I’m now fast approaching climbing my hundredth Munro (indeed, until I recounted while preparing this blog post, I thought I was sitting on 99 already, but it turns out I’m not quite there, though by the time you’ll be reading this I should be!). I’ve been pretty bad about writing walk reports for each individual hill so far, and it’s high time I sorted that out by producing one great omnibus collection. It’s turned out that walking Munros has become one of the major focusses of life outwith work, so it seems only fitting that I give the effort so far a reasonable write-up.

I’ve ended up splitting this into three parts in order to try and keep the size of each post under control. This one covers 2019, and 12 Munros. Part one covers 2015 (just one Munro!) and 2018 (31 Munros). Part two covers 2019, Part three covers the plague year of 2020. This is the last post in the series, covering 2021, and Mount Keen, the first of 2022.

2021

While 2020 had seen life heavily disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, but with things improving going into the summer. 2021 instead started in lockdown, and was also a year defined by my work on finishing the analysis of the third observing run’s gravitational wave events. As a result it’s made up of lots of small trips, and none of the big holiday excursions of previous years.

073 - 074: Meall Glas & Sgiath Chuil

The first Munros of the season were to be out-of-the-way ones again, for similar reasons to 2020; this was the second week in which we were to be allowed out of our own local authority areas (and in a week or so’s time I’d be stuck in Glasgow again for a few more weeks). We anticipated the hills being busy, so chose a pair of what we expected to be less popular ones to avoid the crowds reported from the week before.

Image of mountains and a single cloud in the sky.
▲ Ben More from the summit of Meall Glas

While we didn’t meet huge crowds, the hills turned out to be busier than we had anticipated. We started out in a cool morning, and the walk was fairly boggy under-foot initially, but we were lucky that it had been dry for the last couple of weeks. These two hills are renowned for being boggy, and involved a long hike across a raised bog to get to the summit.

075 - 076: Meall Corranaich & Meall a’Choire Lèith

Returning the Lawers area brought the promise of boggy ground, but a fairly short outing for what Walk Highlands describes as “not the most distinctive” hills. Like with Lawers, this walk started from the road which crosses the mountains, and we started at around 550m above sea level.

Describing the climb up these hills as undistinctive is perhaps relatively fair, though the rolling terrain also gives them their own distinctive character. The climb to the first summit, Meall a’ Choire Lèith was straightforward, and after a short stop for lunch we continued on towards Meall Corranaich.

The view from the second Munro was spectacular, looking over the higher peaks of the Lawers group, which still had a little of their winter plumage left. Descending, there’s a line of fence posts which you follow almost to the top, though navigation wasn’t a problem; the weather was its usual delightful Scottish self, and the sun was beating down on us.

▲ Panorama from the summit of Meall Corranaich

077 - 079: Lochan nan Cat Circuit

Having started the Ben Lawers group of hills last year, it was now time to finish them. This was the only walk for these hills which didn’t have a high-level start off the winding road which crosses between Loch Tay and Glen Lyon, but rather starts at Lawers Farm, on the banks of Loch Tay. From there it was a bit of a walk along the road, and past a shop selling trinkets made from antlers and horn before the climb started through a birkwood. From here the climb up to Meall Greigh (1001m) was straightforward, and we had good views from the top back over the Lawers range and down across the Loch.

▲ Looking over to Lochan nan Cat from Meall Greigh

We had a good sight of the rest of the day’s walking from here too, around Lochan nan Cat. We continued along dry bog (we’d had a run of dry weather) to get to Meall Garbh (1123m) which stands over the oddly-named lochan. There were no cats to be seen. The wind had started to pick up by this point, and there were times you could lean most of your weight into the wind and remain standing. Fun, but a little uncomfortable.

From here we dropped back down to the bealach separating Meall Garbh and An Stùc, which passes the Cat Gully (no cats). The climb up An Stùc was pleasantly steep, though we were glad of the dry weather; it would have been a good bit less pleasant in the rain, and the wind did make things a little… spicier… than a normal hill walk might have been.

Dropping off An Stùc we walked back along the lochan. There were no cats. There was however a dead sheep floating in the middle of it. Lochan nan caorach mharbh.

From here it was a fairly long and gentle descent back towards the road, eventually meeting the ascent path. The Lawers group, complete.

