Glas Mheall Mor via The Gaick Pass

1 06 2014

Mon 12 May 2014

For once, my rota’d week off co-incided with quite good weather – normally my parents say they can tell where I am in the country by the TV weather forecast – where the big, rainy, wet cloud lies over the map of Britain! And they’re usually right…

On this particular week off, I’d decided it was time I started my ‘Munro Top-Bagging’ campaign. I packed my car up with my fold-up bike, my tent and my normal trip gear. As it turned out, in the end I used neither the bike nor the tent – I could have used the bike for this route – just I decided it would make a pleasant walk (which really means I couldn’t raise the effort to cycle it!)

I was originally going to tackle this Munro Top via its parent Munro of A’ Bhuideneach Beag, one of the East Drumochter Munros. This would be a bit of a messy route however and I’d done most of it before so decided to look for a different route. A study of the map showed a vehicle track heading into the hills from the south from Dalnacardoch Lodge. This route looked very straightforward to navigate and, at the planning stage, I wasn’t to know that I was due good weather for a change! It was also a bit shorter than the other route and had less ‘up and down’ – a bonus for me as I get lazier and less fit…

Further internet research took me to a blog post where a guy had cycled in on my route and done a round of hills, including mine, via the defunct lodge further up my track – Sronphadruig Lodge. It looked a great route – my mind was made up.

On the day I was due to set off for Scotland, I had a string of time-wasting occurrences which made me wonder if they were a bad omen for my trip. Firstly, some plants I’d ordered on the internet, arrived the evening before my trip – too late to plant – this meant I had a spot of gardening to do before setting off. Secondly, when I got up, I managed to flood my bathroom and so had to spend time getting everything mopped up and dried out. Consequently, it was half-past midday before I managed to pull away from the house and get on my way.

Despite the late start, I was surprised to find myself at Blair Atholl by 1730 so stopped at the wonderful Atholl Arms for my tea – my favourite (in Scotland) Macaroni Cheese. As I’d rung my accommodation and told them I’d be late, I also thought I had time for a recce of the route as I wasn’t sure from the map how my track started off (my eyesight is pretty hopeless now).

By 1830, I’d turned off the A9 and driven past Dalnacardoch Lodge (ignoring the ‘private road’ signs) and parked, well past and out of sight of their houses, at the end of the old road. The old road finished just before a bridge where the A9 crossed over the Edendon River. A landrover track set off to go under the bridge so I went to have a look. Under the bridge, there was a strip of concrete just wide enough for a vehicle beside the river and then the landrover track continued up the hill the other side of the road.

The concrete strip under the A9 was lethally wet and mossy and some of it was a bit of a paddle but I gingerly persisted. I was soon heading off up the landrover track towards the hills.

My next obstacle soon hove into view – a deer fence with a bolted gate. The gate wasn’t locked but there was no way on earth I could get the bolt to budge so I had to climb over – not much fun over a 9 foot fence!

As the hills hove into view, I soon found how out of practice I am at picturing the landscape from the map. They looked an awful long way away and I wasn’t even sure I was going up the right valley. I stopped for a while and cross-referenced everything from ground to map and confirmed it was actually correct. While I’d underestimated the look of the distances involved, I thought the hills looked much less steep than I’d imagined.

I continued my recce as I decided I wanted to make sure the river bridge was still in place 4 miles up the track – it was a pleasantly sunny evening anyway and the walk would do my circulation good after sitting in a car for so many hours.

Soon I passed a tall stone tower (not sure what it commemorated), an old enclosure with a ruined shieling and, shortly after that, an old cottage called ‘Badnamblast’ on the map. Sadly, the cottage was now derelict – it would have been quite a nice spot and it seemed a shame to let the building go. A quick peep in showed that the sheep are now the main users. There was one of those foil barbecues in there – not sure whether that was the sheep? 😉

Badnamblast

Glas Meall Mor beyond Stone Man
Distant Glas Mheall Mor on the right

Stone Cairn on Gaick Pass

A bit further along the track it was apparent the bridge was still intact so I turned back to the car to head on to my night’s accommodation. This time, I followed the alternative track which went, instead of over the deer fence gate, past a comms mast and into the forest. This was a lot longer and wound gradually down to the A9 and, as I exited to cross the road, I noticed it was actually the Gaick Pass – I hadn’t noticed that on the map.

