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Alder Adventures

Alder Adventures


Postby Silverhill » Wed Sep 17, 2014 10:08 pm

Munros included on this walk: Aonach Beag (Alder), Beinn a'Chlachair, Beinn Bheoil, Beinn Eibhinn, Ben Alder, Carn Dearg (Loch Pattack), Creag Pitridh, Geal Charn, Geal-charn (Alder)

Date walked: 04/06/2014

Time taken: 28.5 hours

Distance: 72 km

Ascent: 4049m

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I was very excited about a trip to these hills. Not only would I return to a much loved area after many years and stay at my favourite bothy, but I would also reach another milestone, my 100th munro! I know there is a more conventional route to the Ben Alder munros, via Dalwhinnie, along a good track. But I had once already walked from Culra bothy back to Dalwhinnie and wasn’t very inspired. Here was a good opportunity to try a different route. By setting off from Glen Spean I could do a few more hills on the way. And so the plan was hatched, as always long before Christmas. :D

The weather forecast wasn’t brilliant for today and tomorrow, and the night before the owners of the bunkhouse where I was staying, had warned me about a huge snow field near the summit of Ben Alder. This would necessitate precise navigation in misty conditions (which were forecast), to avoid missing the summit and dropping off Alder’s cliffs. Throw in a few river crossings, doing the walk-in and walk-out with a full pack now that Culra bothy was closed because of asbestos, and covering 70 odd kilometers and 4000m of ascent you can imagine that the pre-Christmas excitement about this trip had now also acquired a slight taste of nervousness. But that’s what makes an adventure!

Wednesday 4 June 2014
Beinn a’ Chlachair, Geal Charn, Creag Pitridh
29km, 1487m, 10 hrs


I parked a short distance away from the A86, to the side of the track leading to Luiblea. Here the car would hopefully attract less attention if left for two and a half days. The walk along the track was pleasant enough, with views of knobbly Binnein Shuas and Beinn a’ Chlachair in the distance, but also a surprise view towards the Loch Treig hills.

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A window on Chno Dearg

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Beinn a' Chlachair

I have heard tales of walkers mistaking Binnein Shuas for Creag Pitridh, getting to the summit and finding Lochan na h-Earba on the wrong side of the hill. A mistake easily made if you’re enjoying the surroundings, don’t look at the map and miss the track turning off sharply to the right. I nearly did.

Lochan na h-Earba and Creag Pitridh soon came in sight. What a lovely place! What a great beach! :D

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Lochan na h-Earba beach

I continued along the track and later excellent path to the Bealach Leamhain. Here I left my rucksack after transforming it into a grey boulder by putting the rain cover on. The disguise being very successful, I marked the spot on the GPS. Camera, GPS, map, compass, waterproof trousers, snacks and a bottle of water all went into the pockets of my jacket.

I took the path straight up the steep rocky nose to get to the north east ridge of Beinn a’ Chlachair. This was not difficult at all, only requiring the use of hands once or twice, and offered a great view of Loch a’Bhealaich Leamhain.

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Loch a' Bhealaich Leamhain and Loch Pattack

Height was gained quickly and once on the ridge I made a mental note of where to find the path later for the descent. To start off with I had to take a compass bearing as the ridge is not terribly well defined and the summit is not visible from there. But what followed was an easy walk along the ridge to the summit.

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Summit Beinn a' Chlachair

The views from the summit to the hills of tomorrow were stunning. Carn Dearg, number 100, was looking a bit timid in comparison to the others which had still quite a lot of snow on their flanks. Note was also made of the snow on Ben Alder, eeks!

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Tomorrow's hills, Carn Dearg, number 100

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Tomorrow's hills and snow on Ben Alder

The walk back was a doddle and even going down the steep nose was straightforward, thanks to the path.

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Steep rocky nose

Back at the bealach I relocated my rucksack, ate a few sandwiches, replenished the snack supply and continued to Geal Charn, following the path northwards from the bealach. Where it levels out, I left it and started climbing up the pathless hillside. Around 1000m there was a lot of loose scattered rock, but the slope had eased off as well, so it was easily dealt with. Skirting round the first top, the summit was swiftly reached half a kilometer further on.

