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Geal Charn: a whole load of snow, and the big Five-Oh!

Geal Charn: a whole load of snow, and the big Five-Oh!


Postby bobble_hat_kenny » Mon Dec 03, 2012 10:50 pm

Munros included on this walk: Geal Chàrn (Monadhliath)

Date walked: 02/12/2012

Time taken: 6.5 hours

Distance: 16 km

Ascent: 730m

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Last New Year, I set myself a target of getting to fifty Munros by the end of the year. However, Year 2012 won’t go down in Clan Bobble Hat annals as one of our finer years: it’s been something of a saga of death, disaster and general mayhem :( . That elusive Fifty Munros target has therefore become a lot more significant to me than it might have otherwise... I’ve been making a late push to get my numbers up since the start of the autumn, and after a surprisingly fun outing to Meall Ghaordaidh in late November, my tally stood at forty-nine :? . But it had turned a tad chilly, and December was definitely too late in the year for me to tackle even an easy one on my own, in winter conditions.
Fortunately, my friends Pam and Gary took pity on me and offered their company for the big Five-Oh (not my age, incidentally; I’m actually only forty-six-and-a-half, and could probably still pass for forty-seven with the light behind me :D ). Now, I’ve been walking with Pam before (Beinn a’Chaorainn and Beinn Teallach back at the beginning of November), and I know that she’s scarily fit. I’ve never been walking with Gary before, but I’m aware that he runs mountain marathons and suchlike (and that’s just as a warm-up before breakfast :lol: ). They’ve also both done more than 100 Munros, and we’d therefore have to drive fairly far north to get to one they hadn’t done yet. However, Geal Charn of the Monadhliadh turned out to be one they hadn’t done, and it looked easy enough for the three of us to tackle in the snow while they put up with me peching away behind them...
Although we set off fairly early, it’s a long drive up from Glasgow. We’d opted for the Spey Dam route, rather than Garva Bridge or Sherramore, as it looked the most scenic approach.

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However, there’s currently major reconstruction going on at Spey Dam (I believe it’s got to do with upgrading the hydroelectric plant, rather than being anything to do with the threatened wind farms), and when we reached the usual off-road parking area at the side of the minor road up from Laggan where the track to Spey Dam branches off on the right, we discovered that it had been designated a turning area for the construction lorries, with traffic cones and a “No Parking” sign :( . Thankfully, a helpful Balfour Beattie lorry driver directed us to another parking area in a loop just about 50 metres up the Spey Dam track, where we wouldn’t be in anyone’s road :) . We were booted up and off walking by shortly after ten. The weather was spectacular, and the rounded lump of Geal Charn ahead of us was looking surprisingly fine under snow.
WR1.jpg

Another hill with a dull reputation this, but that suited me fine for a short winter’s day, and in fact it turns out to be a grand wee hill when tackled via Spey Dam :D . We were aiming for a circular route: crossing the Markie Burn low down near Spey Dam, then going up Geal Charn’s southern outlier Beinn Sgiath by its easy south ridge, crossing the shallow bealach known as Uinneag a’Choire Lochain to Geal Charn summit, then heading north-east round the rim of Geal Charn’s craggy north-east corrie to descend past the crags to Lochan a’Choire, then to cross the Markie Burn higher up and take the Landrover track back down Glen Markie to our starting point... That sounded a grand plan, but getting across the Markie burn near the dam was initially a worry. In Ralph Storer’s “Ultimate Guide to the Munros”, he mentions that it’s possible to cross the Markie near the dam on a “barrage of girders” :? . We weren’t sure that we fancied this much, so it was with considerable relief that we discovered a brand new bridge across the burn (not marked on the OS map) that’s presumably been built as part of the hydroelectric plant renovation.
WR2.jpg

The “barrage of girders” still exists – a precarious structure just downstream – three cheers for the new bridge :clap: ! An ATV track continues off west along a line of pylons, past two plantations. We stayed on the track a bit too long, heading off up the hill just to the east of the second plantation – we’d have been better heading up the west of the first plantation to avoid a wee bit of unnecessary descent and re-ascent. It was fairly squelchy initially; just as well the ground was well frozen.
WR3.jpg

A bit higher up, and we were getting tantalising glimpses of Geal Charn’s big eastern corrie, and the Monadhliadh plateau further east.
WR4.jpg

Grand views were also opening up over the Culra and Corrour hills to the south-west:
WR5.jpg

And now we came to a Significant Feature of Interest – a strange “rift valley” named on the OS map as “an Dirc Mhor” (the Big Gash :shock: ) which was probably the result of an ancient landslide. And they say that Geal Charn is a boring hill...
WR6.jpg

This odd feature runs along Beinn Sgiath’s southern flanks for the best part of a kilometre, so we had to walk gently uphill to the west along its lower lip.
WR7.jpg

Eventually it petered out, and it was time to bid a fond farewell to Biggus Dircus and head off right straight up Beinn Sgiath’s south ridge. Here is a final shot straight down the length of the Dirc:
WR8.jpg