Luckily I was staying at Balsporran Cottages, a B&B owned by two of my friends. Lucky because, when I unpacked I found I had, yet again, forgotten many of the requirements for my trip and knew they would be able to lend me the missing items until my return later in the week.

First off, I’d forgotten a towel this time (it was my wash bag last time so a slight improvement I suppose). As I would be Youth Hostelling and possibly camping later in the week, I’d need one. I asked to take my used towel out of my room – that way it would get more than one night’s use before being washed again. I’d also forgotten my bike lock – as my friends are keen cyclists, they were also able to furnish one of these too.

After a great night’s sleep, I headed off back down the road for ten miles or so back to Dalnacardoch Lodge. I’d worried slightly the evening before about whether I should park down the ‘private road’ as I had the night before. I decided that, if I saw an estate worker, I’d be nice and ask permission.

I turned off the A9 at the Trinafour junction which is right by Dalnacardoch Lodge and hesitated briefly before turning down the old road. There was an estate landrover just setting off towards me – I’d ask him. I flagged him down and gave him my best smile… could I park at the very end of the old road, way past their houses and out of sight for my walk? I asked sweetly… I’m obviously losing my touch – the answer was a stern no and I got told to park my car on the verge on the junction.

I was a bit miffed really as the parking I had in mind was about quarter of a mile past their buildings and around a corner – there was also a huge space where the road finished large enough to park several cars. I would have been far less in the way than parking on a T-junction! Also, I’m not totally convinced that a section of old highway can be a ‘private road’?!

As I was in a bit of a sulk, I decided to take yesterday’s route and use the slippery river bridge route under the A9 – that meant I would be walking past their houses – nothing they can do about that! Don’t worry – I didn’t get away with it – they set their deer gate onto me! As I clambered back over the gate, I descended the far side to find I’d got an extremely huge splinter firmly embedded right down my little finger. It was impossible for me to get it out so I let it bleed for a bit to flush out any germs – it was quite sore though!

Gaick Pass
Gaick Pass

I fairly flew up the landrover track and back past the deserted old house to the river bridge. I had an idea there would likely be a track straight from the bridge towards the hill. On crossing the bridge, I saw there was indeed a quad bike track setting off west straight up the hillside. This wasn’t my hillside however – that was after an intervening dip with a burn. As I also predicted, once the track had got me up onto the top of the ridge, it set off elsewhere so I had to leave it for the very long plod across the moorland towards my hill.

The going was pretty dire across the moorland, quite boggy, lots of peat-hags, it seemed never-ending and I decided I wasn’t anything like as fit as I’d hoped. Eventually, I reached the point where the moorland rose up the heathery ridge of Sron nan Dias. Ignoring this ridge, I dropped down to the burn as I could see that following that up would give me a more grassy route up to the summit ridge – grass is much less effort than heather to ascend.

I reached the burn and set off upwards, trying to join up as much grass as possible and avoid the heather. After what seemed like a long and tiring flog upwards, I eventually reached the col to the right of Cuairt Chuile (and a small path at last) and plodded up to its summit. There was a cairn and a nice little shelter but, the going now much easier, I continued past it across the next col to ascend my hill. I was pleased to note that my route had missed the steep snow band under the summit and was an easy grassy ramp up to the main summit.

Easy Ascent of Glas Mheall Mor

I was soon at the summit where I had a break for a coffee and watched my outward route and Dalnacardoch Lodge being hit by a nasty-looking storm. I’d had a few showers pass overhead on my route but they were really getting it! I soon left to head off back down…

I don’t like to take exactly the same route twice so headed straight down from the first col for the flat part of my ealier pathless moorland plod. The descent route was far worse than the route I’d chosen for my ascent but, as I was now descending, I was no longer feeling exhausted.

