Sunday, 3 May 2015

TGOC 2014 - Day 11: Gelder Shiel to Queen's Well

Monday 19th May 2014

A long day walking in the hills of the eastern Mounth, including Conachcraig & Mount Keen 

Distance: 31km; Ascent: 1300m; Warm & sunny, but misty on the tops; Mostly solo

The weather was forecasted to be good today, which was promising as it was due to be my penultimate day up in the hills on this year's crossing.  I had a reasonably leisurely start to the day and found that half the tents had already gone by the time I got up!  And by the time I set off walking just after 9am, there were only a couple of tents remaining.

Just a couple of tents remaining as I set off walking
I followed the riverside path along the Gelder Burn for a few hundred metres before it petered out into the heather.  Therefore I opted to head directly across the rough ground to an area of recently burnt heather and on up to the vehicle track.  Perhaps I should I just taken the slightly longer way round via vehicle tracks instead from the bothy!

Lochnagar from near Gelder Shiel
Last views back to the Cairngorms on the way up Conachcraig
I ascended along the vehicle track for a couple of kilometres, past Little Conachcraig, before deciding that it was time to begin my ascent up to my first hill of the day: Conachcraig.  The ascent was up some pretty steep rough, rocky and heathery ground, so it took a while to pick my way through.  I saw a couple of ptarmigan on my ascent up into the mist; the cloud base was at around 800m so the tops were only just cloud covered!

Eventually I reached the summit of the subsidiary top of Caisteal na Caillich (Corbett Top) at around quarter past eleven.  A reasonably pleasant misty walk over the plateau, punctuated with granite outcrops brought me to the higher summit of Conachcraig (Corbett, Marilyn) around thirty minutes later.

On the summit of Conachcraig
After a quick break I descended SW by way of a path back down to the vehicle track; clearly this was the most popular way to ascend this Corbett!  My pace increased noticeably as I followed the reasonable track down towards Glen Muick.

Heading down the track into Glen Muick
Soon I caught sight of another couple of backpackers ahead of me; I wondered if they were probably challengers too.  I didn't have to wonder too long as I had soon caught up with them and discovered that they were Laura & Louise, who thought I was slightly crazy to have nipped up Conachcraig on route from Gelder Shiel!

In the Glen Muick woods
Louise & Laura approaching Allt-na-giubhsaich
I walked down through the woods with them and past a shuttered up building near Allt-na-giubhsaich to reach the floor of the glen.  A pleasant flat kilometre or so led across the glen and over the River Muick.

Crossing the River Muick
Soon we reached the visitor centre at the Spittal of Glen Muick, where we stopped for lunch on a handy bench outside in the warm sunshine :-).

After a reasonably long and restful break in the sunshine, I decided that I'd better get going again as I still had to get over to the Water of Mark if I was going to fit Mount Keen into my day tomorrow.  Therefore at around 2pm I set off walking up alongside the pleasant Allt Darrarie.  Lynsey and I had previously walked this way back in 2008, during the only few hours of rain of our entire crossing!

The Allt Darrarie
Bridge over the Allt Darrarie
Higher up the path ends around a stream confluence, and I followed the left hand branch of the Burn of Mohamed up onto the peaty and heathery moorland above.  Back in 2008 we'd headed towards the Shielin of Mark, but this time I opted to bypass it and instead aim to pick up the Water of Mark further downstream.

The Burn of Mohamed
The upper part of the Burn of Mohamed
After reaching the headwaters of the Burn of Mohamed, I crossed the peat hags for a few hundred metres before picking up another burn heading SE towards the Water of Mark.  This made for a reasonably pleasant route and I was soon walking downstream along the Water of Mark.

For the first couple of kilometres along the river, I was able to cross at will to pick the easiest line although this was only possible due to the low water level.  As I got further downstream the glen became more well defined with steeper sides, meaning that I was sometimes down at water level and other times picking a way across the heather slopes high up above the burn.

The Water of Mark a couple of km downstream from Shielin of Mark
Looking down Glen Mark
The Water of Mark near Craig Michael, with Mount Keen in the distance
After a lovely couple of hours walking down Glen Mark, I reached my planned halt for the day around the northernmost point of the Water of Mark at 5pm.  However it seemed too early to stop walking on such a wonderful afternoon, and with the tops of the hills forecast to be in cloud tomorrow I decided to press on and climb Mount Keen this evening!

My original plan had been to follow one of the side streams up onto the moorland, but I'd noticed that the slopes of Little Hill seemed to offer a grassy alternative ascent.  This turned out to be quite pleasant initially, but soon turned into rough heathery moorland.  However there were lots of mountain hares bounding around on the moor this evening, which were entertaining to watch :-).

Looking East towards Mount Keen
A hazy view down into Glen Tanar from the NW slopes of Mount Keen
I picked a route across the peaty moorland for a few kilometres to reach the Mounth Road track, which I crossed and ascended to join the track heading up the NW slopes of Mount Keen.  At around half-past seven I reached the trigpoint and summit rocks of Mount Keen (Munro, Marilyn), just as the mist started to descend!  However there were still hazy views down towards Glen Tanar when the mist thinned.

The summit rocks of Mount Keen
On the misty summit of Mount Keen
I had a pleasant rest, savouring my last mountain summit of this year's crossing.  However eventually I decided that perhaps I'd better actually descend off this rocky and windy hill top and actually find somewhere to camp!  A good path led south, past a boundary stone, towards Glen Mark.  A while later this turned into a vehicle track, which I followed down to the Ladder Burn.

Boundary stone on Mount Keen
The track alongside the Ladder Burn
I had wondered whether there might be anywhere to camp alongside this burn, but it all looked to be unpleasantly heathery so I opted to continue my descent towards Glen Mark.  Soon after 9pm I reached Glenmark cottage and headed towards the Queen's Well in search of somewhere to camp.

Looking back to Glenmark cottage at dusk
Looking up Glen Mark at dusk
After deciding that the Queen's Well wasn't really an inviting spot to camp, I finally pitched the tent down near the Water of Mark.  It was now almost 9:30pm and I'd had been walking for over twelve hours so I was now pretty tired!  However it did mean that I was only around 9km away from Tarfside, which would mean for a short day tomorrow :-).

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