After a four-day weekend where we climbed Sgurr Eilde Mor, the Creag Meagaidh group plus Beinn a’ Chaorainn and Beinn Teallach, thoughts quickly turned midweek to the next trip. Saturday was the only day available to us so we started checking the weather for different day trips but the forecast wasn’t great anywhere. On a normal weekend, we may have just given it a miss but less than a month since the lifting of lockdown, we wanted to be out as much as possible so settled on the ‘least bad’ forecast, which was for the Creag Pitridh group. Our friend Stuart was keen to join us again after coming along on our first post-lockdown trip to Carn Bhac and Beinn Iutharn Mhor so we set off as a three from Glasgow early on Saturday morning.
We arrived at the lay-by at Luiblea to find it pretty much full, but just managing to squeeze the car into a small space at the end. It was so tight that I emerged from the passenger side door straight into a bush We set off from the car at 9.45 am; there were patches of blue sky in amongst the cloud which was looking particularly grey towards both the east and the hills ahead of us. This cloud was to be the story of our day.
Not more than two or three minutes after leaving the car, after crossing the bridge over the River Spean, we took a wrong turn. Instead of following the track as it curved to the left and then right, following the course of the Abhainn Ghuilbinn, we turned right past the buildings at Torgulbin and continued on this path far into the forestry. Something made me check the route and we realised that we were pretty far off course and would have to double back on ourselves. Usually I wouldn’t mind when it’s just the two of us but we had someone else with us this time and felt slightly embarrassed about having to do the extra distance and lose time getting back to where we should have been. And this is us who want to be mountain leaders!
Half an hour after starting the walk, we were back at the spot where we took the wrong turn. The path curved right then left before reaching a junction. We turned right; to the left, the path hugs the shoreline of Loch Laggan for over 7 miles to Kinloch Laggan.
After 2km, the path splits at a reservoir. Taking the left fork, we could see a small slice of silver up ahead. As we got closer, the full beauty of Lochan na h-Earba was unveiled. It’s a surprise to see it named as a lochan on the map as, from where we stood, it seemed to be quite a size. A large sandy beach stood before us, intersected by a river flowing into the lochan, and hills (one of them Creag Pitridh) tumbled down right to the water’s edge.
Thinking that the beach would make a perfect spot for a camp and wild swim, we took some photos and made a mental note to return and pressed on. We crossed a small bridge over the inflow and immediately forked right on the landrover track as it deviates away from the lochside. We continued on this path for almost 2km as it turned into a single track.
Upon checking the route, we realised we’d missed the place where we should’ve left the track to cross the Allt Coire Pitridh and begin the ascent of Beinn a’ Chlachair. Instead of doubling back on ourselves again, we decided to cross where we were, which meant a steep clamber up the wet, grassy slope on the other side. The ground standing between us and the first summit was boggy and strewn with peat hags, gradually taking on a more rocky character as the ascent steepened.
We followed the rim of the huge Coire Mor a’ Chlachair at a distance, looking over to the summit of the Munro shrouded in the mist. I’m sure this would’ve been an impressive view if the top couple of hundred metres hadn’t been lopped off by the cloud but it was still dramatic all the same.
Up on the plateau, there were views back down to the sandy beach at Lochan na h-Earba and across the A86 to the Creag Meagaidh range. Up ahead, though, was nothing but fog and the vague outline of the edge of a slope to our left. There was no sign of the summit, or of Stuart, who had charged on ahead and disappeared into the mist.
We reached the summit and Stuart at 1.25pm and stopped for 25 minutes for lunch. Sadly there were no views over to the Alder range which would have been directly to the south of us. We didn’t have much of a view of anything other than our sandwiches and the damp grey that surrounded us.
After sandwiches, crisps and the now-traditional Irn Bru, we set off to retrace our steps back along the plateau. Or as close to our steps as we could, which was impossible to judge due to essentially being a boulderfield with no visibility. Further along the plateau, rock gave way to grass with a path which would lead us towards Munro number 2 of the day, Geal Charn. The plateau comes to an end at a steep and craggy slope overlooking Loch a’ Bhealaich Leamhain, requiring us to descend down the still-steep-but-not-as-steep slope to our left. This was very wet, with large boulders and rocky outcrops impeding progress. Stuart had made it down before me and, when I joined him, we looked back up at where we’d come from to see how Aimie was getting on, only to find her as a small speck still relatively close to the top. The sore knee picked up on Creag Meagaidh the previous week was obviously making itself known again.
Once all reunited at the bottom, we picked up the stalkers path at the Bealach Leamhain and begun the ascent of Geal Charn. Stuart always likes to charge ahead on his own and did so again. What he didn’t realise was that the route turns off the stalkers path and aims directly up the slopes to our right. He was so far ahead that it took a lot of shouting from myself and Aimie to grab his attention and signal that we were heading straight up. Creag Pitridh behind us was obscured by low cloud, and it wasn’t long before we were in the cloud hugging the upper reaches of Geal Charn.
The ascent was a bit of a slog, and we arrived at the top of the slope with disappointment as we realised we were on a false summit, with the actual summit another half a kilometre or so away, reaching it just after 4pm. We had a 15 minute stop here before embarking on the almost 2km to the final Munro of the day - Creag Pitridh. By now, it had started raining heavily which, combined with the low cloud, made for a miserable head-down march. It was the kind of weather where your phone doesn’t leave your pocket so there’s no photos of this section - not that there was much to take photos of anyway. We eventually reached the stalkers path that we’d left to begin the ascent of Geal Charn. Crossing this, it was a relief to see a path leading to the summit after the lack of one on the ascent and descent of the last Munro. We reached the top of Creag Pitridh an hour after leaving Geal Charn, with brief glimpses of Lochan na h-Earba through the gaps in the cloud as it drifted in and out.
After a short break, we were off again to begin the descent. This was basically a straight line down, over wet, heathery and pathless ground until we reached the track alongside the Allt Coire a’ Chlachair where we started the ascent of Beinn a’ Chlachair.
The weather down at this level was surprisingly good after what we’d endured up high - there were hints of blue skies between the clouds and almost some sun! We stopped again at the beach overlooking Lochan na h-Earba but the midges were horrendous so it was on with the midge nets for the 5km back to the car. We all took guesses at what time we would get back to the car which sped up the outward journey, as everyone tried to get as close to their time as possible
Despite the weather up high, it was still an enjoyable day (it’s always easier saying that with hindsight…) and was worth it for the discovery of Lochan na h-Earba, which I’m sure we’ll return to for a camp and swim.
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