Slide away

Approaching the summit of Carn na Leitire over a blanket of snow.

“You’re making it hard for yourself,” she told me, and it was difficult to argue. Here I was, not much more than a couple of miles into what is usually a straightforward short run, battling through the deep snow and making slow progress.

The couple I met coming the other way – the only people I saw beyond a small radius from the car park – were in their element. At first I thought they were walking with poles for support but as they approached I could see they were on skis.

What a great idea! They were following the forestry track from Abriachan and heading in the direction of Drumnadrochit. I had decided to come this way after climbing Carn na Leitire – the low summit above the community-run forest at Abriachan – hoping that a vehicle may have been over the track to make the going a bit easier than it had been so far.

My trip began with a mission to get the Christmas tree. For the last couple of years we have got ours  here to support Abriachan Forest Trust, which thins the woodland, selling off the pines as Christmas trees, as well as offering some other hand-made wooden artefacts to get you in the Christmas spirit.

Being freshly cut, they last through the season and the smell is divine! It’s also a great experience to come here rather than a supermarket or garden centre in the run-up to Christmas.

Having selected the perfect tree – in my opinion, if not necessarily my wife’s – I strapped it to the roofbars and got ready to head up into the hills.

I know the paths well here but the deep snow meant there was little sign of them. From the car park it was easy enough to follow the footsteps down to the Arc (a super little tree house that the kids love playing in) and then right to pass the round house.

Going left here it was tough running through the snow despite the trail having already been blazed. I kept left where the mountain bike and walking routes fork, the cycle track hidden below the untouched snow.

It never fails to amaze me how tough this climb is in the best of conditions. Running all the way to the top is nigh on impossible when it’s clear, so today it was never going to happen. I trudged upwards through the snow, bashing up steps to eventually reach the signpost that marks the way to Carn na Leitire.

The artwork as you reach the Peat Path from the descent of Carn na Leitire.

The view back looks over Beinn a’ Bhathaich Ard, the Fannichs and Ben Wyvis, all of which were looking spectacular in their winter coats.

Heading left up onto the summit plateau, the covering here was impressive too. A lone set of footprints, probably a day or two old, led all the way to the summit cairn, aiding progress to the 434m top. After taking in the remarkable isolated surroundings, I followed them down the other path that leads vaguely south-east towards Loch Ness.

Tempted to make my own way through the virgin snow, I cut adrift from the ploughed furrow and went off-piste on a different course – which saved neither time nor energy – and I eventually met up with the footprints again as the route started to descend more steeply to reach the Peat Path at an artwork made up of four tall posts, a perfect navigational aid in the deep snow.

Checking the map, I decided there was a better chance of making progress on the forestry track rather than following the Peat Path, so I opted for the slightly longer route, going left towards Balchraggan then cutting right at the next signpost, marked for Whisky Still and Great Glen Way.

A snow-covered tractor at the edge of the Great Glen Way track.

This path was on untrampled snow but the route was clear to follow, so I had great fun breaking the trail for this little stretch to reach the track. Unfortunately for me, my hopes of a vehicle having made things a bit easier turned out to be unfounded, so I followed another lone set of footprints right.

The aforementioned whisky still is left down the next path, one of my favourite little descents around the Abriachan trails, but I decided there was no time for a potentially time-consuming diversion today with children waiting at home for their Christmas tree.

I continued on the track, merging onto the Great Glen Way which still offered no respite from the deep, energy-sapping snow. Battling along, I was making slow progress when I came across the couple skiing. They were adapted perfectly to the conditions and were enjoying the day, knowing there was a thaw forecast shortly.

Following ski tracks on the return to the forest car park at Abriachan.

Funnily enough, I had been talking recently about learning cross-country skiing with a friend of mine this winter. This brief encounter has made me realise the advantages of being ready to slide through the snow at short notice, when conditions allow. So maybe next time, I won’t make it so hard for myself… whenever the snow returns, that is.

Route details

Carn na Leitire and the Great Glen Way
Distance 4.25 miles / 7km
Terrain Snow! When clear, paths are mostly well-made and straightforward to follow, with occasional waymarkers
Start/finish Abriachan Forest Trust car park
Map Abriachan Trailmap (www.trailmaps.biz)
A short run turned into a bigger outing thanks to wintry conditions

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