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The Drumochter Munros + some extra special wildlife

The Drumochter Munros + some extra special wildlife


Postby Anne C » Mon Apr 11, 2022 6:45 pm

Route description: A' Mharconaich and Geal Chàrn, Drumochter

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

Date walked: 08/04/2022

Time taken: 7 hours

Distance: 17 km

Ascent: 950m

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For years, Chris and I used to whizz past these hills, thinking they looked too close to the A9 to offer a feeling of being away from it all and not being that attractive. How wrong we were! The views over Loch Ericht to Ben Alder are outstanding. The nice high start of around 400m is quite attractive too :D

ImageDSC_0067.jpg by scotlandmac, on Flickr

This last minute quick jaunt north from our home in Glasgow was largely inspired by an announcement on April 1st by the RSPB that they had a live camera on a Sea Eagle's nest at their Loch Garten reserve. I was astonished at this news, as I never thought they had Sea Eagles in Cairngorm :think: The name tends to place these magnificent birds at the coast, rather than being as far inland as you can get in Scotland. We have watched Sea/White Tailed Eagles often on the west coast and the islands. But Cairngorm :think: It seemed unbelievable that they were there and nesting too.

Got an Airbnb booked at short notice in Kingussie and with a good forecast we thought we'd make a couple of days of it and re-visit this straightforward trio, given also that they were slap bang on our route north.

It was only as we set off from Balnasporran car park making for the first Munro, Geal Charn that I thought – oh heck,was the Sea Eagle announcement an April Fool?? :shock: :shock: Oh well, who cared...it was a gorgeous day and we had a day on the hills ahead. Still , it niggled a bit... :?: But there was no way of checking now.

Looking ahead to A Mharconich (left) and Geal Charn (right)...

ImageDSC_0979.jpg by scotlandmac, on Flickr

As we strode out along the path in the crisp Highland air on a very sunny if cold morning, A 'Mharconich was looking impressive with its big scalloped corrie thick with snow and a sizable cornice. Whatever the situation with sea eagles or phantom ones it was so good to have a much loved round ahead, on benign hills which shouldn’t cause much of a problem given the recent fall of new snow. We’d got caught out a couple of weeks back on the Cairngorm plateau when micro spikes literally didn’t cut much ice. :shock: The snow had been solid and ice was everywhere; even going down the benign Fiacaill a Choire Chais ridge had taken a bit of care; I hadn’t enjoyed that much at all, skittering on icy slopes, poorly equipped. Of course it wasn’t helped by my spikes being worn and blunt, something I hadn’t even thought to check. I thought afterwards that perhaps we’d just not been used to walking in those conditions but funnily enough, there were several announcements in the news about snow conditions being unforgiving so maybe others had got caught out too. :(

Very different conditions just a few weeks before on Cairngorm...

ImageHeading off the summit by scotlandmac, on Flickr

Although this was (I think) our 4th time on this trio of hills, we had never yet had a view from Beinn Udlamain. The summit had always been in clag, defying the forecast. We’d got used to hanging about, getting colder by the minute, hoping it would clear. I’d read about how good the views were from this, the furthest outlier, over to Ben Alder and down Loch Ericht and had high hopes for today as I’m always drawn to mountains which are set off by a loch. Fingers crossed it would behave this time and do what the forecast suggested it should – i.e. remain clear! :D

It was 10.45am by the time we set off, the car park at Balnasporran Cottage busy and everyone well ahead of us. But neither of us can ever pass by Gloagburn Farm Shop/Café just south of Perth so a good 40 mins had been spent enjoying a bacon roll and one of their excellent warm scones for me.( Chris had decided there was no point in cutting back when a hill day lay ahead so his promised diet was once more on the back burner. :) )

ImageDSC_0984.jpg by scotlandmac, on Flickr

The path to Geal Charn starts off well, large, stony and dry. Then we took the second exit track on the right, which climbed a bit more steeply on rubble before becoming a moorland path. Our footsteps disturbed numerous Red Grouse, which rose up from the heather with their krek krek krek calls, something I always love to hear.