080 - 081: Buachaille Etive Mor

I was clearly feeling very literary when I wrote this one…

I arrived at Glasgow Queen Street ready for an adventure of a kind which has scarcely been possible for well over a year. I was there with a bicycle which was ready for adventures amongst the hills, and this was to be its first major outing. I boarded the train, hanging the bike and its luggage up, and found a seat. The train slid down the tunnel, starting its slow journey out of the city; soon we were passing through Dalmuir, Dumbarton, and on to the West Highland Line.

The rhythmic clacking of the train over the tracks a countdown to the North. At Crianlarich the train split, and the station names are read in Gàidhlig; we are traversing Northwards. Beinn Dòrain is soon imposing itself on the East of the track, and my stop looms. I left the train at Bridge of Orchy.

The evening was long, and it had been a cloudless day. There was plenty of light to complete the first part of the cycle towards the Kingshouse, but soon after Inverarnan I realised that I’d underestimated the difficulty of the climb up the old Parliamentary road on the West Highland Way, and I found things slow going.

I made camp around Ba Bridge, and suffered the midges. The night turned out to be colder than I’d hoped and I soon found myself regretting not packing a sleeping bag.

The next morning saw me finish the ride into the Black Mounth; the track becomes looser and a bit more technical on the descent, and I found myself vindicated in not having chosen to do it in the failing light of the night before. I reached the Kingshouse around 8am, and pitched the tent just across the bridge, and set off for the start of the Buachaille’s climb at Altnafeadh.

The trail from here starts easy, crossing the River Coe on a small bridge, but after around a kilometre the climb starts in earnest. It is steep, and unrelenting as it ascends alongside a burn. In the day’s heat it was hard going, and there wasn’t much water running off the ridge. After a short stretch of near-vertical scrambling I found the ridge, and things soon got a little easier.

The first summit of the day was atop a short but fairly steep rocky climb, and I was glad when I’d eventually reached Stob Dearg, the red peak, where the rock is indeed the colour of brick.

▲ The view from the summit.

There was a small collection of fellow climbers here, and the views across Rannoch Moor and the Monadh Dubh were extensive and spectacular from the top of the cliffs of this very famous peak.

Eventually I turned about and started descending back to the bealach. The route ahead was to be long, and in the heat it became arduous and unpleasant at times.

There are two tops between the main summits, and the ascent over each is not inconsiderable. First is Stob na Doire (peak of the oak) from which the view was of the still-considerable distance along the ridge, though I felt a little cheated for the amount of work to get to the top of this Top (surely it should be a Munro in its own right!).

Between this and the next top I passed the descent path which is a noticable scar in the landscape from here. The climb of Stob Coire Altruim was fast, and onwards from there I reached my 81st Munro, Stob na Broige quickly.

By the time I reached the screey descent path I was running short on water and feeling dehydrated and a bit demotivated. I eventually found a point where the burn had enough flow that I could refill water bottles, and the descent became enjoyably scrambly.

I decided not to coninue on across Buachaille Etive Beag, which had been my original plan, and instead accepted defeat by the heat, and headed back to the Kingshouse for refreshment.

082 - 083: The Mamlorn Forest

The two final mountains of the Mamlorn Forest, ringedd by peat bog, and described by the definitive Walk Highlands as uninteresting, were an obvious target for a walk after several weeks with no rain. But no matter the state of the ground, this outing was bound to be a tough, and at times, perhaps, a slightly unpleasant walk, not aided by the considerable heat we would endure on the ascent.

We started out early yet still arrived to find the carpark full so had to park a little further along the road. The walk-in for these hells is along 9km of hydro track, and by the end the heat and lack of any real breeze to talk of had left us tired already. The climb to Sròn nan Eun, the top at the end of Crèg Mhor’s compact ridge, was fairly unchallenging, if pathless, and the walk continued without real incident or excitement, though a little under 1000m the wind picked-up, and the top was itself in clag. It was possible to take a little shelter close to the cairn to briefly rest before continuing down to the fairly low bealach linking the two hills. From the descent the true scale of Beinn Heasgarnich starts to become evident. The bealach was wet and peaty, and the wind continued to be noticable. As we started the ascent the realisation we were was only just half-way through the total distance down and the ~500m climb to the ridgeline was taxing. However, it was reached, and here the wind took on a new ferocity, and at times it was difficult to make headway without being buffetted sideways.

