Our blog - Ben Alder, 14 Aug'18

A blog of our mountain adventures in Scotland, hiking, biking, rock-scrambling and more !

Ben Alder and neighbours

14 August 2018
Bike-backpacking into Alder and hiking up Ben Alder and neighbouring Munros. John King was leading....

Deep in the Central Highlands, the hills around Ben Alder are wild and remote, a long distance from any road. We were headed there for a three-day bikepacking trip to visit six of the Munros in the area, including Ben Alder itself. Our start point was Dalwhinnie and from there, excellent tracks lead deep into the hills. Our plan was to cycle these tracks to reach the area of Culra Bothy (now closed due to Asbestos), set up a wild camp and tackle the hills over the subsequent days. Prior to our trip the weather forecast had been predicting dire things, with persistent, heavy rain and strong winds likely. With the forecast in mind, I proposed tackling all 6 Munros in a single push, rather than splitting the hills over two days as is more usually the plan. It would make for a big day, but after discussing the plan as a group, everyone was keen and so the plan was set.

Day 1

We arrived in Dalwhinnie on Tuesday afternoon to unexpected sunshine. Diane, Iain, Brian S & myself set off around 4pm and made good time into the area of the bothy, slowed a little by the single track after Ben Alder Lodge. It was a lovely journey with great views ahead to Ben Alder and the Lancet Edge. By 7pm we were at our destination, had our tents up in a lovely spot by the river and were cooking dinner. Tracy, Hetty and Brian H left from Dalwhinnie slightly later and joined us around 9pm. They had cycled via Loch Pattack, staying with the vehicle track all the way to Culra. Their travels had been enlivened by a pannier rack collapsing midway and a rough crossing of the Allt a' Chaoil-reidhe but they arrived in good spirits. After some good chat and a dram we took an early night to prepare for the big walk on Wednesday.

Day 2

We set off early on Wednesday morning from Culra and crossed the river to pick up the excellent path leading up towards Loch a' Bealaich Bheithe. Many of the paths in this area are very well maintained and this one has seen some recent work so gave a very pleasant approach to the hills. There had been some rain overnight, but it was now dry and before long the sun started to make an appearance. The views ahead to the Leachas ridges on Ben Alder were brilliant.

Around the Bealach Beithe we branched away from the path and made out way uphill to gain the ridgeline of Beinn Bheoil. We found a nice line that minimized any time on boulder fields and before long we had gained the ridgeline. There was a gusty wind blowing in from the west, which almost claimed a waterproof rucksack cover or two, but we were able to make steady progress up to the summit and after two hours we had reached our first Munro summit of the trip. Dropping slightly to the east for a snack out of the wind, our reward was a stunning view up and down the length of Loch Ericht.

From here a steady descent and re-ascent brought us up onto the great plateau of Ben Alder. By then we had climbed into the cloud but there were a few brief clearances, which gave some atmospheric views. We hand-railed the edge of Garbh Choire to the reach the summit and took shelter behind the large cairn for an early lunch. From there, some careful navigation took us over to Coirena h-Eiginn, where we descended steadily down to reach the path which traverses the Bealach Dubh. This path offered the most convenient escape from our circuit and Brain H took this option, deciding he'd seen enough for the day and returned to the tents.

At this point it was 1320, we had done two Munros out of six and there was a big climb of nearly 500m ahead. We still had some work to do but an excellent determined push saw us move up over rough ground, into Coire a' Charra Bhig, where the terrain became easier, then onto the ridge at the col between Beinn Eibhinn and Aonach Beag. The first meaningful rain of the day came in as we made our way along the ridge to Beinn Eibhinn and ascending into the rain driven into our faces by a gusty westerly wind was not the most pleasant! But by the time we returned to the col with Aonach Beag it had stopped again.

Now with the wind at our back we were blown up and over AonachBeag, and the high summit of GealCharn followed soon after. We saw very little, walking in thick mist but we were feeling good now, on the home straight, with five Munros done! Some intricate navigation was required to see us over the vast, featureless plateau of Geal Charn and find the little spur that would lead onto our final Munro of the day, Carn Dearg. The move across the plateau went smoothly and, as we started down the spur, the clouds cleared to reveal the way ahead with great views down over Loch an Sgoir. After so long in the cloud it was a really magic experience to see the view reappear so suddenly.

The walk up the final ridge to Carn Dearg was quick with the strongest winds of the day blowing us along making for some 'arduous' walking conditions on the ridge! We found some shelter at the summit to enjoy one last look at the views and then plunged back downhill, first north-east, and then east. Back at the tents within 11 hours it was very satisfying to know we had completed the full round of 6 Munros. It was time to relax, enjoy a well-earned dinner and an early night was had by all.

Day 3

On Thursday morning we woke to some very mixed weather with heavy showers passing through, interspersed with some brief sunshine and a few rainbows. We packed our tents away and were on the track back to Dalwhinnie by 9:30. It was a nice feeling that we only had a straightforward cycle out ahead of us and it went quickly. We took the vehicle tracks all the way this time, which required some care to see us past the rickety bridge over the Allt a' Chaoil-reidhe, but by the time we were at Loch Ericht the sun was out, it was feeling warm and we had a very pleasant ride out. We were back in Dalwhinnie shortly after 11am. It was another great trip and a fantastic effort by the team to pull off the round of six Munros is one go!

More photos by John King are here on Flickr.

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