Today we tackled our first hike of the trip. After reviewing a couple of possible climbs in the surrounding area we chose Mount Blair in lower Glen Shee and Glen Isla, and sitting midway between Pitlochry and Kirriemuir.
For those who are unfamiliar with the grading of hills in Scotland a graham is a separate mountain over 2000 feet. Grahams are named after Fiona Torbet (nee Graham) who published a list of these peaks in the early 1990s. (Anything over 2,500 feet is named a Corbett and peaks over 3,000 feet are called Munros).
This was only our third attempt at, what is for us, a major climb. We climbed Carn Daimh on our last visit to Scotland but that was just a baby at under 600 metres and last year we tackled Australia's highest - Mount Kosciuszko (but while this is a serious mountain at 7,310 feet we started our climb from the ski-lift top station, not from the bottom!)
The day dawned fine and there was no forecast of rain so we packed our gear, togged up and drove out to the border of Perthshire and Angus, where an unprepossessing lay-by on the B951, just big enough for 2 cars, was our starting point.
The drive took us through beautiful countryside and a serendipitous wrong turn took us to our destination. For once, luck was with us because if we had followed the intended route we would have encountered a blocked road and had to double back to end up on the road we so fortuitously followed by mistake. As we neared Glen Isla and Glen Shee we realised that the monster hill rearing before us topped by a radio mast was, indeed, our target. The word that sprang to mind was "daunting". This b***** was steep!
I will quote Alex's confident statement on the gradient: "It's alright. The tracks never go straight up the side." Wrong! In this case the track did not wind or meander leisurely up to the summit - it went in almost a straight line from bottom to top, bar a couple of minor zig zags to follow the path of least resistance.
Undeterred, we took up our walking poles and went through the gate and joined the sheep in the first field we were to navigate. No gentle introduction here; it was straight into steep terrain. We found there were only two grades on this track - steep and steeper.
It was hard going but we took it at a steady pace, although in some sections I was climbing only 20 paces then resting. I know that I could never have made it without my trusty walking poles. Considering steep inclines have never been my forte, this was a definite challenge! I think the fact that the gradient was unrelenting made it tough, although I'm sure that for some dedicated hill walkers it would be a walk-in-the-park. For us it was a triumph to reach the summit - and we made it in one hour and forty minutes.
The weather was glorious; blue sky and sunshine with a nice cooling breeze. All the way up the view was changing as more and more of the surrounding landscape came into view. Cars quickly started to look like dots in the distance, and the higher we got the more mountains we could see in the distance. At the summit the vista was amazing.
744 metres (2440 feet) high and we had conquered our first graham; ranked 22nd out of 224 in Scotland (and only 60 feet short of being a corbett). Baby steps for seasoned climbers but a huge achievement for two relative beginners.
At the top the wind was cold and cut like a knife. We quickly donned fleeces, beanies and gloves before exploring the summit. Although some cloud had come in it was still clear and in a breath-taking vista we could see all the way across the Cairngorms. Within sight of this peak there are no less than 40 munros, not to mention the numerous corbetts, grahams and marilyns. The appeal of climbing hills becomes blatantly obvious and the desire to climb still higher and higher peaks is something I can now understand. It's a bit like chocolate - you can't stop at one!
We sat in the shelter of the semi-circular toposcope to eat lunch and take a short rest before starting the descent. (The steepness of the gradient meant getting down was almost as great a challenge as getting up). Refuelled we took photos and explored every angle of the 360 degree view before contemplating the trek down. We saw a bird, definitely a raptor, hovering in the sky but were unable to get a photo of it. It was possibly a buzzard but it was much larger than we have seen before and, given its size (the thing was huge), we like to think that we may possibly have caught sight of an elusive eagle.
The descent meant that an entirely different set of muscles got a work-out! If calves took a hammering on the way up, thighs and knees got the punishment on the way down. Again, walking poles proved invaluable as it was a case of constantly bracing against the incline. Honestly, to lose one's footing on that slope would be a disaster. But we made it safely with no more than tortured quadriceps, protesting knees and a single blister (should have tightened those laces before starting down!).
The 500 metre walk after exiting the field was a weird experience; the flat, solid surface of bitumen underfoot felt decidedly strange and induced a serious case of "jelly-legs" until confused muscles adapted to the change.
A little weary but elated we headed for home, enjoying a glorious Sunday afternoon drive through the Angus countryside. Mission accomplished - we bagged us a graham!