We did not linger at the summit, and started the pathless descent to the bog which separated us from the road. This was pathless and somewhat unpleasant, but completed fairly quickly. The path over the bag was equally pathless, though it was extremely dry, which was a blessing. The return to the read was without incident until the last 500m, where I lost sight of Shona, panicked, and doubled-back missing passing me in the undulating terrain, along a different path. Eventually I sighted her at the road with Andrew and was able to jog back down. The road out was long, but at a kind gradient. We were back to the car around 8pm, made it back to Larbert for chips, and I managed the get on the last train back to Glasgow.

084: Schiehallion

The forecast for the morning was poor, with thunderstorms and rain on the docket, while I was limited by volunteering in the morning at the first post-lockdown Ruchill Parkrun. Therefore, any hill we chose needed to be a short and quick outing. It was time, finally, to climb Schiehallion, precisely one year after the last time I’d made (ill-fated) plans to climb it on the way back from holidaying in the Cairngorms. We arrived at the car park around 2:30; compared to last year the parking situation is now good; the council have built a large overspill carpark, which would have saved last year’s trip, though we got parked in the old car park without any real trouble.

The path up to the whaleback on this hill is well-built, and we made quick progress on the ascent; the weather was favourable, with a cool breeze and no rain. Once the major bulk of the mountain was below us we were faced with an extensive boulderfield to reach the summit. We ended up being fortunate to get a view from the summit, which was in cloud for the majority of our ascent.

▲ Carvings in the rock of Schiehallion

The descent was fast, and we managed the whole outing in under four hours, despite Shona being slightly the worse-for-wear thanks to having had her second COVID vaccine dose the day before. We got food in Aberfeldy en route back to the Central Belt.

The next day I found out that a friend had spent the time that we’d been climbing Schiehallion completing a traverse of the hills from Knoydart right through Glen Dessary, and would eventually make the news thanks to the exploits of Carnethy that day.

085 - 088: Above Loch Ossian

The click-clack of the carriage wheels as you change line off the Glasgow suburban network and onto the singletrack line which will wind its way deep into te Highlands always provides me with a thrill. The destination this day was Corrour, the highest and most remote station on the Great British network.

▲ View back over Loch Ossian

I have a pack full, with tent and supplies, and plans to climb a few hills. The journey north, leaving Glasgow Queen Street around lunchtime, is comparitively uneventful, though a number of fellow passengers were very confused by the notion of the train dividing at Crianlarich, and made the conductor very aware of their displeasure. Arriving at Corrour a couple of hours later I crossed over the tracks of the passing loop, and headed over towards Loch Ossian. The roads here, which are private, were in much better condition than I’d anticipated, and I already find myself tempted to return with a bike in the near future. (I would, in fact, return in Spring 2022 to run here, and run the circuit of the Loch, though at the time of writing I’ve still not made the time to get up there with the bike). I reached the loch fairly quickly, pitched my tent close to the youth hostel, and changed into running gear before setting off for the hills south of the loch. The climb was initially easy, up a well made track which follows the old drove road to the isles, and goes through to Rannoch. I left the path at Peter’s Rock, a memorial to someone who died disturbingly close to my own age, and began the ascent of Carn Dearg in earnest. That ascent soon slowed and became boggy, and it was a while before I could get back to anything which could be reasonably described as a run.

▲ Loch Laidon

It took the best part of 40 minutes to get from here to the summit, though it was possible to jog a bit close to the summit, and then make a rapid descent to the high bealach which links to Sgor Gaibhre. From the bealach it was a rapid climb up to the second Munro of the day, making the descent via a Top quickly, which slowed heading over boggy ground back down towards Ossian. By the time I reached the track my legs were heavy, and I ended up covering the return by combination of walking and running.

▲ Cloud over Beinn na Lap

My campsite was good, and I had a fairly restful night’s sleep, though somehow, despite having practically no phone signal I got a message through from my mum to tell me my dad had been rushed into hospital with a suspected TIA.

