- bike 19.7m 31.8km
walk 10.5 m 16.9km
- bike 448m
- bike 3h
walk 5h 9m
Weather Fine with about 50% cloud, cover light wind, dry & sunny
It's taken a while to write this, no real excuses. I've not added any photos at the moment. I will return later and inseta few. But really photo's don't do it justice. go and look for yourself. especially when you summit Ben Alder and you can see how far it is back to Dalwhinnie.
The culmination of the precise planning. I have long had a fondness for this hill. It is big. It is far away from roads. I had something of a traumatic experience many, many years ago in this neck of the woods. This was a return in style, bigger, better, faster, lighter, drier, nimbler, bolder. A triumph. Smugness without compare. (I may be getting carried away here but I was really looking forward to this).
I had decided that if there was to be a 200th Munro then it should be, without doubt, Ben Alder. It is a name that doesn't really convey much but to those who know... let’s say it has an appeal.
We had hummed and hawed about the exact nature of our outing but reckoned that the simplest option was the best. We would abandon the children with our long suffering In-laws and strap bikes to the back of the car and do a single day round trip. That is one of the things about this hill, you have to decide 1 day or 2 or maybe 3? We had camped just past Lock Pattack a few years ago. The intention had been to have something of a Munro ‘Fest. We biked in, pitched a tiny tent next to the Allt Cam and set off up Beinn a’ Chlachair. Next day we climbed out of the tent and up onto Carn Dearg after which we wound our way along to Geal Carn, Aonach Beag and Beinn Eibhinn. The return was over some roughish country to pick up a path near Dubh Lochan and back to the tent to eat and quaff tea. We had intended to bike round to Ben Alder the next day and climb it too but the day dawned and we lay in sleeping bags listening to the tap - tap - tap of rain on the fly. We resumed one of our favourite past times, drinking tea and scoffing biscuits. When we ran out of biscuits we packed up and went home. The only regret was in hindsight we should also have climbed the nearby Creag Pitridh and Geal Carn on the first day.
On this occasion the day dawned bright and warm with a gentle breeze. It was looking good. The car park by the level crossing was ram-jam full and I received words of advice from a woman in a camper van, “Don’t park in the resident’s spaces. We did and we got shouted at”. I thanked the woman for that pearl of wisdom and parked further down Station Road. I had no intention of parking in the resident spaces. They’re for residents. I’m about to undertake a journey of about 40km. 100m more will not make a blind bit of difference. People! Really!!
We crossed the railway and pedalled down the road. As we approached the dam, a convoy of 4x4s and a minibus drove down the road accompanied by a large van. We held back to let the dust settle. I had assumed there was a party kicking off in the Big Hoose but my thoughts were interrupted by a massive bang. I was the victim of a blowout, not just an ordinary blowout but an unrepairable blowout only a mile from the car. Everything crumbled round me. The planning, the preparation, all the anticipation of my Ben Alder return. There was no way we could do this trip in one day on foot and be home before dawn!! (we did have torches). When would we get good weather again?
Over the next few minutes, my wife effectively told me to get a grip. I should point out that there were a few select words that I have omitted in the interests of decency. I have also paraphrased and removed the cries of anguish.
Wife: “Could you repair it?”
Me: “No, I have no kit to repair it with me”.
Wife: “That’s a bit daft etc. etc. etc. ad nauseum”
Wife: “Do you want to take my bike and I’ll wait for you?” Yes, she actually said that.
Me: “That’s very kind of you but no, that would not be much fun for you”
Wife: “Is there a bike hire/shop place nearby?”
Me: “Errr, actually I think there’s one in Newtonmore”
Wife: “Well then, let’s go”
I took my wife’s bike and pedalled back to the car, racked it then drove back to meet her. She then surpassed herself. A couple of the locals were getting in their car and she had the presence of mind to ask where the nearest bike shop was. “The one in Newtonmore is shut. I used to work there, but Laggan Wolftrax is open”.
Sorted. A brief visit to Laggan, coffee, a new tyre, an inner tube and a couple of tyre levers were purchased for the slightly inflated (no pun intended) price of £40.00 and the day was saved. I even managed to do the repair without taking the bike off the car.
