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The West Drumochter Four in the rain ... but no bonus piggy!

The West Drumochter Four in the rain ... but no bonus piggy!


Postby bobble_hat_kenny » Sun Sep 30, 2012 10:21 pm

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

Date walked: 30/09/2012

Time taken: 9 hours

Distance: 23 km

Ascent: 1070m

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Having set myself a perhaps over-optimistic target of getting to fifty Munros by the end of 2012, and with my tally to date standing at just forty-two after not having managed out all August :( , I was badly in need of a few quick “ticks”. The weather forecast for Saturday 29th September wasn’t great (although marginally better than for the Sunday), but I thought the West Drumochter Four should be just about do-able, being a fairly straightforward round by all accounts.
It’s a fair old drive from either of the Cities of the Plains (that would be Edinbodom and Glasgomorrah :lol: ), but I set off early and was off walking at 8 a.m. sharp. I’d parked in Lay-By 79 on the A9, just at the mouth of Coire Dhomhain between the Boar of Badenoch and the Sow of Atholl, which would hopefully be the end of my route. Not having the benefit of a second vehicle or a bike, I was either going to have to do the route clockwise with a long walk back by the cycle-path beside the A9 from Balsporran Cottages at the end of the day, or do the route anticlockwise and walk up to Balsporran Cottages from Lay-By 79 before I started on the hills. I’ve always hated long road walks back at the end of a day’s walking, so opted to go round anticlockwise and do the road walk up to Balsporran at the start.
It was blowing a gale but not too cloudy by this stage, and there were scenic views up Coire Dhomhain. Alas, when I fished my rather vintage digital camera out of my pocket to try to get some photos, it had completely died :-x . It has had a dodgy connection ever since getting a total soaking on my last outing, and it seemed to have chosen this moment to conk out completely :( ... I’d just have to do without, and take what blurry images I could manage with my mobile phone camera. This report sure ain’t about to win the Colin Baxter Award for Pulchritudinous Mountain Photography :lol: ... Ah well, I tried.
The walk up to Balsporran Cottages took me just over 40 minutes, and was actually surprisingly enjoyable despite the constant A9 traffic: these are actually fairly scenic hills despite their slightly “dull” reputation. Balsporran Cottages themselves, former railway workers’ accommodation for the West Highland Line, are nowadays a rather attractive looking B&B: worth remembering for the future, as this would be an idyllic spot for a wee weekend away. I crossed the West Highland railway line and continued on the big ATV track up Coire Fhar. Fairly soon, the track reaches the Allt Beul an Sporain (i.e. “Balsporran Burn”). A tempting-looking ATV track branches off on the right just before the burn, with an official-looking but illegible sign: it would be easy to mistake this for the route up Geal Charn, but it isn’t!! Fortunately I’d been forewarned of this by a couple of my Munros books, and continued on the main track across a wee wooden bridge over the Allt Beul an Sporain, to find a second ATV track branching off on the right, which was indeed the way up Geal Charn. This track is well-maintained at first, but inevitably degenerates higher up into a bit of a Boggy Mess – not half as bad as some Boggy Messes I’ve walked on, mind you (Beinn Dubhchraig via Coille Coire Chuilc, anyone :shock: ?). Predictably, the weather was closing in by this point, and by about the 800 metre mark, I was well up into the Clag, with the wind picking up too. It was quite a relief to reach Geal Charn’s summit cairn:
IMG00023-20120929-1026.jpg

Is anyone looking for a pair of specs that they lost in this area :-? ? As you can see from the photo, there is a pair of spectacles sitting on the cairn – not mine! – presumably someone found them in the vicinity and left them here. Gold frames; brown legs; still looked undamaged to me, if the owner is keen enough to traipse back up to retrieve them :) ...
Apparently there are no less than nineteen(??) hills in Scotland all called Geal Charn (“White Hill”), including four Munros. What exactly was wrong with those early cartographers :? ? A bit more imagination please, guys! “Oh, Lord knows, old chap – can’t make out these locals’ lingo at all – why don’t we just put it down as another ‘Geal Charn’.”
Getting down from Geal Charn wasn’t as straightforward as I’d expected: it is much stonier on its southern and western sides than on approach from the east, and I think I went a bit too far west off the summit, so I didn’t pick up the path initially. However, it was fun after a fashion finding a creative route through a series of boulder-fields. Eventually I was down onto the lower south ridge of Geal Charn, where I found both a pretty good path and a hazy view of distant water:
IMG00025-20120929-1107.jpg