The sunny March meant this was the driest I’ve ever found this hill as it can be a real bog fest until the first rise is crested; then it dries out a lot. But it was a very pleasant ascent with increasingly good views over to the west and the Monadliath. Behind us and away to the north, the big Cairngorm giants still looked socked in with low cloud. On the upper slopes of Geal Charn (which translates as The White Cairn) the ground becomes very nice to walk on – almost sub Arctic tundra, like its big brothers further north.

Nice views opened up to A Mharconich and a first glimpse of Loch Ericht...

ImageLoch Ericht just appearing by Anne C, on Flickr

ImageA Mharconich by Anne C, on Flickr

A young couple passed us (they usually do these days :lol: ) and we said hello. I was amazed at their trainers and the girl had on what looked like a mid length gabardine coat! The ice axe on my rucksack suddenly seemed like overkill (as it turned out, it was but I always feel I should have it anyway.)

There are a couple of shallow false tops on Geal Charn but 90 mins after setting off, the summit cairn appeared and the view opened up spectacularly. Loch Ericht stretched out for miles below us and Ben Alder and Carn Dearg looked fantastic with their corries still holding plenty of snow. It was a view to savour so we stopped for half an hour below the summit out of an occasionally chilly wind and had the first of the chicken sandwiches (it was a day of eating I now realise.) Even if we turned back here, this would have been worth it. It was glorious.

ImageLooking down Loch Ericht towards Bridge of Orchy area by Anne C, on Flickr

ImageView from Geal Charn to Ben Alder (left) and Carn Dearg to the right by Anne C, on Flickr

Equally good, ahead of us, Beinn Udlamain was clear too. Some snow on its slopes but what we’d walked on so far had been nice and crunchy with no ice; plus there were plenty options to detour a bit and avoid snow altogether.The slopes are all pretty gentle anyway with plenty of run off before any drops etc.

Time to head onwards and downwards off Geal Charn’s stony summit...

ImageHeading towards B.Udlamain by Anne C, on Flickr

It was a simple descent on big wide slopes and always, that lovely view of the loch lay ahead.
A Mountain Hare skipped across our route, a lovely sight...Bit blurred in the photo. :(

ImageMountain Hare by Anne C, on Flickr

Down at the col, the bit of the day I always seem to find a real slog is the 240m or so up to the ridge which connects A’ Mharconich and Beinn Udlamain. It actually took less than 30 mins but it felt longer! There was some snow but it was easily avoided to give the best going underfoot.

ImageUdlamain coming up part way up the slope by Anne C, on Flickr

ImageBeinn Udlamain in middle by Anne C, on Flickr

This time we ignored the double ATV track which goes straight up the fall line and contoured a bit more to the right, which felt easier. The former track is best if A’ Mharconich is the target but the latter route was better for where we were going next – Udlamain. Slightly less height to climb though really there isn’t much in it. But every metre saved on ascent these days, we seem to treasure. :D

ImageBen Alder (left ) and another Geal Charn by Anne C, on Flickr

The hills were now quite busy with groups coming from A Mharconich and some folks already descending from Udlamain. The young couple seemed to have disappeared and had possibly headed back down the big ATV /Landrover track to Balnasporran. I really wanted to avoid this track like the plague later in the day as it seems to go on forever and is a bit dull as the views are limited. But the descent off A Mharconich needs a bit if care if under snow; hopefully it would be crunchy and not icy. If I didn’t fancy it, there was nothing for it but to retrace our steps back to the 240m slope we'd ascended, head down that way and back via the (endless) track.

There was a good view now of Sgairneach Mor across the glen - one that can be added on to the round to make it 4 Munros...

ImageSgairneach Mor by Anne C, on Flickr

A lot more began to come into view...Ben Lawers...

ImageTowards Ben Lawers (highest in snow) by Anne C, on Flickr

ImageHeading for Udlamain by Anne C, on Flickr

Cairngorms still with a lot of snow and clear now...

ImageSouthern Cairngorm clear by Anne C, on Flickr

There was a lot more snow on Udlamain’s north slopes but it was sugary and good to walk on and spikes weren’t needed. We cut off the corner a bit and made for the summit cairn of the plateau where old metal fence poles have been fashioned into what looks like a modern art sculpture!

