the ascent, it was absolutely freezing on the summit. High winds blasted across the hill, whipping up hail, turning them into little bullets. We didn't hang around on top. Being battered and stung in the face, we headed back the way we'd come and without tracks to follow (the wind often scoured the slopes to bare ice).


I followed a compass bearing slightly west of south but even this took us off route and we had to contour to get back on track lower down. The descent was testing and not least at the moment the wind picked up the compass from my hand and tossed it off into space. Understandably I ran and just about jumped on it. I really need to attach it to me...

Out of the cloud and back on track, we found that the bogs at the foot of the hill had thawed. The feet got a bit wet trying to jump the streams, but it was no inconvenience in the long run. At the hut, we got some great pictures (my favourite is below, centre) and carried on to Blair Atholl, through the drifts much of the time but less so as we lost altitude.

And back to reality, we went...

At Blair Atholl, we stopped in the Bothy Bar, got drinks and had the pleasure of taking off wet, steaming fleeces, boots and socks... The hotel seemed okay enough with this. We got a taxi back to Pitlochry afterwards.

In the evening we went to the Indian across the road from the hostel and on the road to the train station. I got a tikka masala and it was brilliant - that's a place to revisit if I'm ever back in Pitlochry! All in all, the night was quieter than the previous evening but the sleep was well earned!

The following day, Dougie and I climbed Ben Vrackie before taking the train home.

Times (Time relative to 0.00)
(0.00) 9.10am Blair Atholl
(1.10) 10.20am Loch Moraig
(2.00) 11.10am Huts at turn off
(4.15) 1.25pm Carn Liath
(6.00) 3.10pm Huts at turn off
(6.25) 3.35pm Loch Moraig
(7.50) 5.00pm Blair Atholl

Written: 2011-03- 20ish to 25th