This would be Loch Ericht. On a fine day, there would be great views of Ben Alder and its pals from here ... nae such luck today, though :( .
Lower down, the path joins up with the main ATV track up Coire Fhar. Soon enough I was down at the Geal Charn / A’Mharconaich bealach, at the head of Coire Fhar, where I stopped for some elevenses. (An Extra Hot Peperami and a peach, since you ask. Fair hit the spot.) Just beyond here, the main track heads off south in the vague direction of Beinn Udlamain’s northwest slopes, but a rougher path branches off to the left up A’Mharconaich’s southwest ridge. I think it is possible to JUST make these two routes out in this blurry mess of a photo:
IMG00027-20120929-1125.jpg

The Clag soon closed in again, and this time it was raining quite heavily too. The path was in good nick though, and I made surprisingly good time up onto the SW ridge of A’Mharconaich. I met a group of three guys on their way back down – I think they were just doing Geal Charn and A’Mharconaich, and had opted to go round clockwise – I said hello but didn’t linger as it was blowing a gale! The path soon topped out on the broad SW ridge, where it joined a broader and more defined path, almost a track, heading in both directions along the ridge: I turned left for A’Mharconaich. It had got really windy, coming steadily from the south-west, which gave me a handy tail-wind as A’Mharconaich summit was directly north-east. All the same, it was a long plod through the driving rain, and I wasn’t relishing walking into the wind on the way back. A’Mharconaich’s summit plateau is pancake-flat: there is an initial false rise and then at least two cairns, spread out over a few hundred metres, but the true summit is at the very end of the ridge, where it comes to an abrupt halt just above a big line of crags. I couldn’t see the crags themselves in the dense Clag, but there was a very definite impression of an Edge having been reached.
IMG00028-20120929-1216.jpg

I’ve since seen photos of A’Mharconaich from the north-east, and it looks impressively craggy. It also allegedly has good summit views. However, having approached it via its very gentle SW ridge in thick Clag, I probably didn’t see it at its sparkling best. Mysteriously, “A’Mharconaich” means “Place of the Horses”... Um, no, me neither :-?.
I now had to turn into the teeth of the Sou’wester and make my way back down that SW ridge, in driving sleety rain. I couldn’t see the nose in front of my face, and was feeling all rugged and suchlike :lol: . However, I soon met a decidedly hardier soul who was doing the four in the other direction, and had gotten further round than me despite a later start.
Beinn Udlamain and A’Mharconaich are essentially just one very long ridge, running north-east to south-west along the east side of Loch Ericht, with the two outliers of Geal Charn to the north and Sgairneach Mhor to the south-east. There is a brief but relatively steep dip about two-thirds of the way along the Udlamain/A’Mharconaich ridge, that presumably justifies their status as Separate Munros.
Handily, a line of old rusty iron fence posts appears around the A’Mharconaich/Udlamain bealach, clearly marking the way up to the summit. This takes in a wee cairned intermediary top, Glas-choire, before turning to the left for Udlamain’s main summit. Beinn Udlamain, “The Gloomy Mountain”, is the highest of this foursome at 1011 metres, and it therefore seems befitting that it has by far the biggest summit cairn, which has two wee stone shelters built into it, and is also festooned with some of these old iron fence posts on its eastern side, giving it something of a Tate Modern vibe, rather similar to Meall Garbh’s summit cairn in the North Glen Lyon group. It is a rather impressive structure; once again my blurry mobile-phone photo doesn’t do it justice.
IMG00030-20120929-1332.jpg

From the summit, that long ridge just keeps going in a SSW direction. I finally started to get down through the Clag, and got a hazy view over Loch Ericht to the hills to the west.
IMG00031-20120929-1346.jpg