There was a brief sense of Déjà vu as we saddled up again and pedalled our way down the side of Loch Ericht, past the lodge and up the slight hill. On the way down we were treated to a grand view of Ben Alder forest and a collection of 4x4s and a large van parked up at the ford. Curiouser and curiouser.
By the shores of Loch Pattack a group of people were sat about drinking. Greetings were exchanged as we passed and the last thing I heard was “ They've got a bar!” That confused me briefly. We passed the van and all became clear, a bar with optics and draught taps set up in the shade of the van. This is how Badenoch Angling Association roll. A friendly bunch too.
There is a bothy called Culra. It is not the bothy that was the focus of my previously mentioned traumatic experience. We headed towards the bothy along a track that wasn't as good as the one that takes you to Lock Pattack. There were times we had to dismount as it was too rough for comfort but we reached the bridge that signalled the start of the walk. We consumed tea and sandwiches on a big rock as we wondered who had abandoned the expensive looking Land Rover Disco on the track (it transpired it belonged to the family of blond people picnicking next to the river. I assume it was mum, kids and au pair). Culra was a hundred or so meters up the track and it was besieged by tents. We may have been a long way from the road but not from “civilisation”. There must have been in excess of 20 tents of varying colour. I felt justified in deciding not to camp and made a mental note not to drink from the river below the “wild” camp-site and to always buy a dark coloured tent.
Shanks pony took us up the excellent stalkers path, past a man fixing a puncture caused by descending too fast.
The master plan was to ascend to the plateau by way of the “Long Leachas” Leachas is a corruption of the Gaelic for leg. The route is in the most excellent “Scrambles in Lochaber” and, to be honest, only just qualifies as a scramble. There is a final steepening which is turned on the right by way of a short gully with no difficulty. The only precaution was for me to ascend while Mrs H waited in case I dislodged a stone or two. A final narrowish ridge leads to the plateau and a cairn. I’d like to do it in winter; the views are fine and wide. If we hadn't some time to make up I would have liked to sit a while.
Just below the summit (on the east side) are the remains of a camp set-up by Thomas Frederick Colby as part of the original Ordnance Survey mapping party. I'm impressed with their building skills. The location is awesome although it must have been a bit of a pain fetching water. I suspect that they didn't think twice about it.
On the subject of surveying, I heard a story concerning Sir Hugh Munro. He had walked in from Dalwhinnie to climb the previously mentioned peaks of Carn Dearg, Geal Carn, Aonach Beag and Beinn Eibhinn. Now in those days, one did not spend the night in the mountains. Becoming benighted on the hill would be regarded as failure. So Sir Hugh thought nothing of returning to Dalwhinnie then the next day, retracing his steps to return to Ben Alder and Ben Bheoil and continuing on to Rannoch station to take the train. I read a similar tale of mountain hardness in Bill Murray’s book. He was holidaying in Blackwaterfoot on Arran when he receives a telegram from a climbing companion. Could he meet him in Glen Rosa the following morning to climb on Cir Mhor? Mr. Murray rises at early o'clock and walks over to Glen Rosa to meet his friend. They climb on Cir Mhor and return down Glen Rosa where they part company. His friend returns to catch the ferry at Brodick and he continues over the hill to Blackwaterfoot.
I am frequently in awe of these people. Another awe inspiring occasion was during my ascent of Agag’s Groove on the Buachaille. I half remembered a Bill Murray chapter on his experience and thought I’d look it up when I got home. Turns out he did it in winter. He didn't have crampons or technical axes. Tweed and nailed boots were the cutting edge (literally) at that time. Current winter grade is about VI or possibly VII. As hard as the nails in his boots.
Back in the 1990’s a hill walker had the misfortune to discover the remains of a young man on the mountain. All means of identification had been removed, even the labels from his clothes.
On this day, our peace and tranquillity was disturbed by a group on their 5th Munro of the day. This resulted in an interesting situation. We enjoy walking together, we like each other’s company. Unfortunately, by the time we had scoffed lunch (yesterday’s leftover pasta with bits of chorizo mmmmm) they had also finished theirs. (I didn't ask what it was). To add insult one has a particularly loud and strong Belfast-ish accent. I find it grates after a while. What happened next was that we all moved on towards the next hill at the same time. I wanted to hold back but Mrs H, referring to the distance we had remaining, wanted to out run them. We eventually outran them on the descent to the col with Ben Bheoil.