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Summit Geal Charn

There were good views towards Loch Ericht. Beinn a’ Chlachair looked nice and pointy and Creag Pitridh looked deceptively easy and tiny. There was rain lurking in the Glen Nevis/ Loch Ossian area, but so far, the wind was keeping it away from me.

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Beinn a' Chlachair

Back to 1000m where I tried a direct descent east towards Creag Pitridh. Unfortunately there was still a lot of snow on that side of the hill. After descending a bit more I tried again and had more luck. It was then a matter of crossing the path, heading for pt. 837 and then across a peaty bealach towards Creag Pitridh, which now looked not so tiny anymore and pretty impenetrable. However, there is a path, which makes the climb straightforward. Approaching the summit I saw this odd shaped rock. :wink:

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A foot! Caberfeidh was here!

At the summit the wind had picked up considerably, so it wasn’t the best place for hanging about.

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Summit Creag Pitridh

A few quick piccies and down again, out of this wind, back to Bealach Leamhain to pick up the rucksack. It had been great doing the hills the light way!

From the Bealach Leamhain I had to cover a bit of boggy ground before picking up the path to the north of Loch a’ Bhealaich Leamhain. At first the path is somewhat hit and miss as it winds its way through heather, but it does become better defined. It was coming up to 6 o’clock, and it felt weird continuing into the wild instead of heading back to the car. To complement the slight feeling of unease, drizzle had set in, making everything rather slippery. With the heavy rucksack I had to be careful not to lose balance, so progress wasn’t very good along this stretch.

Next up was the crossing of the Allt Cam. I hadn’t found any mention of this in walk reports, so didn’t know whether it was likely to be tricky or not. Where the path veers off to the right to follow the river, I went straight ahead and had a look. It wasn’t too bad. The water was definitely flowing, but there were enough stepping stones. I crossed in a large zigzag/ dogleg fashion over the stones and kept the boots dry.

A good track leads to Loch Pattack and from there to Culra bothy. This bothy is my favourite: because of its remote setting amongst awesome hills and also because of fond memories of a walk in this area a few years ago.

It was nearing a 10 hour day and I was tired, so the bothy was reached with relief.

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Culra bothy

It was not locked and I had a peek in several rooms. To my delight, one of the rooms was occupied by a few other walkers, so I decided to join them. It was a group of three from the Cheltenham area, on a week’s holiday, doing their last 6 munros in the next two days, planning to compleat on Ben Alder. They were very good company. We spent an enjoyable evening in front of the stove, which had a nice fire in it, thanks to one of the three having returned from a successful wood finding mission. There were anecdotes, tales of hairy adventures, jokes. The hours flew past and all too soon it was time to turn to the sleeping bag.

Thursday 5 June 2014
Carn Dearg, Geal-Charn, Aonach Beag, Beinn Eibhinn, Ben Alder, Beinn Bheoil
28km, 1999m, 14 hrs


Ben Alder was the first munro that tempted me. Some years ago, when I was into long distance walking and had no interest in the munros, a friend and I walked from Fort William, via Glen Nevis, Loch Ossian, Culra, Dalwhinnie, to Kingussie. Whilst toiling on the wet ‘path’ along the Uisge Labhair, the back door of Ben Alder beckoned. Its broad west ridge providing a corridor of easy slopes south of Coire Labhair, straight to the summit. How fantastic would the views over Loch Ericht be! How exciting to peek over the cliff edge into Bealach Beithe and its loch! But we stuck to our plan and walked to Culra bothy to stay the night. I have wanted to return ever since. And today was the day! :D

At home I’d estimated the round of six would take me in between 10-14 hours. Given today’s weather, drizzle and low cloud, it would probably be nearer the 14. I set off at 8.30am. A late start for a long day, but having not slept very well for the past few nights, I just couldn’t face getting up any earlier than 7.30am. Daylight wouldn’t be a problem, I had a head torch anyway; and afterwards I could walk straight into my sleeping bag. So I’d just go with the flow, keep an eye on the time and the weather, and if needed leave the last two for another day.

