Mount Keen

19 February 2012

27.1 km/972 m/07:00 hrs

Munro: Mount Keen (No. 213)

After my last walk in Glen Affric my legs needed several days to recover, and I clearly had to get used to walking longer distances again (25+ km). The weather during my last days off had not been good, with low cloud and drizzle, but I still wanted to get out for a walk.

On Saturday 11 February, I took the bus to Kingussie and walked to Aviemore, where I had a bar meal at the Cairngorm Hotel before I got a train back to Inverness. My route combined the last two stages of the East Highland Way (starting in Kingussie instead of Newtonmore, because I had walked the cycle path between the two villages during the TGO Challenge and didn’t find it worth repeating), the statistics were: 28.8 km/322 m/07:00 hrs.

Maybe it was due to the dull and grey weather, and the fact that I walked the last two hours or so in the rain, but I didn’t find this walk very inspiring, that’s why there will be no photos and no trip report.

A week later, things were looking different: The weather was supposed to be nice on the Sunday, although before that there would be a cold front with snow and ice moving east. I wanted to climb Mount Keen, the most easterly Munro, but I was dreading the long drive to Ballater in wintry conditions. So I left on the Saturday around midday, hoping to be ahead of the weather – I didn’t quite manage, I was driving through snow showers for most of the way, but the roads were still dry and I made it safely to Ballater. I spent the afternoon in the pub at the Balmoral Hotel (with free WiFi and the best haddock and chips I had in a long time), until it was time to check into the excellent Schoolhouse Hostel.

The next morning, there was a thin cover of fresh snow and it was very cold. I drove to Aboyne and then to the end of the road in Glen Tanar, very carefully as there were some icy patches on the road. Even in the car park, the wind was strong and so cold that I put a fleece on as an extra layer.

As soon as I reached the shelter of the trees on the path along the Water of Tanar, it didn’t feel so cold anymore and the walk in the morning sun became very pleasant.

Soon I reached the Half Way Hut, a small wooden shelter in the forest. It seemed too early for a break, so I just had a quick look inside.

After two old stone bridges in the glen, a more contemporary version just before the ascent to Mount Keen.

Looking back into Glen Tanar.

At this point I noticed a large party of walkers near the bridge in the glen. A few minutes later, the first two members of this group caught up with me, overtook me and disappeared into the distance. All this seemingly effortless, while I was struggling to catch my breath…

When I remarked to the rest of the group how incredibly fit these guys must be, they told me that they were actually training for a competition, something along the lines of “The West Highland Way in 24 hours” (later I found out they probably referred to the Caledonian Challenge) – at least that explained it and made me feel slightly better!

Group of walkers coming up the broad ridge.

The last part of the ascent was on steep rocks, covered with a thin layer of snow. It was also very windy, but thankfully it was a tailwind.

Soon after, I arrived at the frosty summit.

The other walkers were sitting a few metres behind the trig point, having a lunch break sheltered from the wind, but I found it so cold that I didn’t hang around for long.

After I had taken a few photos, holding on to the trig point because I was almost blown over by the wind, I made my way back down the ridge.

Some walkers who had come up from Glen Esk.

On the way down, I was hit by a headwind which was so cold that it felt as if my nose would freeze anytime soon – as I had no buff with me I tried to pull the collar of my fleece up and over my nose, and only when I got a bit further down the ridge, the pain slowly began to ease.

But the views made up for it – Lochnagar in the sunshine, under the dark clouds.

The Cairngorms.

I had a late lunch break, sitting on one of the stone bridges in the sun – a lot nicer than it had been on the summit! The walk back along Glen Tanar was as pleasant as it had been in the morning, it was even warmer now and the snow had melted.

The drive back home was uneventful, as the roads were clear of ice after the rise in temperature during the day.

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