Wednesday 21 January 2015

Snowshoes on Geal-charn Mor

View across Strathspey to the Cairngorms

Geal-charn Mor, the big white hill, has been living up to its name in recent days, but then, so have all the other hills in the Highlands as there is snow from the glens to the summits and temperatures have stayed below freezing.  This is a good hill for a half-day trip if, as I was, you’re in Aviemore with an afternoon free. Not setting off until two hours before sunset I knew I’d be descending in the dark but with a good track to follow this would be easy.

Near the top of the woods.
Geal-charn Mor lies at the south-eastern end of the Monadh Liath in the region known as the Kinveachy Forest. At 824 metres high it’s a Corbett – a Scottish hill between 762 and 914.4 metres (the unusual range stemming from the old measurements when the list was compiled – hills between 2,500 and 3,000 feet). It’s not a very distinctive hill itself but the views across Strathspey to the Cairngorms and west over the Monadh Liath are superb. I think it’s at its best under snow when it has an arctic tundra-like feel.
Light & Shade

An off-road vehicle track known as the Burma Road cuts across the eastern shoulder of the hill and this was my route for the day. It was completely snow-covered but a tracked vehicle had been along it, leaving packed ruts that made walking fairly easy. The woods were silent and dark but above the sky was blue and as they thinned out the views opened up with the Cairngorms shining in the cold sunlight. 

I was carrying snowshoes but didn’t initially put them on. A couple coming down told me the snow was deep in places and they didn’t think they’d have got far without the vehicle tracks. For me those tracks were actually making the ascent more difficult, as I discovered when I eventually stopped and put my snowshoes on and found that even in the ruts they made progress much easier. I kept them on for the rest of the ascent and all the way back to the car.
The Monadh Liath are mostly gentle, rounded hills without the mountainous terrain of the Cairngorms. Even so care is needed when they are snow-covered. Across the Allt Dubh glen I could see a cornice along the steep north face of shadowed Creag Ghleannain with many little snow slides below it. A ski track cut right across the slope.
Creag Ghleannain
Higher up the snow was wind-blown, filling hollows and creating deep drifts. At the high point of the track I left it for the slopes leading to the summit. Here the wind had scoured the snow, leaving the crest of the broad ridge almost snow-free and with many stones and grasses visible. I kept to the south side, where the snow had drifted, but still had to cross many bare areas. The snowshoes had an advantage here as I didn’t need to remove them. I’d have been carrying skis.

Hints of Colour

I’d hoped for a colourful sunset and there were hints of one long before I reached the summit cairn. However there was thick cloud in the west that I couldn’t see and the sun soon vanished into this. I reached the top with a stark cold colourless landscape stretching out all around and a chill wind sweeping over it. I didn’t linger and was soon following my tracks back to the Burma Road and the shelter of the woods.

The summit of Geal-charn Mor

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