▲ Midge-bitten at the summit

The next morning was somewhat overshadowed by the previous night’s news, but I had a fairly easy start and made it up the rather boggy slopes of Beinn na Lap in the humid morning cloud. Swift progress was possible once on the gently-sloping back of this whale-shaped mass.

I was back down in ample time for a coffee and egg roll in the cafe on the station platform before catching the 1230 train home.

088 - 091: The Cairn Toul Traverse

After years of vague planning, and months of attempted coordination, on Friday 27 August 2021 I left work early to head off to meet Andrew and Shona. We headed north to camp at Kingussie, meeting Magnus there, in preparation for the weekend’s expedition. Underway around 5pm, having had a bit of a challenge attaching a bike rack to the car (I had ambitions to hang around for a while longer with the bike, which ended up not coming to anything), we made it to the field-cum-campsite in Kingussie in time to get food in town (the chip shop being the option available to us). Then it was an early night: the next day would be the Lairig Ghru.

▲ The approach to the Chalamain Gap

Our start wasn’t especially early—it didn’t need to be—and we took our time over packing. We made it to the sugarbowl carpark a little before 10am, where we had some mild concerns over the overnight parking and its prohibition. Soon we were making for the path which would lead us to one of this island’s finest landscapes, and a notch in a hillside—the Chalamain Gap.

In a sign of things to come, the gap was a tricky and long boulder field, which required concentration and good balance, and crossing it while carrying full packs was challenging. Exiting the gap we found ourselves descending back to the floor of the glen, before again starting a gradual climb to the summit of the Lairig Ghru, Braeriach on our right and Ben Macdui on our left. We followed the burn, on this side the waters destined to become the Spey. The view at the summit was dramatic, with the bulk of Macdui and the central Cairngorm plateau rising to the East, while the Braeriach plateau, and our destination for tomorrow, rising West. The snowpatches in Coire Garbh stood in defiance of the mid-day, late-summer heat, before the pyramid of Cairn Toul.

▲ From the summit of the Lairig Ghru

We stopped for a while to rest at the Pools of Dee, which Magnus was determined to swim in (which he did, though not for long, it was apparently cold!). The day’s walking was warm, and it was a relief to finally catch sight of Corrour Bothy, our accommodation for the night. The bothy itself was uninhabited when we arrived, and we were the first group of the day to pitch-up (apparently caution still abounded about sharing space in bothies in these days of COVID, as nobody actually stayed in it overnight). We spent the evening in and around the bothy, glad of it as a shelter from the midges which arrived in the early evening with the loss of the last breeze. I’d brought a Bluetooth speaker, and Magnus found a trivia card game in the bothy to pass the hours. It was here that I discovered that I’d dropped part of my tripod, but nevertheless I attempted some “astrophotography” by propping the camera against a stone.

The Milky Way, and the night sky with the silouette of a mountain in the foreground.
▲ The Milky Way rises over the Devil's Point

The start the next morning was quite early, and initially clear, though there was cloud rolling in from the northern end of the Lairig which we figured would burn off soon. We started the climb straight from the bothy towards the bealach which joins Bod an Deamhain (the Devil’s Point), and Cairn Toul. At the bealach cairn we dropped our bags and made the ascent quickly up the conical summit of the Devil’s Point, rewarded with a fine view over the Dee and out towards the Glen Feshie hills. We dropped back to the bealach, gathered our rucksacks, and began what would be an arduous climb up Cairn Toul’s pyramid-like summit, 360m above the bealach. My first 4000-er. Having achieved this great height (it’s the fourth highest hill in Great Britain) we wouldn’t drop below the kilometre mark for several hours. The cloud was clearly closing-in around Macdui by now too.

In comparison to the effort of getting here, the walk across to Sgorr an Lochan Uaine was a jaunt, and only the rather fine character of the summit can really justify its place in the 1997 intake of summits to the List. From here the walk would start to become more… adventurous.

▲ Cloud rolls through the Lairig Ghru

As we walked around the top of the Coire Garbh we could see the cloud closing around Braeriach itself, which we were headed straight for. The walk over the plateau was perhaps less beautiful and even less featureless than it might otherwise have been! The need to remain wary of the considerable cliffs to our right, while managing a fair amount of fatigue certainly added to the feeling that this was something of an epic trip. With a little faith in compass bearings we did manage to find Braeriach’s summit, right on the edge of a cliff, having crossed much plateau and the Wells of Dee. (I’m still intrigued that a spring can exist this high up, and one day I need to annoy a hydrologist about it). They were an impressive stream even on the plateau.

