Take an otherwise uninspiring Munro and do it from a less conventional direction. It’s all to do with the Ice Age, says Ronald Turnbull
IF YOU START from the south, Meall Ghaordaidh is an uninspiring up-and-down from Glen Lochay. It’s a Munro so it must be done if you’re bagging, and this is the shortest way. But the north side of every hill is where the snow lay deep at the end of the Ice Age, and where the little corrie glaciers carved craggy headwalls and steep spurs. The north side was also where the snow was lying today…
Which is why I ignored the convenient Glen Lochay road at the back of Killin. Instead I switched the car heater up all the way and rambled in along Scotland’s longest, loneliest and loveliest glen (it’s official, Sir Walter Scott says so) to tackle Ghaordaidh’s unvisited northern slopes from the lovely Glen Lyon.
Sunrise saw me stopped in an icy lay-by. Calculations based on the prevailing winds of 20,000 years ago, when confronted with the real world as it is today, can sometimes – surprisingly – come out quite right. Across the shadowy valley rose a great mountain of craggy hollows. A couple of spurs make a natural horseshoe route, with steep slopes on the way up and a gently rambling ridgeline.
I had to get a photograph of Meall Ghaordiadh from the lay-by – if only to confront those Munrobaggers who take the guidebook’s “simplest way up” and forget it soon afterwards. They can’t remember doing that dull hill called Meall Ghaordaidh, and when they do remember (prompt: “Perthshire”) they won’t believe this picture is it.
There’s a convenient footbridge across the vigorous river, and a bit of track to the slope foot. Then it’s up rough grassy ground alongside a stream with ice splashes gleaming in the half-light. At the lip of the corrie, my line is up the spur on the left. Here it’s a choice of fairly steep snow on the right, or zigzag straight up, on even steeper snow. The crampon spikes in the snow and turf are reassuring, as is the ice axe in my uphill hand. Beyond my other hand stretches the huge view up Glen Lyon, over one small loch to the long silver stretch of Loch Lyon itself. But below the downhill foot, that last zig-zag took me above a bit of crag…
Half way up, I emerge into the cold golden fire of the winter sun. “Magnificent situation” they call it in the books – this means gosh what a view; it also means ooh it’s a bit steep up here… And like all the best crampon slopes, it gets that little bit steeper at the top. But just as I’m thinking “hmmm, just a bit too steep now…” it bends over flat at the spur top.
And now it’s a gentle ridgeline ramble around the corrie head, over stony bits and snowy bits and the occasional frosted bog. Camera in the hand all the way: wide-angle along Glen Lyon, then screw on the telephoto for the compound pyramid of Lawers. At which point an annoying speck drifts across the lens. Except that the speck seems to have wings, and turns into a golden eagle out enjoying the winter sun. It’s an immutable rule that eagles come over when you’ve just taken the telephoto off again – but on a day that already proved the Ice Age Aspects Principle, it’s only right to contradict the Law of Wrong Lenses.
On this route in summer, the summit is the point where you intersect the straight up-’n’-down from the south and so might meet someone. In winter, having seen one eagle, I could already say that this was to be a day of more eagles than people… The air was still and clear, the snow untrodden, and around the rime-crusted trig point stretched a hundred of Scotland’s mountains.
- Cross River Lyon and take track L to small dam. Head up R of stream to corrie floor.
- Turn L (east) up steep spur to Creag an Tulabhain – or easier slopes off to the R. Follow ridge SE then SW to Meall Ghaordaidh.
- Follow rounded spur down to Meall na Cnap-laraich, then cross moorland SW to Meall Taurnie’s 3rd hump.
- Head down NW for the slight rise to Sron Eanchainne. Drop N, passing down L of plantation to track below.
- Follow track down to Dalchiorlich, keeping L of stream to bypass farm. Follow farm track across River Lyon to road; turn R 2.5km to start