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A Culra Cornucopia

A Culra Cornucopia


Postby old danensian » Tue Jun 03, 2014 3:11 pm

Munros included on this walk: Aonach Beag (Alder), Beinn Bheoil, Beinn Eibhinn, Ben Alder, Carn Dearg (Loch Pattack), Geal-charn (Alder)

Date walked: 29/05/2014

Time taken: 14 hours

Distance: 38.5 km

Ascent: 2690m

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Leaden skies spitting a hint of rain into the air would normally herald a severe bout of pessimism. Clouds snagging their undersides on the cliffs and crags of Ben Alder would normally perpetuate such a mood.

But not after cycling down from Dalwhinnie and with the promise of improvements in the weather later in the day: and even better for the day after.

So began one of those spectacular spells in the hills that will live long in the memory.

I would normally try to restrict the number of photographs in a report to no more than a dozen, but there’s no apology for letting more images tell some the story for these two days.

29.05.14
Ben Alder; Beinn Bheoil
16.5km; 1124m; 6hrs

The cluster of tents at Culra was growing. Fresh air or asbestos dust? It’s a bit of a no-brainer really.

At midday on Thursday the top of Ben Alder kept hiding in the clouds that drifted sluggishly across the plateau above. The occasional rain drop encouraged a quick pitch of the tent, just in case. Fortunately, nothing persisted.

Alder-01.jpg
Ben Alder from Culra - midday conditions not promising either way


The afternoon and evening stretched ahead. Carrying a much lighter pack than I’d cycled in with, I set off ambling up the track on the southern side of the Allt a Chaoil reidhe. Short Leachas or Long Leachas, I wasn’t too bothered. I just enjoyed a leisurely saunter up the easy angled path, revelling in the surroundings.

Alder-02.jpg
Garbh Choire and Loch a Bhealach Bheithe below Ben Alder


By the time I realised that I must have missed the track across to the Long Leachas ridge, the profile of the Short Leachas ridge looked equally alluring. So, I simply carried on alongside the Allt a Bhealach Bheithe, and looked for an easy way across it. Easier said than done, and by the time I’d reached the loch nothing straightforward had appeared.

After a bit of a wander up and down the stream I found somewhere feasible and, with the aid of an extended walking pole, I felt like I’d pole vaulted across. With dry feet I made a bee line across the hillside and soon gained the foot of the ridge and began to gain height quickly.

As plateau got closer, the scrambling became more interesting. One or two stretches were airier than I had expected, which focussed the mind and distracted from any tiredness that may have lurked.

Alder-03.jpg
Looking back down the Short Leachas ridge


Alder-04.jpg
Still gloomy looking across the summit plateau of Ben Alder


Once on the summit plateau I was soon back into saunter mode and a kilometre or so later I was hunkering down in the shelter of the cairn. A ceiling of grey still hung above and a chill persisted in the early summer air, so I was grateful for the protection the stones provided. However, the cloud level was clearly rising, visibility from the top was no longer being threatened and, with Schiehallion standing proud on the horizon in the distance, the day’s conditions were showing every sign of the promised improvements.

Alder-05.jpg
Summit of Ben Alder looking across to Sron Bealach Beithe


After a bite to eat it was off round the rim of the Garbh Coire to the promontory of Sron Bealach Beithe. An excellent amble across grass and stones that allows the scale of the corrie below to gradually unfold ; dirty streaked snow adding to a sense of scale and foreboding.

Where the plateau abruptly ends at Sron Bealach Beithe the onward route becomes clear : not down there. The view may be spectacular but continued progress in that direction would clearly be unwise.

Instead, back-tracking for a couple of hundred metres is advised before turning down to the bealach below. Keep on working to the right to avoid some of the more awkward crags and the flatter ground below is soon reached.

Alder-06.jpg
Why it's best to keep right when descending from Sron Bealach Beithe


The cadence of the day was repeating itself. A short steady plod was now required to overcome the hump on the ridge that stands in the way of Beinn Bheoil. Sron Coire na h Iolaire juts out and gives a splendid view back up Loch Ericht and across to the Drumochter Munros.

Here, in the late afternoon, the sun finally broke through and showed signs of sticking around. Another spell of lazing loitering and lingering was in order.

Alder-07.jpg
Beinn Bheoil from Sron Coire na h Iolaire - and the day starts to brighten


Alder-08.jpg
Ben Alder from Beinn Bheoil


After almost dozing off by the cairn, it was back to sauntering and traversing the whale-back hump of Beinn Bheoil. The summit had little to offer so I just followed its nose and carried on down the other side, heading left before reaching Sron Dreineach to rejoin the outward path.