From the back of the bothy it was steeply uphill to Carn Dearg. I took a picture just below the cloud base. That would be my share of views for today I reckoned.

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Just below the cloud base

Once on the ridge in thick mist it took some time to identify the best line of attack for the summit ridge. I decided to continue northwest and pick up the summit ridge from the start, instead of going for the summit in a direct line and risk overshooting it. Once on the summit ridge it was all straightforward. There was munro number 100! 8) A pat on the back, a sandwich, photographic evidence and then onwards.

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Summit Carn Dearg

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Number 100!

At the end of Carn Dearg’s summit plateau I stopped for a compass bearing, as the ridge would be twisting to the west. In good visibility the way ahead would have been obvious, but the mist was pretty disorientating. The discrepancy between my sense of direction and the arrow on the compass was substantial! Hence it felt very weird following the compass, but it had to be done.

Down to the bealach, up Diollard a’ Chairn, counting the bumps and onto Aisre Ghobhainn where straying was out of the question. Sadly no views of Loch Coire Cheap or Loch an Sgoir, but nevertheless a fun walk up the rocky ridge.

Next challenge, find the summit of Geal-Charn…. Let’s think.
I could take a WSW bearing and follow it straight to the summit. The likelihood of staying on this bearing for a good kilometer, when there were not many features around, was small. I’d better follow the northern edge of the cliffs for 700 meters (counting my steps) to pt. 1114, then take a bearing for the summit and follow it for a good 500 meters. As a back-up I’d switch on the GPS. Thus said, thus done. It worked more or less. I ran out of steps a short distance before the summit. I kept on walking in the same direction and to my big relief the cairn soon loomed up from the mist. It had taken me 2 hours and 10 minutes to get from Carn Dearg to Geal-Charn! Amazing how poor visibility slows you down. Still, another pat on the back, a sandwich and a compass bearing to get off the hill safely.

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Summit Geal-Charn

It was a relatively care-free walk to Aonach Beag, just following the ridge down and then up.

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Summit Aonach Beag

The compass had to come out once more to locate the SSW descent ridge. The cloud was thinning a bit and I caught a glimpse of Beinn Eibhinn’s gracefully curving ridge. The ascent of this was straightforward. Luckily I remembered that the cairn furthest away to the east is the summit. A touching tribute to a double compleater was buried in the pile of stones.

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Summit Beinn Eibhinn

Back down, keeping track of where I was: level section, descent, level section, descent, bealach; then down into the corrie. This was rough, pathless, wet and boggy, but below the cloudbase, which was rather lovely! Thoughts turned to Ben Alder and Beinn Bheoil. I made a deal with myself: if I got to where the path bends into Bealach Cumhainn by 4.00pm then I would continue up Ben Alder, i.e. go and have a look at the snow field near the summit. I’d estimated that from the bend it would take at least 6 hours if not longer, to do the munros and get back to the bothy, given the progress I’d been able to make so far. The original plan had been to go up Coire Labhair, but I could see patches of snow just peeping through the cloud, which had lifted a bit and was thinning even more.

Crossing the Allt Coire a’ Labhair was no bother, thanks to a few strategically placed rocks. I got to the bend in the path a bit before 4 o’clock. Time for a refuel and up the ridge, a bit steeper than expected but soon easing off. Back into the cloud which was much thinner now. When I got to a flat section I took a compass bearing for the summit. I could see the snow field but it was south of my route and nowhere near the summit. Excellent!

The ascent was hardly noticeable, and visibility didn’t stretch to the summit, so I’d just have to keep following the compass. Then finally an elevation and there was the trig point! If it hadn’t been for the trig, I’d have doubted I was on the summit, as the mist deceivingly made other parts of the hill look higher.

