Nine Glen Shee Munros
Creag Leacach, Glas Maol, Cairn of Claise, Tom Buidhe, Tolmount, Carn an Tuirc, Carn Aosda, Carn a' Gheoidh & The Cairnwell

Sunday 6th December 2015

Weather/Conditions: Clear conditions, not too wild, not too cold. The snow was fresh and dry, thus there was no post-holing or anything like it.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 32.6km / 2000m / 9h 55m
Accompanying: Alone

What a day! A pretty stonking trip to Glenshee, all in. I really couldn't have asked for better. Before the Maiden Scotland gig I'd been mulling this over, wanting to do it, but also uselessly having that sense of "I don't want to commit!".

On the Saturday, day of the gig, I packed my drums and got on my way to Dundee. The weather was gently wet, but we've had torrential rain (flooding Cumbria badly) and the Kelvin river had essentially turned into a temporary lake. Quite impressive. Up to Stirling, there were great quantities of surface spray but it was drier beyond, and I got to Dundee just fine.

The gig was really good. Strong set, strong night and the crowd were really, really up for it.

After the gig, I headed out to Blairgowrie in the wee hours of the morning on dark roads. On driving up Glen Shee, which was completely deserted after 2am obviously, I passed Mick's layby where a big stag was standing by the road, all big antlers, watching me. I slowed down for a look, it ran off. But in a way it was oddly apt, to see a singular, lone stag standing in the place my mate fell.

I kept going, got to the ski centre, tucked the car up in a corner just beyond the car park, and fell asleep in my front seat in the sleeping bag, legs across into the far corner. It was somewhere around 3am. The alarm was set for 7am.

At 5:20 I finally "came to" to see the car covered in snow. It was coming down heavily, in big thick flakes. Oh crap! I didn't evem have any de-icer on me, I couldn't exactly stay here. But I knew the freezing level was around the point where I was sleeping: so I drove down to a layby on the floor of Glen Shee.

I woke up with the alarm at 7, then dozed for ten minutes, finally realising that if I didn't get moving now I'd miss my chance altogether! I sat up, started the car and drove the minute or so to the big Creag Leacach car park. I had "breakfast" (cold bananas) and watched the day go from black to whispers of light coming over the hills. The snow that covered the hills had only come overnight - when I'd parked up in the small hours, there'd only been old snow patches.

The rim of Creag Leacach against the sky, was "furry" covered in spindrift being blown over on a wind from the west. As a result, the hilltops would slowly become browner and the valleys would accumulate and turn white - this was especially noticeable at the White Water later on.

East Six

I got packed and set off. Considering I'd had a 2 hour Maiden set, loading up and down those stairs (hard work!), ate crap (takeaway), and slept about four hours in the front seat of my car ... well, I was moving!

And it felt pretty good. Form the outset I realised the snow wasn't really hard work. The boots felt comfortable. I headed up the glen a short distance then cut off onto the right hand of the coire as flushes of light from sunrise cast over The Cairnwell and surrounding areas. It was a pretty stunning morning. I'd been able to feel my lack of circulation in the morning (maybe the bad sleep had something to do with it), but within twenty minutes the blood was flushing into my extremities and I was feeling warm, pulling layers off and moving well. A good sign for things to come.

I gained the SW Top of Creag Leacach then continued to the main top. The going was actually surprisingly treacherous - snow-covered boulderfields require some coordination to walk on. But I also realised that I was really enjoying this.

Glas Maol was a long but gentle walk, with soft light now striking the slopes. The first time I ever came here was in a January whiteout, so I was aware the summit area is expansive. The flank leading to the top is broad, so for any altitude gain you feel you are working the distance. A large cairn appeared up on my right. It didn't *seem* like the top, especially on a semi-misted wintry plateau. I thought I'd check it out en route to the top, before soon realiing it *was* the top - right there, no hassle or issue.

Cairn of Claise was the first point I really began to feel tired. I struck off from Glas Maol on a bearing, even though I could see Cairn of Claise. I was doing miles thinking I'd really better eat, while thinking that this felt a little too draining for comfort. I'd come wanting to get nine Munros. Now I was reconsidering. At the summit shelter of Cairn of Claise I took five minutes to sit and actually eat something.

In spite of the outback feeling of this plateau, I was glad to see Tom Buidhe straight ahead. There were no navigational issues and the weather was holding well, so I trudged off on the long walk out to this top. Once again, it felt too hard for it's size. Maybe the sleep was catching up. I got into a psychology of "I might end up with six Munros, maybe eight if I push today".

Once again I sat on top of Tom Buidhe in the shade of the cairn and got something to eat. It was oddly not cold, despite the snow, spindrift and wind. Even still I likely wasn't taking on enough food. Views were pretty magnificent and I didn't feel as remote as I surely looked on the map. The landscape seemed to make sense - Mayar and Driesh weren't so far away, but Mount Keen looked distant.

I crossed the White Water to Tolmount, thinking of the folk that came here in the 50s and didn't make it out alive - a story that is chillingly told in the Black Cloud, a sombre book of Scottish mountain 'misadventures'. The shallow glen of the White Water was filled with snow: it had all been blown off the tops, and the same appearance was repeated among many mountains in the area.