Now I understood what we'd missed previously when the normally socked in view of Ben Alder hit us with full force - it was magnificent! It looked close enough to touch. Huge, empty country with a hidden Loch Ossian tucked in there somewhere too. A fantastic area.

ImageBen Alder by Anne C, on Flickr

ImageGeal Charn by Anne C, on Flickr

A clear Ben Nevis was just visible through the gap of the Coire Dubh between Alder and another Geal Charn. At the end of Loch Ericht, lay Rannoch Moor and Loch Laidon with the pyramid of Buachaille Etive Mor etched against the sky. The Black Mount was crystal clear as were the bulky outlines of the Bridge of Orchy hills.

ImageBlack Mount beyond Loch Laidon and Rannoch Moor by Anne C, on Flickr

ImageBridge of Orchy and Ben Lui middle left by Anne C, on Flickr

ImageBen Alder, Loch Ericht and Glencoe from Udlamain by Anne C, on Flickr

Further south, Cruachan’s twin peaks were visible and Ben Lui looked its full height, as did Ben More and Stob Binnein.

ImageBen More and Stob Binnein by Anne C, on FlickrImageBen Lui and Bridge of Orchy hills by Anne C, on Flickr

As we looked round what was a 360 degree panorama to Cairngorm and beyond, we realised we were seeing from Ben More to Ben Wyvis, Mount Keen (I think that's what the sharp little pyramid in the far distance was) to Ben Nevis and even the distinctive pointed top of Sgurr na Ciche in Knoydart. Glen Affric ‘s big stuff was visible too. What an astonishing panorama it was.

Ben Wyvis...

ImageBen Wyvis beyond Inverness by Anne C, on Flickr

Zoomed to Glencoe...

ImageBuachaille Etive Mor on left by Anne C, on Flickr

Buachaille Etive Mor zoomed...

ImageBuachaille Etive Mor by Anne C, on Flickr

Ben Nevis zoomed...

ImageBen Nevis zoomed by Anne C, on Flickr

Sgurr na Ciche (I think):

ImageSgurr na Ciche, Knoydart? by Anne C, on Flickr

Heading a bit further west off the summit , down the slope a little, opened up the views to the shores of Loch Ericht below, making a beautiful spot for a long lunch break in the sunshine. We spent nearly an hour just sitting drinking it all in. I always feel very lucky that hill walking or just walking has been a been such a part of our lives, given the effect such days have on the spirit and the soul. It’s too difficult to put into words; it feels beyond joy.

ImageMyself by Anne C, on Flickr

There was some moor burning going on at Corrievarckie Lodge below and a bit of activity with vehicles. Quite a spot down there too; the wealthy always pick the choice locations!

ImageLoch Ericht and Ben Alder by Anne C, on Flickr

It was so lovely and such a difficult place to leave but leave we eventually had to. Lovely dry walking brought us back to where we'd first met the connecting ridge and ahead lay a virtually flat final 1km out to A ‘ Mharconich. I was looking out for Ptarmigan as we’d seen them here before, but not today.

ImageHeading for A Mharconich by Anne C, on Flickr

The descent track I hoped to avoid...

ImageThe track visible now by Anne C, on Flickr

The Black Mount....

ImageStob a Choire Odhar and Stob Ghabhar.Albannaich behind (pointed summit.) by Anne C, on Flickr

A ‘Mharconich doesn’t give the best views of the trio though the big whale backed pair across the A9 – A Bhuidheanach Bheag and Carn na Caim - had a mini Cairngorm, quite ancient quality about them somehow, their gullies streaked with snow. Or maybe I was just loving being out on the hills so much, I was seeing everything through rose coloured spectacles somewhat :)

ImageSouthern Cairngorms by Anne C, on Flickr


Already a lot of snow had melted compared with the morning. It was now (incredibly, where did the time go?) the back of 4pm and it was decision time about heading down the hill's northern slope or not. Nothing for it but to try and thankfully the snow was sugary and forgiving and there was plenty of room away from the steep corrie headwall. I put the micro spikes on anyway as one other thing that has come with age is not trusting my feet the way I used to and being really slow on descent!

ImageDescent from A Mharconich by Anne C, on Flickr

ImageLast look at Ben Alder et al by Anne C, on Flickr

We were soon down on the flatter section with good views back to the corrie, plastered with snow.