It was just as well that the weather started to clear at this point, as the ongoing route on to Sgairneach Mhor isn’t initially that obvious. In fact, the route makes a sharp left turn towards the bottom (but NOT the very bottom) of Udlamain’s south ridge, to cross the decidedly rough and swampy bealach between Udlamain and Sgairneach. There is no path initially (at least, I didn’t find one), but the onward route up Sgairneach’s western flanks is straightforward enough, on pleasant grassy slopes. Higher up, I did pick up a pretty good path which headed up south-east and then north-east again to Sgairneach Mhor’s well-endowed summit, which boasts a trig point, a stone shelter AND a separate wee cairn. Amazingly, although it was still blowing a gale, the Clag had finally lifted, and Sgairneach Mhor gave me something I hadn’t had on any of my previous five Munros: a Summit View, of all things :shock: !!
IMG00033-20120929-1457.jpg
IMG00035-20120929-1458.jpg
“Sgairneach Mhor” means “Big Stony” :-?. While I wasn’t wanting to burst the poor thing’s bubble, my impression of it so far was that it was both smaller and considerably less stony than gloomy old Udlamain on the other side of Coire Dhomhain. However, on continuing down Sgairneach Mhor’s eastern ridge, I had to take that back: it actually evolves into a surprisingly fine rocky ridge above an impressively Craggy Corrie, rather unimaginatively named Coire Creagach. This is really the only terrain in these parts with any aspirations to rockiness, but it is a nice wee ridge :D , although all too short.
A good path, again almost a track, continues down to the bealach with Sgairneach’s east top, Point 758, with the Sow of Atholl (a Corbett) looming behind. I was briefly tempted to add the bonus piggy and do the Corbett as well, which looks as though it would be fairly straightforward, but it had been a long day and I had a long drive back home ... At the bealach with Point 758, a muddy wee path cuts down left (north) to eventually join the big ATV track up Coire Dhomhain, with the main track continuing to Point 758 ... and on to the Sow?? Anyway, I took the wee path downwards – muddy and indistinct in its upper section; considerably better defined but also degenerating into an utter quagmire as it got lower down. However, after fording the Allt Coire Dhomhain (wet feet: there is a bridge upstream but that excellent ATV track just across the stream was just too tempting), the track gave an easy stoat back to the W.H. Railway Line. It did then take a bit of a detour a few hundred metres south to allow a legal crossing of the railway via a gated underpass, before trailing back north to end at Lay-By 79, and my wee car.
These four hills make a good round, I would say: an unusually easy four-bagger, with only about one Munro’s worth of ascent in total (1070m) due to the high starting point at 450 metres, and an eminently manageable 23 km of actual walking including the road walk at the start (or end). Good scenery, too. I must put a new digital camera on my Christmas list...
Last edited by bobble_hat_kenny on Sun Sep 30, 2012 10:39 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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bobble_hat_kenny
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Re: The West Drumochter Four in the rain ... but no bonus pi

Postby The Rodmiester » Sun Sep 30, 2012 10:37 pm

Hi Kenny, hope you are all dried out by now, pity about the all the clag, no views to speak of. We did it last Thursday, what a difference a few days makes, see report Big 3 tame Wee 4 plus 1. Maybe your next outing up the hills will be kinder to you.
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Re: The West Drumochter Four in the rain ... but no bonus pi

Postby bobble_hat_kenny » Sun Sep 30, 2012 10:45 pm

The Rodmiester wrote:Hi Kenny, hope you are all dried out by now, pity about the all the clag, no views to speak of. We did it last Thursday, what a difference a few days makes, see report Big 3 tame Wee 4 plus 1. Maybe your next outing up the hills will be kinder to you.

Ah well, you get the weather you get, as they say. Glad you got better weather :D ; I'll definitely have a look at your report now to see what I missed...
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Re: The West Drumochter Four in the rain ... but no bonus pi

Postby old danensian » Sun Sep 30, 2012 10:58 pm

As Rod suggests - what a difference a day or so makes - our weather wasn't brilliant but enough to give the views to whet the appetite for those further afield.

As for the Hill of Horses - maybe it's similar to High Street down in the Lake District - in days gone by the venue for horse gatherings and races - and the tops have similar plateaux to accommodate them.

OD
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Re: The West Drumochter Four in the rain ... but no bonus pi

Postby bobble_hat_kenny » Fri Oct 05, 2012 12:08 pm

old danensian wrote:As Rod suggests - what a difference a day or so makes - our weather wasn't brilliant but enough to give the views to whet the appetite for those further afield.

As for the Hill of Horses - maybe it's similar to High Street down in the Lake District - in days gone by the venue for horse gatherings and races - and the tops have similar plateaux to accommodate them.

OD

Ah, that makes sense ... I've heard of High Street which I think is a Hewitt :? ? Completely bizarre name for a hill, that!
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Re: The West Drumochter Four in the rain ... but no bonus pi

Postby basscadet » Fri Oct 05, 2012 12:28 pm

Well done for getting round in the nasty weather.. I took the wrong track initially like you describe, but I quite enjoyed these ones anyway :wink:
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