Alder Backpack

Alder bike and backpack, 26-28 September'20

A blog post from one of our mountain adventures in the Scottish hills and mountains. An extended weekend biking into Alder, camping and hiking over the 6 Munros in the area John King was leading with Steven Fallon helping out on the cycle in.

Alder bike and backpack

Day 1 - Cycle in to Culra

Heck, that's the busiest I've seen it at the end of Alder Road in Dalwhinnie. I ended up driving around the back of the petrol station and parked at the end of the road there. Sally and Raymond were the last to arrive - no spaces for them, but they found out that you can park at the nearby bunkhouse for a daily charge of £3.

With everyone parked and gear sorted, off down the track aside Loch Ericht we cycled. Previously this would quicked meant we would have quickly been in dense forestery, but work was in progress felling the trees and much of The Fara's lower slopes were now cleared - so views down the loch were good ! There is one hill on the lochside track, with most folk opting to walk up this - myself and Graham cycled up, but we had electric bikes ! Down to Alder Lodge and up the track to Loch Pattack. After a previous experience with the shoogly bridge by the lochside, John opted to lead the group over the river avoiding it - boots and socks off time ! We followed the track on the north side of the Allt a'Chaoil-reidhe and eventually Culra came into view and goodness there were quite a few tents near the bothy. We decided to set up camp on a lovely patch of grass downstream and well away from them. Sun was beginning to set, so I left the group in John's hands and headed back, taking the track on the south side of Allt a'Chaoil-reidhe - it's narrower but less rocky.

Day 2 - Geal Charn to Beinn Bheoil

Waking up on Sunday morning after a clear night there was an unseasonably hard frost down and the early hours of the morning were spent trying to prepare for the day ahead while staying as warm as possible. The sunrise was spectacular though, with some fiery light illuminating the crags of Ben Alder and the striking peak of Sgor Iutharn, both objectives for the day ahead. After breakfast and a few photos we set off shortly after 8am. The day's itinerary, which was slightly altered to take maximum advantage of a good weather forecast on Sunday, was to ascend the ridge of the Lancet Edge onto Sgor Iutharn. From there it would be a short walk to the Munro of Geal Charn (one of the many hills with this name in the area!), then onto Aonach Beag, Beinn Eibhinn, Ben Alder and finishing with Beinn Bheoil. Just like that!

The day started with a nice warm up following the fine stalkers path that leads towards the Bealach Dubh. We followed this route for about 2km and as we headed along the path our ridge towered overhead. It looked both an appealing ascent route and a bit intimidating in equal measure. After crossing the outflow from Loch an Sgoir we stopped to take off the many layers we still had on from camp then set about the steep uphill climb. The initial climb was very steep, picking our own line over heathery ground and around rocky outcrops. However, as height was gained a path began to appear and once scrambling ground was reached, the angle started to ease back. From there we had fine views across to the Aisre Cham snowpatch which was doing well to still be around this late in the summer season and the final part of the ridge was an enjoyable clamber along an airy crest. It was certainly easy to see how this ridge got its name!

From the top of Sgor Iutharn we crossed the high plateau towards Geal Charn, disturbing a ptarmigan along the way. One short, sharp ascent was all that was required and the summit cairn came into sight. The views from the summit of Geal Charn were phenomenal on a morning of perfect visibility and stretched from the peaks of Wester Ross across the Central Highlands and all the way to the hill of the Arrochar Alps. The central position of this group of hills makes them an excellent viewpoint and we got to enjoy this in full on the day. I am sure the peaks of the Northern Cuillin Ridge could be seen as well.

There was a cooling breeze blowing though, so we were encouraged onwards. The ridge-walking southwest over Aonach Beag and onto Beinn Eibhinn was hillwalking at its absolute very best with nice, easy walking along a high ridge with only a subtle path and the peaks of Glen Coe and Lochaber above Loch Ossian straight ahead of us. We didn't hang around long on the summit of Aonach Beag as it felt like we'd just left Geal Charn, so we pushed on to Beinn Eibhinn. Here, like our first summit, a cool breeze was blowing from the northeast so we retraced our steps to the bealach with Aonach Beag and ducked down below the bealach to find some shelter for a well-earned lunch stop.