We were flagging at this stage, though the knowledge (mistaken) that it was “all downhill from here” was welcome (and highly mistaken). The descent over the Sron na Lairig was long, and the steep descent to the floor of the Lairig was welcome, thought the eagerly anticipated rest at the bottom was curtailed by a swarm of midges, and we managed perhaps the fastest pace of the day trying to escape towards any kind of breeze.

The final climb back to the Gap was pretty miserable; we found ourselves once again in the cloud, and crossing the boulder field was slippery and precarious. The final walk out seemed to last an age, but the sight of the car at the end was one of those great moments of life—in league with years before when I’d hiked through Glen Sligachan on a swelteringly hot day and caught sight of the hotel. There were embraces and much jubilation after a job well done.

We had taken longer than we’d anticiapted, and we got back to Aviemore to find that nowhere was still serving food, and even the Tesco was shut. We managed to summon up a little luck finding the fancy M&S garage open, and came out with a selection which probably couldn’t be described as high-performance nutrition. We camped in Kingussie again that night.

The next morning I decided that I’d head back to Glasgow rather than hang around. I was tired, and Magnus had hurt his ankle the day before; we’d had vague plans of trying to do the Glen Feshie hills if we were fresh enough. We weren’t. Instead we headed around to Loch Morlich, got lunch, and swam (albeit briefly).

The river Dee running through the valley below the Devil's Point
▲ The Dee from the Devil's Point

092: Meall Chuaich

The weather forecast was looking promising for one final trip this summer, and a logical choice was heading back out to that expanse of mountains surrounding Rannoch Moor. In comparison to some previous trips this one needed a little planning. The journey in to Ben Alder is along a long forestry and estate road. It was an obvious candidate for bringing a bike to substantially ease the speed of ingress, but getting a reservation for the bike on the train proved a challenge, and it took considerable efforts at the Queen Street Station travel centre to find a suitable route to get one me and one bike to Dalwhinnie (and back).

The morning after that trip to the travel centre I set out with the mountain bike, fully loaded, to catch the 1041 to Perth. Stowing the bike in one of the renovated HSTs proved challenging—bikes need to hang up in a cupboard, and the outsized handle bars managed to use the entire space. Fortunately nobody else showed up with a bike for the other space. I had a brief wait in Perth for my connection, but the next train had easier stowage, albeit with a little shuffling to put my bike behind another passenger’s who was getting off at Blair Atholl. I was on the second leg of the trip, and on a rail line I didn’t know at all well, due at Dalwhinnie for around 1pm.

It was too late to expect to cover much ground in the hills around Ben Alder that afternoon, so I decided to head out to Meall Chuaich, which lies just to the north east of the village. It was a fairly quick cycle up a rather rough landrover track which runs alongside the canal carrying water down from Quaich reservoir, but the quality of the path improves markedly after a couple of kilometres.

Arriving at the end of the path I spotted lots of brightly-coloured boxes which turned out to be beehives, clearly involve din the production of heather honey. The buzzing was impressive!

I ditched the bike close to the bottom of what looked vaguely like a path, and quickly started the climb. I can’t claim that the climb itself was the most thrilling, but the views from the hill became increasingly spectacular as I neared the top, looking off towards Ben Alder, which looked concerningly distant in the West. Once I reached the summit the entire Cairngorm plateau became visible over to the East.

It was at this point that the walk developed a new character. I reached into my bag for my phone so that I could get a photo, only to discover its absence. A rather fraught descent followed, in which I attempted to use my bike GPS unit’s bluetooth connection to search for my phone, and tried to precisely retrace my steps. The result of all this must be one of the fastest and least relaxed descents I’ve yet managed. The phone showed up, although not immediately on getting back to the bike. I searched the bike bags, only to eventually find it embedded in some heather. In the middle of the bike wheel. It was not a good year for keeping hold of objects in the hills…

A fairly swift, downhill, and relieved ride followed, back into Dalwhinnie before 5pm where I got coffee and a slice of cake before continuing out into the wilds, taking the long path along Loch Ericht, towards Culra Bothy. The afternoon was warm, and I was quickly realising that the cycle out to my camp was likely to be a little more arduous than I’d initially invisaged.

