Monday, 18 August 2014

Ben Alder Munros, Aug'14

‘So how is everyone doing’? It was a question that was eyed with a certain amount of suspicion I suspect. The party had been doing well, had already summitted 4 Munros, and it was only 3pm. Another 2hrs and they’d be sipping tea as the rain and wind continued to lash against the bothy walls...........or would they?

We set off from Dalwhinnie sharply, as the midges were already well active despite being only 4pm. It was sunny, but we knew it wouldn’t last. The forecast for Saturday was appalling, and Sunday simply unspeakable, so it was with some stoicism that Margaret, Joyce, Karl, (oops, Carl ;), Nick, Stuart and I biked the 15k into the Culra area. The lads took the rough track past Loch Pattack, and the ladies the shorter, narrower track. This has been greatly improved since I was last there, but still has its moments. At least they didn’t have a horse try to eat their rucksack as they negotiated the bridge at Pattack!

The tents were up just before the rain started thankfully, and after using the empty bothy for eating, (everyone decided despite the closure due to asbestos, the risk vs the wet was worth it), it was to bed early.

We set off at 07:40 on Saturday, straight up the side of Carn Dearg, and were soon on the summit. The only issue was the wind, which knocked one of the ladies over. The rain varied from heavy, through showery to drizzle, and a challenging day looked in store. Thankfully we got shelter from the Westerly as we ascended the ridge onto Geal-charn, and we realised that with some care and effort, the route was looking a goer. Aonach Beag was quickly dispatched, and also the final target, Beinn Eibhinn, where the guide and a GPS-user had a difference of opinion on the summit, and the guide won, (much to his smug satisfaction).

The sun actually made an appearance briefly as we descended the wet coire towards the path back to Culra, and that was when it happened. The guide had an idea. Why walk back to Culra only to come back tomorrow? Indeed, with that forecast of torrential rain and winds gusting to 80mph, would it even be possible? Let’s use the brighter (though very cold for August, and VERY windy) weather and go for Ben Alder and Beinn Bheoil! That would make it 24+k and over 2100m of ascent and descent. We could ascend the easy but rough ground directly up Coire na h-Eiginn.

There was some real soul-searching in the team. Do I want to come back to do these Munros again? How will I cope with the effort? What about the wind? Do we have a Plan B? One member who had been having some kit issues and was wet through, decided that it was too much, and he headed back, satisfied with his day’s efforts, and wishing us Good Luck. The rest tightened their belts, stiffened their sinews, and off we went. 

It is an unremarkable pull up to Alder’s summit, but the temporary clearing and view made it a very happy summit. The wind really started to blast as we picked our way down to bealach, and one of the party took a nasty slip on greasy boulders which worried everyone for a while until she pronounced just bruises and soldiered on.

We had a strong tail wind as we ascended Sron Coire na h-Iolaire, but this quickly became a vicious cross wind. The bigger men found it challenging, the ladies almost impossible.  I spotted them on the narrow path, and when it widened, held tight to the rucksack of one, whilst she held the other. In this way we progressed slowly but safely to the sixth summit of the long day, with excellent views both ways down Loch Ericht, to Pattack and to Ben Alder of course. Stuart, a man with extensive North Sea experience stated the gusts were at least 65knots, and whilst I’m no sailor, I know they were good ‘uns!

The rain moved back in with a vengeance as we descended, and we got back to Culra at 20:15, which was when we were expected. It continued all night and the next day, so our decision was vindicated. The wind strengthened even more, and no-one slept very well Saturday night as the tents flapped and bowed. We did lie with an immense sense of satisfaction however, having snatched the two extra Munros from the jaws of a dreadful forecast, and it was happy if tired party that shared a wee tot of ‘Bothy tea’ that evening.

The ride out benefitted from the strong tail wind, so whilst wet and muddy, it was soon done, and was still infinitely better than walking in some of our humble opinions!

It is a wild and big area, which I have still yet to see in decent weather. I am sure I will one day, and when I do, I will always remember this trip fondly. Well done to those who managed more than they thought they would be capable of too....remember, ‘More is in You’!

More photos are on our Flickr page !