ImageA Mharconich's snowy corrie by Anne C, on Flickr

About halfway down, on the gently descending ridge on a good path (which gets very boggy in places but it was not bad today at all) we came across a cluster of scattered feathers; a bird had been killed, possibly by a golden eagle or a peregrine. Certainly a couple of years back (and funnily enough from dreaded Landrover track) we had seen two eagles on the hunt on this section of ridge. A chat next day with the RSPB warden in Loch Garten confirmed they were definitely in the area.

Nearly 7 hours after setting off, we arrived back at Balnasporran (which has a very smart looking B&B these days), the little bit of river crossing very straightforward. Then through the Railway Gate after a quick look that the Sleeper wasn’t going to squash us to bits before the last hundred metres to the car park.

We’d dawdled and had long breaks but it was a perfect day for taking plenty of time to savour the hills. No traffic noise from the A9 either, until halfway down A Mharconich. It's amazing how quickly you get out to lovely, quiet country on these roadside hills.

A grand day out and a quick check online confirmed that the Sea Eagle announcement was perfectly genuine :D Next day, we had the thrill of seeing the female up close, sitting on eggs which were due to hatch in a couple of days.

ImageUntitled by Anne C, on Flickr

Incredibly also - first time ever - I saw a Goshawk as they have a camera on that nest too.

ImageGoshawk too... by Anne C, on Flickr

We also had a very interesting talk from one of the Rangers about the Caledonian Pine forest and its non-human inhabitants – who knew that Red Squirrels were either right or left handed? And that Scotland now has over 4m deer, 7 times what it can sustain! :shock:

And finally, just to keep hunger at bay again after all that excitement :) an excellent cafe in Nethy Bridge (Nethy House) with some of the best Carrot Cake I've tasted. We'll be back for lunch next time, great menu.

ImageGreat cafe in Nethy Bridge by Anne C, on Flickr

A fine trio of hills for a not too taxing day out with really stunning views from Beinn Udlamain in particualr.4th time lucky as it turned out and well worth waiting for a day clear of clag.
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Anne C
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Re: The Drumochter Munros + some extra special wildlife

Postby Alteknacker » Mon Apr 11, 2022 10:44 pm

Wow! If the actual day was even a quarter as good as the pics, it was something special indeed. And as if that wasn't enough, you get to see a sea eagle and a GOSHAWK! Incredible (but I'm green with envy :sick:)
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Re: The Drumochter Munros + some extra special wildlife

Postby EmmaKTunskeen » Tue Apr 12, 2022 10:12 am

Alteknacker wrote:Wow! If the actual day was even a quarter as good as the pics, it was something special indeed. And as if that wasn't enough, you get to see a sea eagle and a GOSHAWK! Incredible (but I'm green with envy :sick:)


Hear hear! Your white-tailed eagle in the Cairngorms surprise reminded me of a spectacular encounter I had with a young one on Geal Charn Mor above the Alltnacriche Activity Centre in December 2019. Couldn't believe my eyes! It hovered over me for about seven minutes.
Image053 Honestly - that beak by Emma Kendon, on Flickr
A goshawk too, now that really is the cherry on top, and I absolutely love your scenery photos. Breathtakingly beautiful.
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Re: The Drumochter Munros + some extra special wildlife

Postby Anne C » Wed Apr 13, 2022 8:15 pm

Alteknacker wrote:Wow! If the actual day was even a quarter as good as the pics, it was something special indeed. And as if that wasn't enough, you get to see a sea eagle and a GOSHAWK! Incredible (but I'm green with envy :sick:)


Thanks Alteknacker! It was a great day, though I know these hills don't get big star ratings as such.Yes a Goshawk - first time ever.What a stunning looking bird too. I read Helen Macdonald's terrific book 'H is for Hawk', some years ago, describing training a wild goshawk and always wanted to see one from her descriptions. Well worth a read if you've got time!
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Re: The Drumochter Munros + some extra special wildlife

Postby Anne C » Wed Apr 13, 2022 8:19 pm

EmmaKTunskeen wrote:
Alteknacker wrote:Wow! If the actual day was even a quarter as good as the pics, it was something special indeed. And as if that wasn't enough, you get to see a sea eagle and a GOSHAWK! Incredible (but I'm green with envy :sick:)


Hear hear! Your white-tailed eagle in the Cairngorms surprise reminded me of a spectacular encounter I had with a young one on Geal Charn Mor above the Alltnacriche Activity Centre in December 2019. Couldn't believe my eyes! It hovered over me for about seven minutes.
Image053 Honestly - that beak by Emma Kendon, on Flickr
A goshawk too, now that really is the cherry on top, and I absolutely love your scenery photos. Breathtakingly beautiful.


