Easy is not a word normally associated with Scotland’s Munros, our mountains over 3000 feet in height.
However, some Munros are easier to summit than others, thanks primarily to their location and accessibility.
Carn Aosda and The Cairnwell (An Càrn Bhailg, in Gaelic) are prime examples of this, peaks close to the road – the Cairnwell Pass on the A93 is the highest section of main road in the country – with an elevated starting point from the Glenshee Ski Centre.
The downside is that the pair are peppered in the paraphernalia of the winter sports industry, a chairlift rising to within metres of the top of The Cairnwell, which bristles with telecommunication masts.
On a more positive note, they are an ideal introduction for those new to Munro-bagging and both offer spectacular views over the surrounding upland landscape. And, if you are looking for a quick high, the pair can be climbed in around two hours.
Tempting as the chairlift might have been, I pulled on my sack and set off on foot, across the road and past the ski centre café (open all year) and base station.
At the far end of the building, a broad gravel track climbs steeply alongside the Baddoch Chairlift to the Cairnwell Café where it curves right and continues up, Carn Aosda looming above.
Easy is a relative term and it remains a strenuous hike as the track skirts between drag lifts and the fenced lines of pistes, weaving up the southern flank of the hill. The final section, where two tracks run parallel for a way, is particularly demanding.
The dual carriageway tops out just below the summit and, ignoring a track branching right, I crunched up a path of white granite to stand atop a broad, exposed plateau topped with a sprawling cairn.
Translating from Gaelic as aged or ancient hill, the modern-day outlook from the top of Carn Aosda (pronounced ‘oosta’) is panoramic, extending north towards the mountains of the Cairngorms and east over the peaks of the Angus Glens. To the south, my second mountain of the day beckoned.
A stony track leads south-west, passing under the wires of a couple of ski tows before dipping to the col above Loch Vrotachan, a sheltered stretch of water nestling in the heathery folds of the hillside.
From here, the route scales the northern shoulder of The Cairnwell and, partway up, a path branching right offers an optional detour to a third Munro – Carn a’Gheoidh, which lies to the west. It is a five and a half kilometre there-and-back hike following a clear trail.
Onward to The Cairnwell, the track leads up to the top station of the chairlift from where it is a short climb to the summit, following a line of substantial cairns and the cabling that services the trio of masts encircling a makeshift shelter.
It is not the most scenic of spots but, wandering out to the edge of the plateau, a bird’s eye view over Glen Shee took my mind off the metalwork.
The most direct way off the mountain is to descend below the chairlift, but it is a steep knee-grinder with no clear path, and I opted instead to return along the shoulder to the top of the next tow and canter down the slope here.
1. Cross A93 and proceed along front of ski centre buildings.
2. Turn left and ascend track running parallel to Baddoch Chairlift to Cairnwell Café.
3. Bear right and ascend track for 400m to junction.
4. Turn right and ascend track, curving right higher up and crossing line of ski tow to junction.
5. Turn left and ascend track to T-junction.
6. Ignore track branching right and instead ascend path to Carn Aosda summit. Return to point 6 and follow track south-west, passing tops of ski tows, to junction in col.
7. Ignore track branching left and continue ahead, ascending north shoulder of The Cairnwell to top of Cairnwell T-Bar tow.
8. Continue up shoulder to top station of Cairnwell Chairlift and ascend to summit.
9. Return to point 8 and descend parallel to Cairnwell T-Bar tow to Cairnwell Café then continue down to ski centre.
Distance: 6km/3¾ miles
Time: 2-3 hours
Grading: Short but challenging hike to the exposed summits of two Munros, following good tracks and paths with strenuous ascent initially. Keep dogs under close control to protect ground nesting birds
Start/finish: Glenshee Ski Centre on A93 Blairgowrie to Braemar road (Grid ref: NO 138781). Plenty of car parking
Map: Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 Landranger sheet 43; Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 Explorer sheet OL52
Tourist Information: Perth iCentre, 45 High Street, Perth PH1 5TJ (Tel 01738 450600)
Public transport: None