The long, slow trudge up through unexpectedly soft snow (given how cold a day it was) proved fairly knackering, and Pam and myself were very grateful to have Gary blazing the trail in front of us while we plodded (well, Pam strode purposefully and I plodded) in his footsteps. Gary got some nice shots of us trudging up:
GC-M 1.JPG
GC-M 2.JPG
It was quite a while before we eventually reached the skyline just a bit to the west of Beinn Sgiath’s flat summit dome. Ahead of us now was the Uinneag a’ Choire Lochain. Despite its rather ominous name (reminiscent of the much steeper “window” of Creag Meagaidh), this turns out to be a surprisingly shallow bealach, providing you keep well west – it does get steeper to the east.
WR9.jpg

Gary was getting slightly worried about the time – it had taken me a long time to plod up, and it was now one o’clock. It would be a parky day to be plodding about in the dark :( ... With my full prior consent, something of a Forced March therefore now commenced, with Gary leading the way, and Pam (in her “Miss Whiplash” mode :lol: ) walking behind me to make sure I didn’t flag ... definite overtones of the Burma Road :shock: .
GC-M 3.JPG
However, it was all well worth it when Geal Charn’s massive summit cairn finally came into view.
Number Fifty at last :D !
WR summit shot A.JPG
GC-M 4b.JPG

We now followed an obvious line of fence-posts to the north-east, along the crags of Geal Charn’s eastern corrie. It wasn’t long at all until we were far enough past the crags to make a rather funsome descent down to the east of Lochan a’Choire. It took Gary about 53 seconds to run down the steep bit; Pam wasn’t quite so fast – maybe about 2 minutes 32 seconds :lol: ? I took a tad longer – partly because I ended up stuck in a snowdrift up to my oxters at one point, but also because I stopped to take some photos of the frozen lochan:
WR10.jpg
WR11.jpg

A bit lower down, we could see the Markie Burn below us, with that nice big Landrover track running along its far side, back south down Glen Markie :) .
WR12.jpg
WR13a.jpg

We had been a bit worried about fording the Markie Burn, particularly in winter. This could certainly have been tricky with the Burn in spate, and if necessary it would have been possible to walk upstream to the north-east, where a stalkers’ path crosses the burn on a footbridge at GR588983 or thereabouts. Fortunately we didn’t have to do that, though: in fact it turned out to be a very easy paddle, with lots of handy big boulders to act as stepping stones.
WR14.jpg

It was a relief to get across the burn to the Landrover track, as the sun was pretty low in the sky by now.
WR15.jpg

However, the track gave a straightforward and rather scenic traipse back to the car, and we didn’t have to resort to getting our torches out :) .
WR16.jpg

There was an intriguing view to two pointy wee hills to the south-west: I think these must be the Grahams Binnein Shios and Binnein Shuas, with Creag Meagaidh being the big snow-covered dome immediately to their right. The two Binneins look like grand wee hills: I’d love to have a go at them sometime.
WR17.jpg

So, my fiftieth Munro at last, and also my second Geal Charn. This hill has a dull reputation (it currently ranks in the Bottom Ten of all 282 in terms of User Rating on the website), and certainly the standard Garva Bridge or Sherramore approaches do look like long and boring plods on the map. However, this Spey Bridge route gives a fine circular walk with two good Features of Interest, namely An Dirc Mhor and then that craggy eastern corrie complete with Lochan. I certainly found it a grand winter outing :D .
Last edited by bobble_hat_kenny on Fri Dec 07, 2012 5:58 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Geal Charn: a whole load of snow, and the big Five-Oh!

Postby Bod » Mon Dec 03, 2012 11:24 pm

Well done enjoying your 50th munro :D :D :wink: , cracking stuff
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Re: Geal Charn: a whole load of snow, and the big Five-Oh!

Postby gammy leg walker » Tue Dec 04, 2012 9:38 am

Cool,50,whats your next target.
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Re: Geal Charn: a whole load of snow, and the big Five-Oh!

Postby bobble_hat_kenny » Tue Dec 04, 2012 10:47 am

gammy leg walker wrote:Cool,50,whats your next target.

Well, if all goes to plan, I'd love to get to the 100 by the end of 2014 ... there, I've said it now!
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Re: Geal Charn: a whole load of snow, and the big Five-Oh!

Postby PeteR » Wed Dec 05, 2012 12:17 am

Nice one BHK and congratulations on the 50 :clap:

Glad you got the benefit of a great day too. Looks like a good winter hill this one. I've been looking at the route you took, so a timely report for me :D
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Re: Geal Charn: a whole load of snow, and the big Five-Oh!

Postby quoman » Wed Dec 05, 2012 12:50 pm

Well done on the 50 mark the report was a good read and nice picture's to boot.
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Re: Geal Charn: a whole load of snow, and the big Five-Oh!

Postby bobble_hat_kenny » Wed Dec 05, 2012 2:19 pm

PeteR wrote:Nice one BHK and congratulations on the 50 :clap:

Glad you got the benefit of a great day too. Looks like a good winter hill this one. I've been looking at the route you took, so a timely report for me :D

Thanks! I'd say that the Spey Dam approach is definitely the premiere route up Geal Charn at the moment - that new bridge at the bottom of the Markie Burn makes all the difference :D . The standard Garva Bridge route completely misses out on An Dirc Mhor and the eastern corrie with its lochan, which would be a shame.
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