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Summit Ben Alder

I did have my peek down at Bealach Beithe.
And a bit further on again. The best views I’d had all day! A very happy bunny! :D

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A peek at Bealach Beithe

I followed the edge to pt. 1104, then went SSW down the ridge to Sgairneach Mhor as I didn’t fancy the steep SE descent. The most amazing views opened up once I got below the clouds. Loch Ericht was like a mill pond and reflecting the hills and clouds. Unreal! :D

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Loch Ericht

I then contoured the hill side NE to the boggy bealach at pt. 833 and headed up Sron Coire na h-Iolaire, following the path. All this navigating in mist had been pretty intense, but now I was on the home stretch I relaxed a bit. (Nooooooooo, don’t relax!)

It was a bit misty on the summit of Sron Coire na h-Iolaire, so I took a N bearing to locate the descent ridge (mistake no. 1), and went downhill. There wasn’t a path (clue no. 1). It wasn’t much of a ridge (clue no. 2). It got very rocky and steep (clue no. 3). I thought ‘This can’t be right!’ (clue no. 4). I took another bearing on the map along the direction of the ridge (mistake no. 2), and the arrow was definitely pointing north. That was impossible (clue no. 5). Confusion. I walked a bit to the right as the slopes were less steep there (mistake no.3). The cloud shifted and I saw Loch Ericht right in front of me (CLUE NO. 6). ‘I don’t care what the compass says, I’m going back up Sron Coire na h-Iolaire!’ (at last, sensible decision no. 1). Which was easier said than done, after all it was very steep, many rocks were loose and my legs were shaking. Back on the hill I sat down to let the jelly drain out of my legs, ate some chocolate and studied the map. It then dawned on me that the compass bearings had been taken from the west side of the plateau, whereas my position had been at the cairn on the east side of the plateau.

:oops: There I was, having carefully navigated through the mist for 12 hours, meticulously studying the map for any feature that might help: crags, bumps, bealachs, contour lines. Failing to do just that. :oops:

The aberration had given me a good shake up. I wasn’t tired anymore (or at least didn’t feel it) and concentration was back on. Swiftly down the ridge with views of Loch Ericht and Loch a Bealaich Bheithe and without any further hiccups onwards to Beinn Bheoil.

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Summit Bein Bheoil

Beinn Bheoil’s misty summit ridge was broad and featureless. So another compass bearing to keep me on the straight and narrow on the way down. Once below the cloud the descent route to Culra was obvious, though pathless. There were some distant rumblings of thunder, which chivvied me on. I was aiming for the path coming from Bealach Beithe, but never found it. Hey ho.

Back down at the river, there were lots of deer, looking at me inquisitively. They were on the other side so clearly didn’t feel the need to flee.

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Last look at the mighty Ben Alder hills

Last obstacle was crossing the river. I did so at a straight stretch opposite the bothy. No mucking about here: boots and socks off, Teva sandals on, trouser legs rolled up and go. The water was up to just below the knees. I crossed diagonally against the stream. Hard work but at least I could lean into the force of the water and there would be less chance of being pushed off balance. That was my theory anyway. The walking poles were of great help too. The adventure ended at 10.30pm, exactly 14 hours after it had started.

The no-mucking-about theme continued with a quick refreshing wash in the river, food, brushing teeth and then straight into the sleeping bag. Yesterday’s company had left and had written me a sweet note, explaining their departure. A few long and strenuous days in the hills had taken their toll on one of the walkers’ feet, which had become infected. They had walked out and gone home, leaving compleation for another time.

I was very tired and wide awake. It took a long time until sleep finally came.

Friday 6 June 2014
walk out
15km, 563m, 4hrs 30 min


I woke early, despite yesterday’s long walk. I lay for a while musing in my sleeping bag and concluded that fond memories are not just made up of good views on blue sky days. I didn’t see much of the hills yesterday. And my trip of a few years ago into this area which created the fond memories in the first place, didn’t have blue skies either. Nonetheless both trips had been good. The sense of adventure, being away from the civilized world for a few days, the company of others, simply walking in the hills. Just great. I would return once again. :D

The plan for today was to walk back to the car and depending on how I was feeling, drive to Dalwhinnie and walk up Meall Chuaich. An ideal hill for a lazy afternoon.