Alder-09.jpg
The three ridges: Short Leachas and Long Leachas on ben Alder and Lancet Edge on Sgor Iutharn


A small innocuous cluster of white stones soon appeared on the left hand side of the path, and I realised that this is what I must have passed by without noticing and missed the route across to the Long Leachas.

Alder-12.jpg
Cairn marking path across to the Long Leachas ridge


It wasn’t long before the track reached the river and a gentle stroll back to my tent followed. There was no point in being rushed on the way down. Not just because I simply had the time, but I didn’t want to be too tired for the following day: I already knew it would prove to be a long one.

Alder-10.jpg
Better conditions in the evening back at Culra


Alder-11.jpg
An idyllic evening merges into night above Ben Alder


The day had been like a triathlon: each stage of drive, cycle and walk tiring in their own way, but in combination hugely rewarding. It was my first foray into these hills and I was smitten. Roll on tomorrow.

Relaxing over tea and soup at the tent, and attempting to capture the skyscape above the hills, puts far more than physical energy back into the system. Settings like this reinforce why we do it.


30.05.14
Geal Charn; Aonach Beag; Beinn Eibhinn; Carn Dearg
22km; 1566m; 8hr

As what masquerades for darkness drew in and I sought sleep, I became aware of company.

Stones in the river made that hollow rumble, while sniffs and snorts told of something being close. As I eased the zip slowly down and peeped out, the deer stared back. I couldn’t imagine they’d get fired up about the remnants of a Morrisons chicken and mushroom soup that was still out in the fly sheet, but I wasn’t taking chances.

Then it got cold and I regretted only bringing my summer single season sleeping bag. But hang on i thought, it is summer. A suggestion of frost on the grass outside the tent the next morning challenged that assumption.

The day ahead greeted me at 5.30am with cloudless blue skies that I just knew shouldn’t be wasted. It’s days like this we dream of and hope for.

Charn-01.jpg
5.30am at Culra - the day awaits


Four Munros in a row across the glen from Ben Alder looked a logical sequence: out high and back low or vice versa. Climb straight up to Carn Dearg, along to Beinn Eibhinn and back up and over Bealach Dubh or the other way round?

However, this aspiration was complicated by wanting to sample the Lancet Edge on Sgor Iutharn as well. Some double-backing would be necessary

Charn-02.jpg
Sgor Iutharn - the first lure of the day


So the plan was set: up Lancet Edge to Sgor Iutharn, over to Geal Charn, then out to Aonach Beag and Beinn Eibhinn. Given the relatively small dips between them, repeating Aonach Beag and Geal Charn would be a small price to pay before heading out in the opposite direction to finish off with Carn Dearg. A path directly down to Culra is rumoured but not essential: by then, let gravity take its course.

Walking up by the side of the river towards the pinnacle of Sgor Iutharn was idyllic. The sun’s early morning heat helped a few wisps of cloud gather around Ben Alder. Its low angle at that time of the morning made the shadows of the tufts of grass at the path’s edge look like strings of bunting celebrating the day.

A succession of waterfalls and pools punctuated the route while the ridge of Sgor Iutharn started to rear up as it got closer. At some point there may well be a track that leads to the foot of the ridge, but, as with the one leading to Long Leachas the day before, I missed it.

Charn-03.jpg
Sgor Iutharn rears up - and somewhere across the slope is the way to the bottom of the ridge


Charn-04.jpg
The Lancet Edge begins - with Geal Charn in the background


Weaving between the rocks, the slope got steeper, and after a while I was wondering how it earned its soubriquet of “Lancet.” This was more like a buttress. Then the angled eased off a little. Then it narrowed. Then I knew why.

For a delicious ten or fifteen minutes, the slopes on either side simply dropped away. In winter it must be quite a challenge. In strong winds it must be quite hairy and requiring an “a cheval” style approach. In thick mist at least the route finding poses no problem but the end is never in sight.

Charn-05.jpg
The end of the Lancet Ridge - over all too quickly


However, on a day like this, I was tempted to go back and do it again. Delectable but all too short.

Charn-06.jpg
Geal Charn from the summit cairn of Sgor Iutharn


The remainder of the day, in comparison, retreated to the cadence of the day before: long stretches of sauntering and ambling interspersed with the occasional short burst. Swooping but never steepening: until the very end that was.

Charn-07.jpg
The day ahead spread out from Geal Charn - sweeping round to Aonach Beag then to Beinn Eibhinn


On a fine day navigation posed no problem. Geal Charn was just “up and along.” Aonach Beag and Beinn Eibhinn are reached by simply following the path, taking no more than half an hour between each. Returning over Geal Charn and heading off towards Carn Dearg, the final Munro peeps over the skyline as a target. At the edge of the plateau, as Loch Coire Cheap suddenly bursts into view below, head right to the top of the Aisre Ghobhainn ridge that plunges down towards Doillaid a Chairn. The path safely weaves its way down before then leading you across to the slow slope of Carn Dearg.