One of the great dramas in Scottish outdoors circles this year was the closure of the level crossing in Dalwhinnie onto the Ben Alder road, next to the station. I was fortunate to be on the bike, since it added an extra mile’s diversion which might have chafed a little had I been on foot!

The start of the ride followed a fairly good gravel road up to an ornate gatehouse which guards the road into the estate. There’s a turnstile for walkers, but it was not at all clear how a bike was to get past, and it took a little investigation to discover that bikes are expected to ride along the verge to one side. The road continues along the bank of Loch Ericht, through a forestry plantation which was being actively worked, and producing considerable traffic The route passed a couple of rather grand buildings, including the lodge house itself, before passing into more open ground, and away from the loch shore.

The road peters-out into a rougher landrover track here, and the going gets tougher. I didn’t manage to find the more direct walkers’ path so continued across to the shore of Loch Pattack, where the road crosses the beach, becomes somewhat amphibious, and finally reaches a ford. The ford is avoided on bike by means of a suspension bridge which has… seen better days. Crossing this with a heavy, laden mountain bike proved to be an entertainment, but infact went by without incident. It was then a short ride onwards to the bothy.

From a little distance off I spotted what appeared to be a lot of brightly-coloured objects arrayed about the grass, and it took me a few moments to realise that I’d headed deep into the wilderness only to encounter the busiest campsite I’d seen since before COVID. I found a spot and pitched quickly while there was still a little breeze, and found some freshwater at the intake for the large shooting lodge which somewhat overshadows the abandoned bothy.

I settled-down for an early night, and an early start to the next day.

093 - 098: Ben Alder Forest

▲ An ocean of cloud

After the previous day’s adventures I managed to get up around six, hoping to get the bulk of the climb in the cool early morning, but woke to find myself in thick fog. The climb onto the main ridge was pathless and through heather: overall just energy-draining stuff, with no views to be had. After what must have been twenty solid minutes of climbing things brightened-up, and when I thought to actually look behind me I was rewarded with the most extensive cloud inversion I’ve ever seen. The tops of dozens of hills stood like islands in a great white ocean. From here the climb felt easier, and before too logn I had reached the fairly uninspiring peak of Carn Dearg, and found myself putting on a little speed over to Gael-Charn, whose peak lay at the edge of an extensive plateau, reminiscent of Braeriach.

The crossing was not without its own minor drama when I remembered that one of the summits was a deviation from the straight line path, and had to get the map out to persuade myself that I didn’t need to go back for Carn Dearg.

The climb up Gael-Charns’s summit also involved the only scrambling I’d be doing that day (despite there being some famed scrambling routes in this part of the Highlands, I still tend to shy away from anything I can avoid when I’m on my own), up a rocky outcrop on the ridge. The route then continued on across another short ridge to the summit of Aonach Beag, possibly competing for my fastest successive summits. The climb to Beinn Eibhinn, the last on this ridgeline, was a little more taxing, though gave a good view of the largely-pathless descent into the Coire Odhar between me and Ben Alder. Teh summit was had easily, however, and while the descent was pathless it was dry, and the burn running out of Eibhinn allowed me to refill my bottles which had been diminished by the considerable heat!

The miodges were out in force in the bog at the bottom of the coire, so I pressed on up the slopes of Ben Alder, finding a trail 50 metres or so up above the river which runs down to Loch Ossian, stopping there for lunch.

There was now just one real climb remaining, though it was going to be big, and the day had been long already. I took my time over lunch before setting off on yet another pathless climb. At around 1000m the slope changed, and opened out into another vast gently sloping plateau, with a choice of potential summits in the heat haze. The last mile or so to the summit cairn and shelter seemed to draw out for an age—much like that other plateau on Braeriach. Ben Alder is aconsiderable and imposing massif, and the walk off it was gentle heading towards Beinn a’ Bhoile.

Here I found myself in need of a boost, and opened one of the two packets of Wine Gums I was carrying. The descent back to the glen was quite quick, and for much of it I had the great luxury of a path! The descent route eventually rejoins the more considerable trail I had sat at for lunch, and heads back down to the river by which I’d pitched the tent, which is conveniently crossed by a footbridge.

