Saturday, July 09, 2011

"Bagging" a couple of Scottish Munros...when a "little" adrenaline is almost a little too much.

Heading up into the "corrie" (cirque).
This was our last Saturday in Scotland, it was free, and there was one more thing we'd hoped to do - we needed to "bag" at least one Munro before returning to Canada. 

The Munros are Scotland's highest mountains and they reside in amazing landscapes carved by glaciers 12,000 years ago. Much to our delight, there are two Munros nearby - Mayar and Driesh - and they are a couple of the popular (and easier) ones to "bag".

The trail begins at the Glen Doll car park, where the Ranger suggested that we fill out a registration card indicating our planned route, estimated time, contact information...colour of clothing. Hmm. As were others, we were then advised to stick to the route we had submitted - no changes.

It's good advice. It's pretty remote.

The trail takes you from the car park, through a forest, and to the edge of the trees where you can look up into the corrie, or the cirque. Leaving the cover of the forest, and taking in the vista ahead - it takes your breath away, as you can see from the pic above. Another hiker we met described the route as "walking into a painting". So true. It looks like a long way to the rugged ascent...and steep, but there is a well worn trail, visible in places in the distance.

Once you leave the forest, the trail winds through the open ground of the cirque for about a kilometre and a half and then climbs to the ridge, the Cairngorm plateau. This section is described in the National Nature Reserves brochure as "a steep mountain trail" - it is. It does quicken the breathing - significantly - but the scenery takes all your focus. There is only the"moment".

Soon after Joan took this rather serene pic, we were back on the trail, when suddenly we heard a very loud "crack" reverberate in the massive bowl. 

A serene moment.
A moment later, it was followed by a violent crashing sound and were startled to look up and see a massive boulder - the size of a Smart Car but with significantly more "tonnage" - hurtling towards us! It carved out massive divots and the earth exploded as it "bounced" down the mountainside. The brochure had mentioned "erratics, some as big as Land Rovers" but it didn't mention that they might unleash themselves on unsuspecting hikers! Mercifully, it passed well away from where we were on the trail, and disappeared, free-falling out of sight. 

It was one of those brief instants in time when you review your entire life while at the same time shaking your head at the impossible odds of anything like this ever happening. And heck, how would you explain what could have happened, to the folks back home. Well actually, that would have been the Ranger's job. :(

Erratics "the size of Land Rovers".
Thinking about the experience, it was almost unimaginable to us that such an immense erratic could have been released from where it had probably rested at its "angle of repose" for thousands of years - except that the past week's torrential rainfall may have been the proverbial "straw" that broke the boulder's will to stay put!

That was: Adrenaline shot # 1.

Regaining our composure, we continued up for another half hour. Finally climbing out of the cirque, it feels as if you must almost be at the summit of the first Munro, Mayar. Not quite, there's still some more hill work to be done, through a clear but boggy area. And then the reward.

Checking the route - 'cause it wasn't obvious to us!
The view from the top is...breathtaking. The hard climb and the close encounter with the tumbling "Smart Car" boulder, is forgotten. After the requisite summit photo, it's off to bag the second Munro, Driesh.

Feels like the top of the world in these parts.
Driesh is only another 3 kilometres away and the elevation loss and gain is not particularly demanding. The route is on a fairly obvious trail but having said that, we missed the turn to the summit and had to do a little backtracking - yeah, even with the help of an Ordnance Survey map (# 44). In addition, it had begun to rain and we could see dark, rather ominous clouds forming over the mountain, and the visibility beginning to deteriorate.

The summit of Driesh (left) with the mist descending.
Suddenly, in the midst of the darkening skies to the south, a rainbow formed, down in the valley - it was really quite remarkable!

The rainbow seemed to be a good omen but then the wind picked up and our "good omen" quickly dissipated.

Last few metres to the summit of Dreish.
Arriving at the summit, we took the second requisite picture when suddenly there was another immense and sharp "crack" - this time it wasn't an "erratic" tumbling down the slopes - the slopes were all below us! 

The summit of Driesh...and now a thunderstorm is approaching!
This time, the reverberating sound came from above - it was lightning, and all too quickly followed by thunder. So here we are at the highest point in the area and a thunderstorm is rapidly approaching.  Hmm...there's something not right about this picture.

That was: Adrenaline shot # 2. (Maybe we're having too much fun now?)

Heading back down the rocky slope, with cautious haste, we were relieved to see the skies lighten again as quickly as they had darkened.

Looking back at the trail descending back into the valley,
just below the top of the ridge.

The trail back and down into the valley.
The rain showers picked up and by the time we got back to the trailhead we were pretty wet - but it didn't matter, it had been a great day with the two Munros providing even more excitement than we had anticipated - and at least two good shots of adrenaline! :)

Pretty nice way to spend a day off in this extraordinary country. And the people on the everyone else we've met in Scotland, in Forfar, and at St. Margaret's - a lot of warmth, hospitality, and high spirits.


Garmin 305 GPS trip log: 5.25 hours, 16.35 km, 922 metres of elevation gain...and 2 shots of adrenaline.


  1. Wow very cool! What a hike to take on for your last day of hiking. Glad you both made it back down in one piece!

  2. Well, your Angels certainly were traveling with both of you :>)- Sheila

  3. If scotch isnt your poison then this adrenaline on the rocks is the next best thing! Ive always looked at large boulders sitting below hills and wondered what it had looked like coming down. yer lucky folk!

  4. Thanks for that, L, yeah it looks like we'll be coming home after all! Haha.

    Hi Sheila, it think it boiled down to just really good luck - to be in the "alley" but not be the "pins" in front of nature's bowling ball!

    "Adrenaline on the rocks" - now that's a great expression, Lee! I love it, thanks for that.

  5. What a wonderful hike and experience with the adrenaline flowing for your last Saturday over there. 5.25 hours of hiking. yikes! Do stay in the flats now so that you can come back safely.

  6. Thanks J, I think that's the last time out for us on this trip but it sure was fun! It'll be back to "training" on Mt Tzouhalem now. :) Duncan.