Monday, 5 November 2012

Ben Alder Munros, Oct'12

This was our second of two bike and hike trips to the gloriously remote region of Ben Alder and the surrounding Munros, this one being led by Tom Challands. Here's his writeup of the days, enjoy !

Setting off from Dalwhinnie railway station late on Friday afternoon, the two hour bike ride along Loch Ericht and then inland to Loch Pattack and finally Culra bothy, was a delightful way start the weekend. Our path was lit by a bright moon so lights were not needed until our arrival at the bothy. With uncanny precision, upon our arrival the moon clouded over and we were soon pitching our tents outside the bothy in an icy snow shower. Nothing that a good meal and hot drink couldn't sort out and with eager thoughts of the following day's walk we bedded down for the night in our downy cocoons.

Saturday morning was one of the most perfectly crisp autumn days imaginable. Our objective for the day was the four Munros north of Ben Alder; Carn Dearg, Geal Charn, Aonach Beag and Beinn Eibhinn. As we ascended the grassy slopes of Carn Dearg behind Culra bothy, the rising sun to the east mirrored off the myriad boggy pools beyond the Allt a' Chaoil-reidhe. The summit ridge was dusted with snow and hoar frost clung desperately to the summit cairn but the crisp cold was more than compensated for by the glorious sun and the view north to Beinn a' Chlachair.

Wispy summit cloud spilled from the top of Geal Charn into Loch an Sgoir as we ascended the narrow ridge to its broad summit plateau. By now the wind had picked up a bit so, after customary summit jubilations, we moved on to more sheltered environs for a quick bite to eat in the direction of the bealach between Geal Charn and Aonach Beag. Soon enough, Aonach Beag had been bagged and so on to our final peak of the day, Beinn Eibhinn.

The cloud had cleared from the summits by now but that which remained was looking more sombre in colour. Alas, the view from Beinn Eibhinn was not fine but all were in good spirits and feeling strong for our descent down the south east spur of Beinn Eibhinn and on to the Bealach Dubh and towards our campsite at Culra bothy. No sooner had we reached the path, it started to snow. By the time we had descended to the bothy the snow had turned to rain and the wind had picked up and the scene was set for the forthcoming day.

Wind and rain battered against the tent flysheets throughout the night but after such a rewarding day in the hills we all slept well and were warm and dry despite the weather outside. Come the morning the weather hadn't relented much but really wasn't as bad as it had sounded from inside the tent. We arose early, took tents down and began our ascent of Beinn Bheoil by following the good path up to Bealach Beithe. Before reaching Loch a Bealach Beithe we took a sharp left and followed a poor path, which soon petered out, to gain the broad ridge to north of Beinn Bheoil. The wind was gusting and there was considerable buffeting but still onwards all six of moved until we had achieved our first summit of the day. Few words were exchanged in the sleet and wind, the onus was to continue steadily on and make our way to our highest peak of the weekend, Ben Alder (1148m).

Lunch was taken behind a rocky bluff among the peat hags of Bealach Breabag before tackling the steep and abrupt ascent onto the Ben Alder plateau. Rather than weaving in and out of steep rocky ground immediately to the west of Bealach Breabag, we chose to contour around to the southwest to grassier slopes and make our ascent by that route. Despite the rise in temperature overnight, there was still a fair amount of ice on north and easterly aspects. Add rock to the equation and our alternative route choice was doubtless the safest, easiest and fastest line onto the summit of Ben Alder. A little under and hour and a half later saw us standing on the broad summit cairn of Ben Alder, but not for long. The wind was still blowing and the sleet was still slowly working its way through our 'waterproofs' so off we made.

Despite the quickest route back to Culra bothy being by the Long Leachas to the north, as the previous week's group had done, the inclement weather and poor visibility saw us navigating off across the plateau to the west to descend down the broad grassy western flank of Ben Alder and back along the return route through the Bealach Dubh. Stray slightly north of west and you run the risk of heading over the cliffs in Coire na h-Eiginn, stray slightly too far south and you'll end up south of Ben Alder with a long walk out. The window to reach the western grassy slopes is pretty narrow, only about 300m, and navigation is made slightly more difficult by how featureless the plateau is. Needless to say, we had no problem finding that window and we were soon back at Culra to pick up our tents and begin the long cycle out.

Fortunately we didn't encounter the crap lying beneath the wire bridge that the previous group had, it must have been washed away, but I did happen to chance across an aged, moulding, decaying stool tucked amongst the rocks in the Bealach Breag. It really is unacceptable to leave any waste in the hills, especially human waste. Bury it properly (minimum 6”), burn the paper and/or bag it and carry it out.

By the time we had crossed the wire bridge, the weather had taken a turn for the better and we enjoyed the same moonlit ride as we had on our way into the bothy. Exhausted but elated, all six of us arrived back at Dalwhinnie, dismantled bikes, changed socks and talked eagerly of the meals we were going to eat in the various greasy spoon cafes on the way back to our respective homes. Soon Ben Alder will (hopefully) be blanketed in snow but we were lucky enough to catch it in that magical grey area where winter is trying to take hold but autumn just isn't willing to let go yet.

We've now confirmed next year's trip for 12-14 April. If you're interested in joining us, then more details are here .