The walk back across the peat-hags was no more fun and seemed longer than on the way out but I’d picked out a few landmarks and checked them off as I passed them again. Eventually I reached the cairn above a little lochan which signalled the start of the quad bike track back to the bridge.

I happily sloshed down the wet track to the bridge where I had another break out of the wind – it was very pleasant down by the Edendon Burn! 🙂

Gaick Pass from above Bridge
Towards Sronphadruig Lodge from above river bridge

Up till now, my groin strain had been good and hadn’t bothered me but, on standing up from this break, I found it was getting stiff and cranky again. Oh well – only another four miles to drag it back to the car and now on a great track again (actually, I think the hard tracks are partly what’s doing the damage really).

I pondered on the walk out which route to take but in the end decided I couldn’t face the vicious deer gate and the slippery route under the A9 and went for the longer route through the forest along the Gaick Pass proper.

I made it back to the car just after 1600 and rushed off to find a medical centre to remove my splinter. Although I was headed for Aviemore I decided I wasn’t going to reach it in time and diverted off the A9 to Newtonmore and Kingussie – luckily there was a medical centre at Kingussie. The very kind doctor there saw me straight away and, after quite a struggle, managed to dig my splinter out for me – phew! He was worried about the pain he was causing me but my only worry was to have the damn thing removed!

Stats: 2072 feet of ascent (very small due to the high start for these hills), 14 miles, 6 hours approx.

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11 responses

9 01 2015
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4 06 2014
Mark

A good yarn, well told.

Now your focus is on the rarefied goal of Munro Tops I expect you’ll be posting more esoteric routes like this. I’m looking forward to reading them.

I’ve only stayed at Balsporran once. It provided me with a bit of comfort when I did my big Munro bash of June 2006, 44 Munros in 15 days. It was the only time I didn’t use a tent. Good food and a great nights sleep.

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4 06 2014
mountaincoward

Thanks Mark – I’ll be writing up all my remaining Munro ‘Tops’ as there’s so little out there about them!

Unfortunately, the owners of Balsporran are selling up as they want to retire 😦 I hope it remains a B&B and the new people keep up the standards – especially the excellent food!
Carol.

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3 06 2014
McEff

I enjoy reading your posts, Carol, because you appear to have the same worries that I have before I set out and you encounter the same sorts of problems. Perhaps I wouldn’t have smiled at the chap in the Land Rover quite as sweetly, but I would certainly have been polite. Great post. And thank you for introducing me to those hills.
Cheers, Alen

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4 06 2014
mountaincoward

If you’re in the area with a mountain bike, the full Gaick Pass looks superb! And pretty easy cycling as it isn’t steep at all (well, the bits I saw weren’t).

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1 06 2014
fedup

Always handy to have a helpful height bonus at the start just a shame you where begrudged a park 😦 I’m often tempted to ignore things like that but fear a nasty scrape down the side of my car. If the highway was still maintained by the council then I would have thought its still public, even a public highway that is no longer maintained must still belong to the public so there must be access rights?

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1 06 2014
mountaincoward

I’m sure the old road can’t belong to the estate as they’d have to buy it off the Highways Authority surely – even if it was on their land. Far better to have everyone park down there out of the way (and out of sight of the A9) rather than on a T-junction! if they’re that fussed, they could put an honesty box on a pole down there and ask everyone for a quid…

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1 06 2014
chrissiedixie

Now where I come from, splinters are called ‘spelks’. Geoff thinks I’ve made it up……….

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1 06 2014
mountaincoward

Not quite what I called it that day! 😉

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1 06 2014
jackie sowrey

Brilliant! Love that your parents can tell where you are with a bad weather forecast.
Jackie

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1 06 2014
mountaincoward

As they’re nearly always right, I’m not quite so happy with it 😉

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