Published 28th May 2019, 20:02

    THAT old adage about there being no such thing as a dull hill certainly has its work cut out when it comes to the high points in Glenshee.

    The journey over the A93 hardly inspires the mountaineer; rounded, heather-clad slopes rising amid the ugly clutter and debris of the ski centre. For most, it's a necessary evil en route to the greater riches of the Cairngorms.

    A cursory visit on a clear summer's day doesn't tell the story, however. Take the time to look beyond the bland, treeless frontage and there are great rewards to be found in these hills. There may not be any soaring summits to match the likes of Glen Coe or Glen Shiel, but these desolate, open spaces should not be written off or underestimated.

    The temptation to link big Munro rounds in relatively short times is the biggest draw for the majority, but the linking routes cross exposed, featureless plateaux that can be confusing in mist or snow, dangerous when swept by storms.

    The seemingly benign nature of the contours is a false front. There are deep glens taking huge bites out of the landscape, steep faces and crags guarding the flanks, Caenlochan and Canness on the eastern edges, Coire Loch Kander and Glen Callater to the north.

    The Glenshee and Mounth hills are intersected by old drovers' roads – the Monega Pass is the highest – and you can't help but admire the tenacity and endurance of the people who brought their cattle to market through such harsh, high lands. The routes were the favourite passage of smugglers, and also of reivers intent on relieving others of their cargo. 

    We had intended traversing six summits, but with the weather showing more bite in early May than it had in February, we had to stick to shorter days. With laden grey skies and a great white blanket on the ground, it seemed appropriate to head up Glas Maol from the front and reach the top while we could still count on the odd spots of blue. 

    Ten minutes after leaving the cairn, we were overtaken on the connecting ridge to Creag Leacach by falling snow, our gait made awkward by the snow build-up along the rough wall and the iced rocks.

    The drop down among the boulders was cautious at first in zero visibility, slippery, melting snow then adding to unsteady steps. The final section of path down the side of the stream showed the scars of some recent subsidence, at one point a whole tree uprooted and balanced on high rocks above the water.

    The forecast for the next day was promising, rising temperatures and a much-needed appearance of the sun, but as we drove from our base in Braemar into a disappearing landscape it looked as if we would be the victims of some cruel trick. The wind obviously hadn't got the memo either; it was still whipping round our faces, threatening to remove the top layers of skin. 

    We were surprised to be greeted by thick ice at the summit of Carn an Tuirc. Just as some of the party were thinking about turning back, it all changed with the flick of the switch.

    The depth of the snow on the haul over to Cairn of Claise was still prodigious for May, but the sudden rise in temperature meant we had a good sweat on by the time we hit the cairn. The dark sweep of the crags at the back of Glas Maol is always impressive, even more so when plastered with snow. 

    Our next objectives, the twins of Tolmount and Tom Buidhe, were mere swellings on the horizon, the Lochnagar gang of five towering over them to give a false sense of perspective. The path winding through the bog to their slopes was buried, so there was a lot of careful picking through hags and round small lochans. I took a shorter line on the angle to the summit, and almost instantly regretted it, wading thigh-deep at times.

    The effort was worth it, the white tops of the Cairngorms lined up in the distance. By the time we were at the cairn on Tom Buidhe, the sun was at full force and the big melt was on, both for the snow and ourselves.

    We stripped layers on the long bog trot across to pick up the Monega track. This is a section which seems to go on interminably for weary legs and minds, and in poor weather it needs accurate compass work to avoid going astray.

    I have become something of an expert in bog hopping recently – I put it down to the Grahams – but it was hard not to hear the distant grumbling from those who felt their day was over with that fourth tick.

    We swung right away from Glas Maol and any implied mutiny was quelled by the sight of the road a short hop down to the north-east. I wonder if the drovers had the same problem?