Date: 2nd January 2013
Time: 4 hrs 30 mins
Hills: Cairn Vachich, Gael Charn, Carn Mor
Weather: Early rain giving way to sunshine. Very gusty wind. Mild.
Route: Click to view on Social Hiking
The first hillwalk of 2013 started amidst wind and rain as Dave and I headed down Glen Ernan from a start just off the main Strathdon road. Thirty minutes later we were peeling back sodden hoods to gaze up in amazement at the blue sky that had appeared overhead. The glen, at first wide and fertile, narrowed and started twisting about the feet of the encroaching hills. We stopped for a snack and then pressed on, following the easy track until we reached the shiel in the upper glen. This turned out to be a rather smart estate building and attendant bothy, both freshly painted but sadly locked.
Here we forded the burn and followed the vehicle track west up icy slopes and then across short heather, scattering snow-white mountain hares, to reach the summit of Carn Vachich where we enjoyed panoramic views. Our eyes were drawn to the snowy bulwark of Ben Avon, its top shrouded in cloud but sun catching its glistening flanks. Close by the ski paraphernalia at the Lecht could be seen and to the south were the hills above the Gairnshiel road, the snaking tarmac reflecting the low winter sun.
By clever design (or by sheer luck - you decide) we were now heading back towards the car with the gusting wind behind us. A network of estate tracks criss-cross these hills but we mainly stuck to the pathless ridgeline, heading south to Gael Charn. A dark cloud over the Ladder hills bypassed us to the east and more of the Cairngorms became visible as the weather blew through.
The shelter on Gael Charn proved draughty and unstable so we enjoyed lunch outside it in the sunshine where, hunkered down, we were out of the wind. From here we followed the surprisingly distinct ridge towards the giant cairn on Carn Mor. We now had views to a cloud-capped Morven away to the south.
This final hill was guarded by a steep descent and re-ascent but eventually the cairn was reached and its sheltered side gave us a chance to look at the map and decide on a way down. Rather than backtrack to an easy path we decided to continue along the ridge, soon dropping into a sparse pine wood which then gave out to thigh-deep trackless heather and low growing conifers that slowed our pace.
On the far side of the last rise we picked out a route down to the woods above the main road. Out of the wind it was very warm and we were glad to come across a narrow track which dropped through the trees and eventually brought us to the main road and so back to the car.
We stopped off at the quirky Mossatburn Tea Room for a spot of cake and a great big pot of a tea served by the cheerful proprietress. We drove back to Aberdeen in the golden hour as the low sun set over the hills, a light mist playing in the hollows, and the Loch of Skene looking dazzling.
An excellent way to blow away the cobwebs of Christmas and New Year and get a new year of hills off to a fine start.