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Three of the west Drumochter quartet on a landmark day

Three of the west Drumochter quartet on a landmark day

Postby Graeme D » Fri Apr 15, 2011 11:38 pm

Route description: A' Mharconaich and Geal Chàrn, Drumochter

Munros included on this walk: A' Mharconaich, Beinn Udlamain, Geal-chàrn (Drumochter)

Date walked: 11/04/2011

Time taken: 6 hours

Distance: 16 km

Ascent: 1200m

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Over three months after claiming Munro number 98 (Carn Bhac with CurlyWurly on 3rd January) and after much procrastination and many false dawns and missed opportunities, I finally stumbled onto the magic 100 mark on my two remaining unclaimed Drumochter Munros, Geal-charn and A' Mharconaich.

Now, you're probably thinking that, especially in light of my previous plans for the big 100, my eventual choice was distinctly lacking in Munro sex appeal. It is true - these were certainly not my Munros of choice for this auspicious and much anticipated outing, but events had kind of overtaken all previous plans and this choice of venue was borne out of frustration and necessity in equal measure.

The original plan had been to do CMD and the Ben but that had really long since been shelved for various reasons. More recently, I had penciled in Carn Dearg and Stob Gaibhre with my colleague and friend Robin (the latter being one of the few he still hasn't done yet) but then my better judgement got the better of my heart when I did the sums and realised how long it would take, including the tortuous drive along Loch Rannoch to the start point between Bridge of Ericht and Rannoch Station. This was, after all, only 4 weeks after the arrival of young Ailsa into this world, and would be the first time that I had left her and my wife alone to go any further than the local Tesco. I was keen to get out, but equally keen not to push it too far too soon.

We then settled on the Glen Etive pairing of Meall nan Eun and Stob a' Coire Albannaich, until Robin had to cancel on the eve of the trip. This then got me thinking about the Drumochter pair, which I had been saving for a "rainy day" - metaphorically that is, not literally! I guess this was that rainy day. Ideally I had wanted to keep them for a winter outing with a good plastering of snow, but three winters had come and gone since I started this malarkey in earnest and still they stood unclaimed. Thinking about it now though, I knew that I could be at Balsporran in an hour, and the walk would only take 5 hours at most, meaning only 7 hours AWOL from domesticity. My wife had initially expressed some reservations about my heading out so soon but had then come around to the idea that we both have to start venturing a bit further afield sooner or later. Still, I was keen to exercise restraint and keep at least some of my powder dry for the weeks to come. Seemed like this was the best option for a quick fix and to keep everyone happy.

The alarm was set for early but I needn't have bothered - Ailsa saw to the wake up call. I packed quickly and light and was in the car by 6.45am. The weather as I headed north up the A9 was not up to the standard of the previous few days, but it still looked good enough. However, beyond Bruar things took a distinct turn for the worse and by the time I was going across the Drumochter summit and pulling into the large parking area next to Balsporran, the sky was leaden and the rain coming down in big heavy droplets. I sat in the car for a good half hour and cursed my luck, even considering heading back south and doing a quick scoot up Ben Vrackie - I had no other maps with me so my alternatives were a bit limited. However, I reasoned that I had come this far and waited this long to hit the hundred mark so I was not walking away from it again. Remember coming to grief on my previous bid for Derry Cairngorm and Beinn Mheadhoin in the man-eating drifts of Coire Etchachan in February??? Or passing up the chance of claiming the century on the aforementioned pair and plumping instead for a Corbett and a Graham after a night in Bob Scott's in January??? No, nothing was going to sidetrack me or get in my way today. So at 8.20 I was fully togged up in waterproofs and heading past the B&B and over the railway onto the slopes of Geal Charn for the ascent of my 99th Munro via the north east ridge.

A' Mharconaich and Geal-charn from parking area by A9 at Balsporran

Balsporran Cottage and the three destinations for today

With Lucy tagging dutifully along as usual, I made decent progress up the squelchy ridge, the new Brashers standing up well to this their sternest test to date. The rain continued to come down in big splodges as height was gained and the clag hung over the great lumping plateaux of Carn na Caim and A' Bhuidheanach Bheag behind me across the pass and the busy A9. It looked slightly clearer to the south, over the Boar of Badenoch and into Highland Perthshire beyond, and up ahead the sky seemed to be giving very subtle hints that it might just be thinking about showing a bit of blue.

We soon reached what appeared to be the first (and only?) rather ramshackle looking cairn on the line of old cairns that used to march their way up this hillside. From here there were clearing views south over what would soon be my 100th Munro and to the Boar and the Sow (fond memories Darren!) beyond.