Once again, the way back to Carn an Tuirc was hard. More food and a swig of Lucozade hadn't made me feel better. I felt like it would be nice ust to get to the road. It's a long plod over the flank of Cairn of Claise to gain Carn an Tuirc, and it certainly seemed to take a while. In time Carn an Tuirc was gained, but not without effort.

And this is where the psychology of the whole thing is introduced. I sometimes find the prospect of completing a big challenge overwhelming, and I really do break it down into chunks.

By the time I was on Carn an Tuirc, I was pretty sure I'd get eight done today: I'd escape back to the car over Aosda and the Cairnwell as they were simple formalities. With the afternoon wearing on, Carn a' Gheoidh seemed too distant to include.

I quickly got myself down to the road and sat in the parking for a rest and some food. I'd looked at Carn Aosda on the map: "just think Dumgoyne". The ascent stats were pretty similiar. I can do Dumgoyne on a tired body. So I can do this. Dumgoyne always makes me feel better. And I started plodding again.

West Three

Once again, the psychology of bite-sized chunks worked. When I was gaining on the summit of Carn Aosda, I was pretty sure I'd just do the Cairnwell afterward. A tiny part of me thought about the 'full house'. When would I next be back? I certainly wouldn't be back for a couple years as I'd want to find other mountain ranges in the meantime.

On the summit of Carn Aosda I was 45/55 in favour of making Gheoidh. By the time I was walking off Carn Aosda, I was 55/45. I thought about impending darkness. It was now "late" (which is also called mid-afternoon in Scotland) and some of the journey may well be completed in pitch-darkness. I thought back to my navigational experience. I can deal with that. It's nice to have a word with yourself sometimes, to know you can do this, and you can extend yourself in pursuit of what you want to achieve.

The decision was made, and I started a long haul out to Carn a' Gheoidh in slowly failing light. I enjoyed the thrill. The tired uncertainty of earlier in the day was now a memory. Though I was tired, I was just plodding. It was a different kind of tiredness, and it carried me through to the end of what I wanted to do.

In the end, it was just a short haul through snow drifts up Carn a' Gheoidh's summit dome and I was at the cairn. The light was going fast now. And as I sat in the shade of the cairn, I watched headlights in Glen Cluanie, the clouds scuttling by in the gloom and the first pin pricks of stars making an appearance in the sky.

I thought about Mick and how this was his game - knocking off big days in mid-winter, being out at night, stretching oneself to go all the way to the end. I'd passed his layby the previous night and here I was alone in the last glimmers of twilight on a Scottish plateau, doing it, walking the walk, expressing the same ideas and values as he once did too in the mountains. The mountains here are not tainted by the sad sense of loss they once were.

The Cairnwell was still distant, and I was full pace back, keen to get as many miles as possible under my belt before darkness. Beyond Carn nan Sac, I got a little misplaced in drifts, and the sky turned ablaze with stars. It was one of the most vivid night skies I have seen in a long time.

To my surprise, the light never disappeared, and even once the sun was long-gone, the atmosphere retained a glow that lit the snow-covered land. I could have almost read the terrain without a headtorch.

The Cairnwell was gained, but by that point it was a done deal and I was happy to head straight down to the car. The thrill had been in the headlong dash out to Carn a' Gheoidh: The Cairnwell simply made my final nine Munros a neat round. I descended south, out the snow, down over grouse moors, to the road and then the car. It had been a big, sleep-deprived day.


This day was a massive confidence boost. I've been trying big days in winter for a while and they never quite seem to come off. Last time was at Glen Shiel and I was starting to resign myself to the idea that Kev's weekends were never made for massive hill days. They were also always going to be expensive, as much as I wished otherwise.

At Glen Shee a couple of things were in my favour - the weather was clear, not too wild, not too cold. The snow was fresh and dry, thus there was no post-holing or anything like it.

A couple things weren't in my favour - the lack of sleep, the inevitable dehydration from playing a two-hour Maiden set, and bed-time at 3am in the front seat of the car.

I occasionally thought I might end up giving in short of nine Munros, but it wasn't the case. My attitude of "lets just do the next one", played out again and again, and it took me happily to the end. I didn't even feel that wrecked back at the car, just a bit sore. 32kms in December is a great result, makes me happy, and leaves the door open to some big winter adventures in the future. Perhaps this is the first big success in my longer winter trips.

360° Panoramas

Creag Leacach

Tom Buidhe


Carn an Tuirc

Carn Aosda
Times (Time relative to 0.00)
(0.00) 8.25am Parking
(1.10) 9.35am Creag Leacach
(1.50) 10.15am Glas Maol
(2.35) 11.00am Cairn of Claise
(3.20) 11.45am Tom Buidhe
(3.55) 12.20pm Tolmount
(5.10) 1.35pm Carn an Tuirc
(6.55) 3.20pm Carn Aosda
(8.00) 4.25pm Carn a' Gheoidh
(9.15) 5.40pm The Cairnwell
(9.55) 6.20pm Parking
Written: 2015-12-12
Edited page: 2018-10-03