By this time we had appreciated the distance we had travelled. We also appreciated the distance we still had to go. We were out of water, the wind had picked up and we were out of food. All that was left was a small bottle of sports drink. Ben Bheoil was traversed with ease on good path and we picked our descent to the original stalkers path back to Culra aka Tent City.
While traversing Bheoil, I had looked down to the path along Loch Ericht and marvelled at the distance I had walked at age 12. I'm still not sure how I managed it.
My dad and his friends along with some members of Kyle Mountaineering Club had hatched a plan.
Friday night; Get the train to Crianlarich and stay at the youth hostel.
Saturday morning; Catch the first train to Corrour and walk out to Ben Alder Cottage.
Sunday Morning; Walk out to Dalwhinnie for the train back to Glasgow Queen Street.
I seem to remember that it started in good weather. By the time we reached Corrour Lodge it started to rain and then it kept on raining. It all gets a bit hazy after that. I remember crossing the river and the descent towards the bothy which seemed to take forever. I was wet. We got into the bothy and steamed in front of the fire until I changed into dry clothes. I am amazed I had anything dry. There was a couple of folk in the bothy already and by the time the KMC and other arrived it was pretty full.
In case you don’t know, there are various stories about Ben Alder Cottage and its resident ghost. Some people have heard of bumping and scraping noises during the night while others have been convinced that they are being watched through the window. Legend has it that the last resident shepherd hanged himself, unable to endure the loneliness and isolation. His ghost remains, unable to rest in peace.
The bothy had 3 rooms and was organised into Married Quarters, Family Room and Single End. Dad and I along with Duncan and his daughter Marion occupied the Family room. As this was back in the good old days, I had a crap sleeping bag. This meant I couldn't sleep because I was cold. I managed to make enough noise to wake up dad. There was a brief discussion and we swapped sleeping bags. I then fell into a blissful sleep while my dad tossed and turned unable to sleep because he was cold. At some point during the night my dad claims to have heard a scream from next door, remembered the ghost story and decided to stay in his sleeping bag.
Unknown to us at the time, one of our companions in the Single End had woken and heard the knocking and scraping noises from next door and remembered about the ghost. This seems to have led to a nightmare from which she woke with a scream. It’s probably as well that my dad stayed in his sleeping bag. If the screamer from next door had woken from a nightmare then lay and listened as a clumping noise approached and the door slowly swung open, I think the whole bothy would have been awake shortly after.
Next morning I discovered that my feet were too big for my boots. They were too tight to wear for the 14 miles to Dalwhinnie. The only option was to walk in my Gola trainers. These were 1982 trainers remember, not 2012 trainers/approach shoes with contragrip sole, goretex and sorbothane inserts. We packed up and headed out into the grey morning. I remember being slightly apprehensive at the start because not long after leaving the bothy, the hill’s grassy sides slope into the loch quite steeply and my crap trainers had no tread to speak of. What followed was a long wet day. I don’t remember being cold, in fact I think it was quite enjoyable for a while. Every so often there would be a dead sheep or deer on the track, seemingly intact until you saw the big hole and realised it was a hollowed out carcass. I can’t recall how many times I wished for a speedboat to motor up the loch. I’d even have settled for a canoe or a rowing boat.
Close to Ben Alder Lodge, not long after we reached the Land Rover track, the rain started again. It rained and rained and rained. Miracles do happen sometimes. My feet were soaked but I didn't get a blister. I just kept on walking and walking and walking. And it rained and rained and rained.
After a long day with 2 outstanding hills under our belts we returned to bikes and demolished what food we had left. It seemed reasonable that we would cycle the flat and the downhill and walk the uphill sections. The ride back took a wee bit longer than the ride out. I was feeling tired, thirsty and slightly annoyed that I couldn't catch my wife up but it felt good to be cycling along the track that I had trudged along all those years ago. Fat tyres and suspension soaking up the bumps. Food and drink stashed in the car, heading home after my 200th Munro. And this time, a little bit sunburnt.