A' Mharconaich shrouded in the clag with the Boar of Badenoch and the Sow of Atholl beyond

I marched on over flatter ground towards the summit and as I began to climb again onto the summit dome, Loch Ericht appeared suddenly out of the greyness away below me to my left, and then just as suddenly it was erased again. Never mind, something told me that patience and perseverance were going to pay dividends today and the views of Loch Ericht and the surrounding hills would soon return.

First glimpse of Loch Ericht and Fraoch Coire of Beinn Udlamain

Right enough, by the time I reached the summit shelter cairn (after first having to chase Lucy several hundred yards in the other direction in a fruitless bid to get her to drop the mangy carcass she had snouted out from somewhere and was now desperately trying to get down her neck while making off at high speed and attempting to evade capture), the views had come out to play and Geal-charn was living up to her reputation as a fairly dull lump of a Munro but one blessed with a fantastic location and breathtaking views.

The rollercoaster ridge of the Fara across Loch Ericht

My mind was cast back to the wonderful Friday evening last September when at short notice I stepped in to cover a Silver Duke of Edinburgh assessment expedition and after being dropped off at the level crossing at Dalwhinnie, I walked along the shore of Loch Ericht to Ben Alder Lodge then over to Loch Pattack and on to Culra. The feeling in the air that September evening had been quite electric and I felt an amazing calmness and also exhilaration as I walked with Lucy into the wilderness in the slowly gathering darkness. To see the entire route all spread out now from this high vantage point - to be able to glance in a mere second or two along the entire length from start to finish - was a fantastic feeling. And looking at this ancient, elemental landscape stretched out below me, I experienced another one of those special mountain moments as I appreciated again that although my life may have changed practically beyond recognition since that evening seven months ago, nothing here had altered one iota in the grand scheme of things. The intervening months would have seen the land under a blanket of deep snow - bits of Loch Ericht would doubtless also have frozen over - but in geological terms, the mountains, the land, the loch, none of these had even as much as blinked an eye.

Lochs Ericht and Pattack with views L-R from Alder a co. to Beinn a' Chlachair

Beinn Udlamain, Stob an Aonaich Mhor, Loch Ericht and Ben Alder from the summit of Munro No.99

View West from summit cairn

The new Brashers, Lucy begging and the Fara ridge

After lingering for quite a while at the summit, mostly hunkered down within the shelter of the cairn with a couple of cereal bars (McVities Medley bars - first time I'd tried them - excellent!) and a mug of hot peach cordial, I headed south down the slopes towards the head of Coire Fhar before swinging north east and up onto the bealach between A' Mharconaich and Beinn Udlamain.

Leaving Geal-charn

Bealach en route to Udlamain

Looking NE down Coire Fhar with Meall Cuaich in the distance

Geal-charn and the Fara ridge from ascent to edge of Fraoch Coire

Fraoch Coire with Alder group across the water in the background

Across Loch Ericht to Geal Charn of Loch Laggan

The weather was now looking a lot better and I decided to take a major gamble. Rather than head straight for Munro number 100, I decided to dump my pack and poles and take a detour up onto Beinn Udlamain. I had already done Beinn Udlamain in December 2009 with CurlyWurly, having first gone in over the aforementioned Sow of Atholl and then Sgairneach Mhor in fast deteriorating conditions before climbing the south ridge of Udlamain in a total whiteout. To be honest, as we stood at the summit that day, I had only the vaguest notion of there being a large snow covered mound beside me as I stood in a world where sky and land merged into a blur of off-white. Today there was no blurring at all, although the sun did decide to spend the entire time I was at the summit hiding behind a large black cloud. Still, I could clearly see what we missed that day with more expansive views over Loch Ericht to the west. Beinn Mholach was also prominent to the south - I'm sure that massive dun-like cairn can be seen from space - as was the omnipresent pyramidal bulk of Schiehallion away to the south east. It was certainly a bit surreal to look down the south ridge and along that line of old fenceposts that were the only things we had to guide us up that December day a year and a bit before.

Visibility at last on summit of Udlamain

I then returned to pick up my gear and get on with the main outstanding business of the day.

Geal-charn and A' Mharconaich across Fraoch Coire from descent back to the bealach

Sgairneach Mhor

As I approached the momentous summit cairn of A' Mharconaich, it looked like my visit to Udlamain may cost me a dry 100th Munro, as dark clouds were gathering pace behind me and closing in fast. Despite a few little spots though, I just about got away with it and managed to stay dry as I mucked about with the camera timer and tried to capture the excitement of FINALLY nailing that elusive 100th Munro.

A' Mharconaich - the century at long last!

Lucy looks suitably unimpressed by the tally

I had not had to check the OS (other than at the very outset) or use the compass at all during the day and so I just wandered away from the cairn in the general direction of home. After a short distance I came to the edge of the great north eastern corrie with the vast hanging cornice in the form of a gigantic arched eyebrow that is the trademark feature of this Munro from the north east. From various vantage points earlier in the day it had not seemed especially significant, but here, close up, it took on a whole different aspect, like some huge sleeping beast on the side of the mountain.