The walk out was pretty tame in comparison to yesterday’s trip. Good visibility, a track to follow…. At Loch Pattack I had a chat with a group of three, who had wild camped at the loch’s shore and were now heading for Carn Dearg, via the NE ridge. They had also walked in from Glen Spean, but had paddled across the Allt Cam. I told them about the spot where I had crossed.

I managed to find the crossing point again, and like the first time crossed in a wide zigzag/ dogleg fashion on the stepping stones.

It was a nice day on this side of Bealach Leamhain, but not on the other side when I got there. Low cloud and drizzle. It was very busy though, first a walker, then a group of thirty-odd DoE students, then another walker, a group of 2 and at Lochan na h-Earba yet another walker.

At the car I filled my daypack with things I would need for Meall Chuaich. The weather had improved considerably over the last two hours. It was even getting hot.

Whilst driving, yesterday’s trip and built up sleep shortage caught up on me. I parked the car in a layby and had an hour’s snooze, which did wonders. There was still time to bag a hill, nevertheless I decided to call it a day. When you’re tired, you’re tired full stop. Meall Chuaich could wait.
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Re: Alder Adventures

Postby jonny616 » Thu Sep 18, 2014 5:40 pm

Nice wee stroll that :clap: :clap: :lol: Shame about the clag :crazy:
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Re: Alder Adventures

Postby rockhopper » Thu Sep 18, 2014 6:19 pm

Belated congratulations for your century :clap: That was some way to do it - big route ! Pity about the clag but bet you were chuffed with yourself at the end - cheers :)
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Re: Alder Adventures

Postby litljortindan » Thu Sep 18, 2014 10:25 pm

Some walk and you got some good views despite the weather.
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Re: Alder Adventures

Postby Caberfeidh » Fri Sep 19, 2014 10:01 am

Silverhill wrote:[
Approaching the summit I saw this odd shaped rock. :wink:
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I never done nuffin. I was at sea at the time, and I can prove it. Oh wait a minute, Oh that foot... Oh yes, well, I was trimming someone's bunions and I may have got a bit carried away... :D
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Re: Alder Adventures

Postby Silverhill » Fri Sep 19, 2014 10:44 pm

jonny616 wrote:Nice wee stroll that :clap: :clap: :lol: Shame about the clag :crazy:

Thanks jonny616! Whichever way these hills are approached, it does involve a wee stroll! :lol:

rockhopper wrote:Belated congratulations for your century :clap: That was some way to do it - big route ! Pity about the clag but bet you were chuffed with yourself at the end - cheers :)

Thanks rockhopper, can’t believe it’s already more than 3 months ago. But at least I’m getting my reports up quicker that last year. :wink:

litljortindan wrote:Some walk and you got some good views despite the weather.

Thanks litljortindan! On the first day the weather was supposed to be pants already, but it turned out rather good for views. So I can’t really complain about the lack of views on the second day. At least I got to practise the navigational skills for a short while. :lol:

Caberfeidh wrote:I never done nuffin. I was at sea at the time, and I can prove it. Oh wait a minute, Oh that foot... Oh yes, well, I was trimming someone's bunions and I may have got a bit carried away... :D

You mean there was a leg near as well? :shock: :lol:
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Re: Alder Adventures

Postby londonwalker » Sat Sep 20, 2014 8:23 pm

love the improvisation of the 100 sign
That wasn't a bad effort on the navigation front all told, The mistakes coming with the onset of fatigue I would imagine.
this has got me thinking now as I have all these hills to do.
I assume the bothy is no longer locked as I was led to believe or has the asbestos been removed does any one know?
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Re: Alder Adventures

Postby Silverhill » Mon Sep 22, 2014 8:26 pm

londonwalker wrote:love the improvisation of the 100 sign
That wasn't a bad effort on the navigation front all told, The mistakes coming with the onset of fatigue I would imagine.
this has got me thinking now as I have all these hills to do.
I assume the bothy is no longer locked as I was led to believe or has the asbestos been removed does any one know?