I quickly packed the tent, for what would turn out to be the final time this year, loaded-up the bike, and made the reverse of yesterday afternoon’s trip. I made it back to Dalwhinnie in good time, got a hot meal (macaroni cheese) in the Ben Alder hotel, and went to the village pub to wait for the rather late train I was booked on (which was fortunately direct this time!). I got back to Glasgow a little after midnight, and Munroing for 2021 was concluded.

2022

Had my planning and free-time been better I might have managed to make it to my first hundred by the end of 2021, but a few vague plans never worked out, and I didn’t quite persuade myself to try climbing a hill under winter conditions. And so it was, that number ninety-nine would end up happening in 2022.

099: Mount Keen

The spring had arrived. For the last couple of weeks we’d had a run of warm(ish) dry, and sunny weather, and the hills had been calling. WhatsApp messages were exchanged, and plans were hatched; I found myself working on the train from Glasgow to Aberdeen one Friday afternoon.

Snow was still lying on the higher hills, but we took a little risk with Mount Keen. I’d been enthusiastic (keen, indeed…) to find a way to get to this hill for a while. It’s an annoying one when you’re based in Glasgow, being a singleton which isn’t even on the way to other hills. Fortunately Magnus had moved up to Aberdeen last year, and it made sense to combine a visit with starting the year’s Munroing in Angus.

We left Aberdeen fairly early, and got to the carpark at the bottom of Glen Esk, after passing through Edzell, and past The Burn, an old mansion which is owned by the University of Glasgow, where, many years before our undergraduate cohort spent a weekend notionally learning about observational astronomy, but, in reality, spending relatively little time near telescopes (though I did catch my first sight of the aurora borealis here). There were plenty of cars there already, and plenty of mountain bikes were being unloaded, and a few hillrunners getting ready to set out. I’d agreed not to run this one, which my legs were probably rather grateful of.

Even before 10am, as we set out, it was warm; I set out just in a t-shirt, despite it being March. Soon I was regretting not wearing shorts.

It would be easy to describe Mount Keen as an uninteresting hill, and, in many respects it is. The walk in through Glen Esk was long, though a good bit shorter than heading through Glen Tanar from the north. A descent fraction of the ascent comes over around four miles of fairly gentle incline. Around three miles along the rather substantial landrover track stands the distinctive Queen’s Well, a curious structure built around a spring from which Queen Victoria is supposed to have stopped for water. The walk continues to climb for another mile or so, before ascending via a few switchbacks to a bealach (though, I suppose really this is the mounth rather than a bealach). Eventually the path divides, with the track heading off to the left, following the old drove road heading north, and our path to the summit heading right. The path slowly starts to steepen, before heading into a stretch around 500-600m long where a couple of hundred metres are climbed. This was probably the steepest terrain of the day, but compared to most Munros (or even many much smaller hills) the entire ascent was easy.

The summit, like the walk itself, was busy; we’d clearly not been alone in thinking that the early spring weather couldn’t be wasted. The view was spectacular, out towards the main plateau, still white with snow, and across the mounth to Lochnagar, which was itself still wearing spectacular winter plumage despite not being very much higher than our current snow-free vantage. We stopped for twenty minutes to have some food before heading for the descent.

We had a bit of a breeze heading down, which was very welcome; the temperature was well into the teens at this point, and even after a mild winter neither of us were acclimatised to this sort of thing. As we walked back down we spotted smoke billowing up from further down the Glen—heather being burned. It seemed like a bad time to choose to do it, when everything was as dry as this, and wildfires had been happening across the country (including on Ben Lomond earlier in the week).

Otherwise, the descent was fairly unremarkable, and we made it back to the car a little under four hours after leaving. We went back to Aberdeen via the beach, and I was on the train back to Glasgow before 6pm, heading back for an early night to make up for the clocks going forward overnight. Perhaps 99 wasn’t to be the world’s most exciting hill, but it was at least remarkable in being the earliest I’ve climbed one in the year, and completed the 7th section of Munro’s tables for me.

▲ The panorama across the Mounth from the summit of Mount Keen.
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