After our lunch stop it was time to descend down into the glen and make our way to the path leading back east over the Bealach Dubh. It was a pleasant walk down in the sun and a rising traverse to the path saved losing too much height. Once at the path Mark and Nicky decided they'd had plenty for the day and they made their way back over the pass to the tents at Culra. The remainder of us set off for our second significant climb of the day and made efficient progress following a wide break between the crags. Eventually we emerged on the high plateau of Ben Alder and although some high-level cloud had started to build from the west the views were still tremendous. Schiehallion looked particualy good close by. After a short break by the Colby Camp up at the summit we carried on, mindful that our last Munro of the day, Beinn Bheoil still looked a reasonable distance away and time was creeping on with daylight a bit more limited at this time of year.

On the walk round the plateau we stopped briefly by Lochan a' Garbh Coire which Graham had paddled in a canoe back in 1978, a height record for paddling in the UK at the time and an incredible effort to get a boat all the way up here! I wonder if anyone has broken this record since!? Regardless, we had to get a photo of Graham beside the loch on his first visit since that time. A cool breeze accompanied us all the way to the bealach below our final hill but as we climbed away on the other side of the pass we seemed to get quite a bit of shelter from Ben Alder. It was a determined push along this final ridge as the length of the day was starting to make itself felt, but Mark and Raymond still had the reserves of energy to make a quick dash out to the Munro Top of Sron Coire na h-Ioliare en route to Beinn Bheoil itself. This top gave great views up and down the length of Loch Ericht and after taking it in for a few moments we hurried on, catching the rest of the team just before the summit.

A final snack was taken on at the summit of Beinn Bheoil with a real sense of achievement having reached our fifth Munro summit of the day. From the top we headed down steep boulder strewn slopes to pick up the excellent stalkers path just below Loch a' Bhealaich Bheithe. The quality of the trail allowed us to cruise back to the tents, which we reached around 6.45pm, a good 10¾ hours after leaving. We had just enough time to enjoy dinner before dark and then off to bed, fortunately for a warmer night than the night before and sure to sleep well!

Day 3 - Carn Dearg and return to Dalwhinnie

Monday morning was much warmer that it had been the morning before with grey and overcast skies. The hills were still pretty much clear though and it was nice to eat breakfast with views, but soon showers were sweeping across the hills and the cloud base was lowering. By the time we were setting off around 8am, the first spots were starting to fall at the tents and our hill had become shrouded in mist.

We set off following a stream steeply uphill above the tents and picked a line that avoided the steepest and deepest heather. As we climbed the cloud started to lift a little and we actually had pretty reasonable visibility until we gained the path on Carn Dearg's northeast ridge. Once on the path the walking was much easier and we made quick progress to the summit, arriving 1¼ hours after leaving the tents. As we ascended the final slopes there were a few fleeting glimpses of blue sky above us and Beinn a' Chlachair, one of the neighbouring Loch Laggan Munros, came into view a couple of times across An Lairig. However, at the actual summit there was little to be seen, so after a short moment at the top we plunged back down the steep slopes to the tents, broadly following our uphill route. We were back at the tents within 2½ hours - a good efficient Monday morning Munro!

Back at Culra there were now drizzly showers passing through and the cloud had descended once more, so there was little to do but get tents down and packed up before things got too damp. We had this done, eaten a quick snack and were ready for the off around 11am. Mark and Emma opted to cycle the path, while I went with the remainder of the group around by Loch Pattack as we'd gone on the way in. Apart from the horses by the loch taking a particular interest in some of our rucksacks in search of food it was a straightforward cycle out and we reconvened as a team before Ben Alder Lodge. As with the cycle out we had a tail wind for the way back along Loch Ericht, something that almost never happens in both directions, and the sun made a few appearances between the drizzly showers. We were all back at Dalwhinnie around 1230, a successful trip completed. Thanks to all in the group for a great few days in the hills!

More photos by John King, Steven Fallon and some of the participants are here on Flickr.

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