Let the pictures tell the story.

Charn-08.jpg
Aonach Beag to Beinn Eibhinn


Charn-09.jpg
Beinn Eibhinn


Charn-10.jpg
Collapsing cornices below the twin tops of Beinn Eibhinn - the map gives them both 1102m and my GPS gave them both 1103m - so make sure and go to them both!


Charn-11.jpg
The way back over Geal Charn from Aonach Beag


Charn-12.jpg
North east to Carn Dearg peeping over the hill from Geal Charn


Charn-13.jpg
Carn Dearg



Two glorious days out, six Munros (albeit two of them twice – but who cares when they are that good), stunning surroundings, the deer in the night , ambling, sauntering, loitering and soaking it all in and, on returning home, a sense of achievement that I’m still eager to share.

Cornucopia: fruitfulness and plenty (OED) – Culra and the Ben Alder area has it in abundance.
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Re: A Culra Cornucopia

Postby dogplodder » Tue Jun 03, 2014 6:25 pm

Never been to this area but your account could almost make me consider wild camping. :wink:

Absolutely stunning! :D
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Re: A Culra Cornucopia

Postby L-Hiking » Tue Jun 03, 2014 8:06 pm

Nice one beats my wild camp on Haystacks by miles :clap:
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Re: A Culra Cornucopia

Postby Fife Flyer » Tue Jun 03, 2014 8:39 pm

Fantastic report with as you said some great photo's :clap:

Chuckled at your initial walk where you missed the path, we did exactly the same & had to trudge up to the ridge, no fun after a long cycle on a baking hot day :lol:
I take it the snow on the side of Gael Charn has melted? It was an interesting climb when I did it on 20th April :wink:

For anyone who hasn't been to the Culra area, get yourself a bike and enjoy :lol:
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Re: A Culra Cornucopia

Postby old danensian » Wed Jun 04, 2014 6:54 pm

Fife Flyer wrote:
I take it the snow on the side of Gael Charn has melted? It was an interesting climb when I did it on 20th April :wink:

For anyone who hasn't been to the Culra area, get yourself a bike and enjoy :lol:


Melted on Geal Charn? The scene on the plateau was more like a view from the Sahara!

Charn-19.jpg
Is it sand - or was it snow?


And as for the exhortation to "get a bike" - I take my hat off to those who walk it all the way - and I take both of them off to the couple I met on Beinn Bheoil who had taken four hours to kayak from Dalwhinnie all the way down to Ben Alder cottage at the other end.

OD
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Re: A Culra Cornucopia

Postby Fife Flyer » Wed Jun 04, 2014 7:13 pm

old danensian wrote:
Fife Flyer wrote:
Melted on Geal Charn? The scene on the plateau was more like a view from the Sahara!

And as for the exhortation to "get a bike" - I take my hat off to those who walk it all the way - and I take both of them off to the couple I met on Beinn Bheoil who had taken four hours to kayak from Dalwhinnie all the way down to Ben Alder cottage at the other end.
OD


DSCF3789.JPG
The way up to Geal Charn, what a difference a few months makes

DSCF3793.JPG
The summit - where did all the snow go????
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Re: A Culra Cornucopia

Postby Collaciotach » Wed Jun 04, 2014 7:32 pm

Did these in the snow and ice Geal Carn was awkward to find and some good steep edges :D

We did not see much though so now I know what I missed :D

Good Report :clap:
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Re: A Culra Cornucopia

Postby jester » Thu Jun 05, 2014 10:35 am

old danensian wrote:
Charn-06.jpg



I did this with Glasgow HF Outdoor Club on Sunday. Horrible weather saw came in just as we topped Lancet Edge. Visibility was poor and we travelled by compass bearing to Geal Charn, taking a direct line which involved kicking steps across the large patch of snow on the left of the big clear patch up the middle. Had we even had a snatch of visibility we'd have taken that. There was still a fair bit on the approach to the summit as well.

Your day was certainly better than ours.
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Re: A Culra Cornucopia

Postby Huff_n_Puff » Sat Jun 07, 2014 3:50 pm

Beautiful. We did these nine years ago and wild camped at Culra. Its a stunning area, can't recommend it enough so a big thank you for bringing back all the memories. :clap: :clap:

A variation on the drive/bike theme is train (from Dundee) to Dalwinnie, walk to Culra then walk out to Currour and train out. It made a wonderful round trip. :D
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