Thanks londonwalker! Quite liked the improvised 100 myself too! My mistakes show that it is not only about knowing how to use map and compass but also about keeping your wits about :roll: . On a clear day you will be much faster than I was. I don’t know the latest about Culra bothy. This is what the MBA says: http://www.claviantica.com/culra/index.html
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Re: Alder Adventures

Postby Alteknacker » Mon Sep 22, 2014 11:23 pm

Great report, and - clag notwithstanding - some pretty fair pix. Looks like an excellent route.

I had to chuckle over your navigational tribulations! I'm constantly amazed how many of us get into these situations, in spite of decades of experience!!! I reckon part of it is just the fact that one is experienced and relies too heavily on some false "instinct". I adduce in support of this the fact that I never seem to get lost when I've someone with me, and therefore have a much greater sense of responsibility.

I've done a complete circle before now, in spite of having a compass with me :( :( :( .
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Re: Alder Adventures

Postby Johnny Corbett » Tue Sep 23, 2014 10:03 am

Good stuff Silverhill & well done on your 100th. One of my favourite bothys as well & hope it's up & running again soon :)
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Re: Alder Adventures

Postby Beaner001 » Tue Sep 23, 2014 1:41 pm

Well done on the 100 Silverhill, thats a great TR, lovely pics too :clap:
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Re: Alder Adventures

Postby simon-b » Tue Sep 23, 2014 7:34 pm

A great expedition, Silverhill. Well done on the 100.
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Re: Alder Adventures

Postby scottishkennyg » Tue Sep 23, 2014 7:59 pm

Good route there SH and belated well done for hitting the century. :clap:
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Re: Alder Adventures

Postby Silverhill » Tue Sep 23, 2014 10:04 pm

Alteknacker wrote:Great report, and - clag notwithstanding - some pretty fair pix. Looks like an excellent route.

I had to chuckle over your navigational tribulations! I'm constantly amazed how many of us get into these situations, in spite of decades of experience!!! I reckon part of it is just the fact that one is experienced and relies too heavily on some false "instinct". I adduce in support of this the fact that I never seem to get lost when I've someone with me, and therefore have a much greater sense of responsibility.
I've done a complete circle before now, in spite of having a compass with me :( :( :( .

Thanks Alterknacker! This now leads to the interesting question of when to trust one’s instinct and when to trust one’s compass. Had I trusted my instinct instead of the compass earlier on in the day on Carn Dearg, I would have gone down the wrong side of the hill. Had a listened my instinct on Sron Coire na h-lolaire, I would not have gone down the wrong side of the hill. You live and learn. :crazy: :lol:

Johnny Corbett wrote:Good stuff Silverhill & well done on your 100th. One of my favourite bothys as well & hope it's up & running again soon :)

Thanks Johnny Corbett! I too hope that the bothy will be up and running soon.

Beaner001 wrote:Well done on the 100 Silverhill, thats a great TR, lovely pics too :clap:

Thanks Beaner001! Not sure about the clag pictures. :lol:

simon-b wrote:A great expedition, Silverhill. Well done on the 100.

Thanks simon-b! These expeditions are easily dreamt up from the comfort of a sofa, and it is great to finally make them happen, after planning for a long time. 8)

scottishkennyg wrote:Good route there SH and belated well done for hitting the century. :clap:

Thanks scottishkennyg! The report is belated, not your wishes! That’s the only downside of a two week bagging holiday, it takes a long time to do the write ups. :roll:
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Re: Alder Adventures

Postby spiderwebb » Wed Sep 24, 2014 8:36 am

Well done reaching the 100, next stop the halfway mark :D

Love that beach, sat there a few times, given these hills took a few attempts :lol:

Compass and mind never seem to work in synch do they ? But we know which is right, I've used mine on occasion to confirm against GPS, as I trust the compass above all else.

Great walk, report and pics, shame about the clag, best wishes for the next milestone :D
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