Ben Alder March 2012

We step off the train at corrour into the dark. It is completely dark, there are no lights at this station. There is only one track leading away from Corrour (without crossing the tracks I mean) so no real navigation is required. Its a clear night, some cloud, some stars, little wind. We stride out up the track, the other two outpacing me almost immediately with their longer legs & boundless energy, happy to have left the train, so I am walking alone, in a pool of light that extends only so far as my headlight beam. I see the track rough beneath my feet, and heather to the side, and occasionally a glimpse of water. Two cyclists pass us after a short time ‘heading to the hostel’, ‘no, camping’, ‘wow, hardier than us’. At a fork in the track we check the map, confirming that the right fork will lead us along the lakeshore while the left heads down to the hostel. Taking the right fork, the track becomes more heavily rutted, a little mucky, (its warm for March, no thick frost, no ice).

We lose sight of the lights of the hostel behind a small bluff, then emerge in site of them again. Its hard to tell how far we’ve come, in the dark, without counting paces, which we aren’t. Its not all that important really exactly where we wake up. We know that as long as we don’t go as far as the wood we’ll be in the right ballpark for the track we want to take the next day. I think I see a side track in the beam of my headlamp, but Im not sure sure if its real, or if it might be the path we want on the morrow; soon after that we call a halt.

Scouting around reveals a lot of wet to the uphill side of the track, some dry hillocks to the lakeside. We each pick a hillock and erect our tent. 3 one man tents make a mini tent city. We’re antisocial I guess, but also each leaving at a different time & in a different direction at the end of the trip, so single tents make sense. One advantage of this is it make it a lot easier to find dry parts of a bog to squeeze them onto; far easier than finding a flat dry place wide enough for three to lie side by side.

I sleep easily; and wake early. The hazy light of dawn reveals we are ~ 10m above Loch Ossian, surrounded by heather & bog, with a few trees, outliers from the forest that begins 500m away. Away at the end of lake sits the youth hostel,  with Beinn na Lap rising above the opposite shore. I break my fast on oatmeal & tea before striking camp. Fairly sure we have passed the beginning of the path we want the previous evening, we head directly up the slope behind our encampment. Sure enough the path, a good well constructed stalkers path, is not far away.

Turning left we head towards Carn Dearg. Skirting around the lower slopes of the mountain we pause at the first decent stream to collect water. We choose to make our ascent up the second spur we come to. An easy angled spur, mainly heather clad, the climb soon separates us, so I find myself climbing alone with the heather and the sky. The others are waiting for me at the first ‘false’ summit, where the angle eases & we can see the cone of the true summit. This summit, Carn Dearg (941m), is our first real rest stop of the day, time for second breakfasts, admiring the view. A relatively gentle slope into the belach and equally gently climb brings us to our second Munro, Sgor Gaibhre (955m). From here we descend steeply, rising equally steeply to our third summit, Sgor Choinnich (929m), a Munro top, descending from here we encounter our first snow patch of the trip, which we detour around, unsure what lies at its base. The ascent of Meall a’ Bhealaich (865m) is longer, less steep.

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We picnic on the eastern edge of Beinn a’ Chumhainn (903m), where the ground drops steeply into the belach. From here another scrambled descent, more snow patches to avoid or crunch through, brings us back onto a wide stalkers path. After basking in the sunshine for a short while we’re off again, and again they out pace me and I think nostalgically of the days when we were all children & I could outpace them because, being the oldest, my legs were longer. A gentle descent brings us to a short sharp climb up into the belach between Gael Charn & Ben Alder, from whence we can see the drop into Alllt a Bhealaich Dhuibh & a very inviting looking triangle of green near the stream.

Descent, keeping in mind that it might be bog, might not be so good, but it is, beautiful flat green grass, plenty of space for all of us. At this point I realise I left my hat at the belach & have to go back for it – haha how the others laugh. They have their tents pitched when I return with my hat, mine soon joins them… But wait, what is this? The door is zipped shut but there is still an entrance to the tent! Delamination disaster! Im using a single skin, lightweight, one man tent from mountain hardward, the wayfarer, with heat bonded seams. The glue has failed. Tom lends me some gaffa tape to fix the gaping hole & I resolve to be very careful with the heat bonded seams for the remainder of the trip. (I since found out that this is a very common problem with these tents, that mine had in fact done well to last 6 years). Supper & bed, as the light fades from the sky.