Many thanks Emma , great to know you enjoyed the photos, it's a beautiful area up there! What an amazing photo of the eagle - up close and personal! Terrific.Yes the Goshawk was just so unexpected... a major thrill.
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Re: The Drumochter Munros + some extra special wildlife

Postby past my sell by date » Fri Apr 15, 2022 12:07 pm

Fabulous photos - you do get great views from those hills because there is a large flattish area just South of West around Rannoch moor and the Blackwater reservoir. I remember seeing something and saying to myself " I know that but it looks back to front" :? Aonach Eagach of course - it does look much the same from either side :lol:
And yes I guess you could see Sgurr na Ciche (73km) looking directly over Loch Pattack and through the gap NE of Beinn a' Chlachair - you've probably done the same "calculation"
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Re: The Drumochter Munros + some extra special wildlife

Postby Anne C » Tue Apr 19, 2022 9:48 am

past my sell by date wrote:Fabulous photos - you do get great views from those hills because there is a large flattish area just South of West around Rannoch moor and the Blackwater reservoir. I remember seeing something and saying to myself " I know that but it looks back to front" :? Aonach Eagach of course - it does look much the same from either side :lol:
And yes I guess you could see Sgurr na Ciche (73km) looking directly over Loch Pattack and through the gap NE of Beinn a' Chlachair - you've probably done the same "calculation"


Thank you and great to know you enjoyed the photos! Yes I had a bit of a double take re the Aonach Eagach but it couldn't have been anything else. It takes a while to get your bearings when looking at things from a different angle! It was Chris that recognised Sgurr na Ciche and didn't reckon it could be anything else - always good fun working out what things are :D I just love that long, long loch and then Rannoch flanked by the big stuff. There's just something about it...
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Re: The Drumochter Munros + some extra special wildlife

Postby Mal Grey » Tue Apr 19, 2022 6:20 pm

Stunning photos, as always, and what a good day.

Probably drove past you on the A9 that day, heading for the NW!
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Re: The Drumochter Munros + some extra special wildlife

Postby Anne C » Wed Apr 20, 2022 9:02 am

Hi Mal and thank you! Small world, isn't it? :lol: Sometimes I wonder if other folks on the hill are walkhighlanders, I'm sure some must be on occasion - I might recognise one or two from various photos posted.
The NW must have looked stunning , though it does in most weathers!
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Re: The Drumochter Munros + some extra special wildlife

Postby Anne C » Wed Apr 20, 2022 9:02 am

Hi Mal and thank you! Small world, isn't it? :lol: Sometimes I wonder if other folks on the hill are walkhighlanders, I'm sure some must be on occasion - I might recognise one or two from various photos posted.
The NW must have looked stunning , though it does in most weathers!
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Re: The Drumochter Munros + some extra special wildlife

Postby JimboJim » Thu Apr 21, 2022 1:21 pm

Thank you for great report! Only problem I have with it is jealousy :lol:
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Re: The Drumochter Munros + some extra special wildlife

Postby Anne C » Fri Apr 22, 2022 8:31 am

Hi Jimmy - great to hear you enjoyed the report even if you felt a wee bit jealous :lol: I love those hills for the easy, relaxed walk they give over what feels like wild country away from everything (even though the A9 eventually comes into view again! :)
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Re: The Drumochter Munros + some extra special wildlife

Postby dogplodder » Sat Apr 23, 2022 5:25 pm

Enjoyed that so much. Thanks! :D
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Re: The Drumochter Munros + some extra special wildlife

Postby Anne C » Mon Apr 25, 2022 9:04 am

Great to hear you enjoyed it dogplodder! Thank you!
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