Cross-Country Ski Towards the Gaick Pass

Having a weekday free and good weather forecast, I looked out my downhill skis and planned on heading to Glenshee for a day’s skiing without the weekend queues. Memories of similar days way back in the past came to mind and I was getting quite excited about the day ahead. Just one problem, the access road seemed to be closed due to … snow! Even later in the evening it was still looking like no progress for the day ahead and rather than gamble on a drive up the following morning, I changed my plan to one of cross-country skiing so I would not be reliant on roads or ski tows.

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My revised plan was to take me up the A9 as far as Drumochter pass where roadside webcams showed good snow levels. From there I had three intended routes I could opt to follow, my favoured being the furthest north and therefore highest too.

A good breakfast on the road up and encouraging signs of snow even as low as Pitlochry had me convinced plan A, ski in to a favourite bothy for lunch with a round of a scenic loch, was possible. Unfortunately though, access by car to the starting point was not possible due to the amount of snow on the access road. I had to backtrack a few miles to the start of plan B with a bit of short-lived disappointment.

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Plan B was to retrace part of a walk I had done a couple of summers ago as I knew the gradient of the approach track should be okay for cross-country skis assuming the snow cover was relatively uniform. As it turned out, I left the track almost immediately on exiting the initial forest section as the hillside above it was gentle enough to ski up and would result in better views and potentially less time in shade.

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Within a few minutes I had gained enough height to be enjoying views to the west, east and south. Only the rising plateau ahead to the north obscured things slightly. Numerous rests to catch breath and cool off, despite it being -7, allowed me to enjoy encounters with the wildlife in the area. At one point I was surprised by the proximity of a hare which seemed undisturbed by my presence. I spent at least five minutes getting closer and closer until I was just four or five feet away, quite an unusual occurrence.

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After this pleasant stop I made my way eastwards across the plateau to try and get a view in to the next glen and to delay my getting to my intended destination of Meall na Spianaig. From that top I got a view in to the narrow pass between the hills An Dun and A’ Chaoirnich which a semi-frozen Loch an Duin lay between.

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By the time I had reached Meall na Spianaig I was pretty hungry from my efforts and for the first time in ages lingered at a top for over half an hour, taking in the views and enjoying the silence. Just about everything about me was white except for the small, wooded area surrounding the ruins of Sronphadruig Lodge below me. With not a breath of wind and some extra layers I was warm enough to just enjoy the sunshine, eat my lunch and was in no real hurry to get back.

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The map showed the way out to be gently downhill all the way, perfect! Actually, it turned out to be a little too steep for my cross-country skis and my lack of skill to begin with resulting in numerous painful wipe outs, which got a bit frustrating. Following this though I had a spell of perfect gradient (for me) which allowed me to glide along effortlessly for a couple of kilometers.

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The final run through the forest with the low sun just visible through the gaps in the trees was taken as slowly as possible to prolong my day before finally setting off for home.

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