Im up & about early, trying to rouse the others, it looks like a glorious sunny day.  We hard back up to the belach, then strike off to the right, up past a pond full of miniture frogs. Over stones & steeply angled grass we arrive into a widening bowl, Gael Charn on our left, and first head off to the right up and then out along a broad crest to Sgor Lutharn (1028m). From here we have a gorgeous view out towards Loch Pattack, Loch Ericht and the North East.

After second breakfast we retrace our steps as far as the top of the bowl, casting our eyes over the snowy slope opposite, looking for the best route to pick our way up between snow patches and small cliffs. Once engaged with it this proves relatively straightforward, and we soon emerge onto the broad flat top of Gael Charn (1132m) (this hill is out of character with the others on the days hike) the summit is the second of two slight raises, marked by the obligatory cairn.

Continuing from here the ridges narrow & a defined path appears, as tends to happen when walkers are funnelled by geography into the same pattern. We summit Aonach Beag (1116m) in a freezing blustery wind, then down & up again to Beinn Eibhinn (1102m). Attaining the summit of Beinn Eibhinn we realise we have ticked 3 munros & a top and it is only 10am. The benefit of sleeping high! So what to do with the remainder of this glorious sunny day? The others are looking across to Beinn a Chlachair, remarking on what a nice shape it is, which it is, no one could deny that in profile this is a beautiful shaped mountain. Its a fair way across untracked country and a fair drop and regain in height tho… No matter, looks like this is what we are off to do.

We pick our way down a spur, I’m glad when the angle eases some, even tho this marks the beginning of taller heather and deeper gullies & runnels to climb through. In the base of the valley we find a broad shallow place to wade the river, and then begins a steep grunt to reach the crest of the ridge. Once on the ridge we experience two, maybe three false summits, & encounter a large group of people going in the opposite direction. The actual summit (1087m) is not on the main line of the ridge at all, but off to the left, surrounded by snow. Im pretty done in by the time we reach it, & ready to spend some time going downhill!

Gentle downhill leads to another small rise & then we have to decipher the clues leading to the correct place to begin to drop off the plateau. Part way though picking our way down a boulder strewn slope we encounter a stalkers path, hurrah! Hurrah soon turns to ‘oh’ as we reach a rather boggy part of the path. Reaching the main river well ahead of them I judge there to be enough time to take my boots and thick socks off & wade in just my thin inner socks, very refreshing for sore tired feet! Im waiting for my feet to dry when they catch me up. Reapplying the thick socks (alone) and boots, we’re off again, still 8 km to cover, past ponies & seeing the suspension bridge at Loch Pattack in the distance. We pass Culra bothy without stopping for a look inside, as dusk begins to gather. Eventually arriving back at camp, it is properly dark by the time I have cooked supper, a reminder that despite the amazing weather it is still March.

Next morning, up at dawn again, packing. I plan to take all my stuff on todays adventure rather than coming back for it at the end of the day. Our walk will end near the bothy & something about the walk up from there the previous evening has put me off doing that again and back… Id rather have everything with me & be able to head straight off towards Dalwhinnie…

We follow the stream behind our camp, trusting it to guide us through the rocky outcrops to the summit ridge of Ben Alder. In this we are not disappointed, gaining the ridge a short was east of the spot height 1056m, turning east we follow the broad ridge to the summit cairn (1148m). From here we continue along the ridge to Sron Belach Beithe, and begin the steep drop into Belach Breabag. On the descent we find large patches of wet snow clinging in the hollows, and indulge in some bottom sliding (the snow is so wet one has to push ones self along).

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From Belach Breabag we climb again, reaching Sron Coire na h-lolaire (956m), where we stop for lunch before continuing to Beinn Bheoil (1019m). All this again, in brilliant sunshine.

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Descending from Beinn Bheoil we eventually join the stalkers path that leads down towards Culra, at the path junction we take the right hand fork, leading off across the moor to the main track the comes in from Dalwhinnie. Upon reaching this track it’s time ot part ways. I head towards Dalwhinnie as I have a train to catch the following morning, the others head off to look for a campsite on the other side of Loch Pattack.

I find a spot to sleep on the shore of Loch Ericht, up early the following morning I arrive in Dalwhinnie in plenty of time to treat myself to breakfast buttie from the cafe there before catching my train!

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