Along the A' Mharconaich cornice

I gingerly contoured around the upper edge of the cornice and then onto the long broad ridge running all the way back down to Balsporran and the waiting car.

Down the descent ridge

View NE on descent

Last look back to A' Mharconaich

Well, it was a longer time coming than I had ever imagined but now that it's done, here's to the second hundred, hopefully starting next month in the Mamores.

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Graeme D
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Re: Three of the west Drumochter quartet on a landmark day

Postby rockhopper » Sat Apr 16, 2011 12:22 am

Brilliant Graeme - congratulations at long last on getting your 100 :D Maybe not the Ben Nevis/CMD as planned but at least you've now done it.

The weather certainly looked rotten to start with but at least it cleared up for you. I can vaguely remember the days of not getting out other than for nappies etc to the local ASDA but your wife's right and you do need to get out....just remember that when it's her turn. :lol:

Funnily enough these hills are on my possibles for the royal wedding weekend - so yours is a helpful and timely posting. :thumbup:

Now you can get back to planning the next 100 and practising your list making skills for your meetup :lol:
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Re: Three of the west Drumochter quartet on a landmark day

Postby Border Reiver » Sat Apr 16, 2011 12:28 am

Enjoyed your report and pics, the views just get better. I did all 4 one day and was really enjoying myself until another walker caught up with me on Beinn Udlamain and suggested we walk together. Big mistake to agree with that, he set a blistering pace that caused me to have an asthma attack as we raced alongside the A9 back to the car. I really prefer to walk alone - or with my fiancee, who knows not to go so fast.
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Re: Three of the west Drumochter quartet on a landmark day

Postby Stretch » Sat Apr 16, 2011 6:41 am

Hooray!! Triple digits is a good feeling isn't it? Glad you finally reached 100 Graeme, love the rock '100' shot!
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Re: Three of the west Drumochter quartet on a landmark day

Postby Alastair S » Sat Apr 16, 2011 7:12 am

Congrats on the 100 Graeme 8) Super report as well, with some decent views.
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Re: Three of the west Drumochter quartet on a landmark day

Postby blueyed » Sat Apr 16, 2011 8:54 am

well done graeme! congrats on your 100th :))
i'm just reaching my 20th (unimpressed) lol
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Re: Three of the west Drumochter quartet on a landmark day

Postby ChrisW » Sat Apr 16, 2011 10:50 am

Excellent report Graeme and great pics, the 'rock 100' is brilliant - love the philosophical outlook with regard to personal changes versus geological changes - a really enjoyable read from start to finish :D
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Re: Three of the west Drumochter quartet on a landmark day

Postby PeteR » Sat Apr 16, 2011 12:27 pm

Congratulations in the 100 :thumbup: A great achievement. Some good pictures on this route and CMD and the Ben will be there for another day :D
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Re: Three of the west Drumochter quartet on a landmark day

Postby lomondwalkers » Sat Apr 16, 2011 12:29 pm

Great stuff Graeme, a great read. Congrats on the ton 8)
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Re: Three of the west Drumochter quartet on a landmark day

Postby LeithySuburbs » Sat Apr 16, 2011 1:15 pm

About time Graeme - where are your priorities man :lol: ? I was waiting for this report as I noticed you were up to 100 on your profile. The view along and across Loch Ericht are pretty special from Gael Charn :D .
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Re: Three of the west Drumochter quartet on a landmark day

Postby yokehead » Sat Apr 16, 2011 3:52 pm

Another very fine report, great descriptions and photos. 8)

Huge congrats on getting to the 100 and I love your summit photo and the stone marker! :D

I'm saving the CMD for when my son can get to Scotland with me, it was on our list but not done in a previous visit!
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Re: Three of the west Drumochter quartet on a landmark day

Postby Merry-walker » Sat Apr 16, 2011 4:10 pm

ONE HUNDRED...!!!! - Fantasimo Graeme. Congratulations. :wave: :clap: :D
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Re: Three of the west Drumochter quartet on a landmark day

Postby kevsbald » Sat Apr 16, 2011 5:23 pm

Only another 183 to go, G!
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Re: Three of the west Drumochter quartet on a landmark day

Postby gammy leg walker » Sat Apr 16, 2011 7:27 pm

Brilliant G, glad to see you finally made 100 from (eagle eye) :?
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Re: Three of the west Drumochter quartet on a landmark day

Postby Johnny Corbett » Sat Apr 16, 2011 8:18 pm

Congratulations on reaching the magical 100 milestone Graeme, well done.
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