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Beinns a'Chreachain & Achaladair: Trail of the Lonesome Pine
by bobble_hat_kenny » Sun May 01, 2016 12:43 pm
Route description: Beinn Achaladair and Beinn a'Chreachain
Munros included on this walk: Beinn a'Chreachain, Beinn Achaladair
Date walked: 24/04/2016
Time taken: 8.5 hours
Distance: 19 km
Ascent: 1240m2 people think this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
Due to a decidedly over-ambitious attempt to bag Beinns Mhanach, Achaladair & a'Chreachain together in iffy weather a couple of years ago (when I had to bail out on a'Chreachain after poor navigation compounded by a hailstorm ), I still had Beinn a'Chreachain to do. This time, particularly given that it was still early in the year with some snow about, I decided to stick rigidly to the standard ascent route for a'Chreachain & Achaladair as described in the website route description.
When viewed from the big car park at the start of the route, off the Achallater Farm access track, the weather was looking rather unpromising, and Beinn Achaladair had its head firmly embedded in the Clag. However, the www.mwis.org.uk forecast had rather uncharacteristically not hedged its bets at all for today: 'virtually certain' to be cloud-free Munros by midday in the West Highlands, no less ! So I trusted the forecast and set off.
It remained Grey Weather for the first hour and a half of walking, but this is a scenic approach route all the same. As described in the website route description, I walked up to the old car park (now for farm use only) just short of Achallater Farm, then took the continuing grassy track on the south side of the Water of Tulla (although it may be worth noticing that the former sign for 'Gorton' has currently 'fell aff' and there is just a signpost with a wee bit of broken plastic !). This track gives rapid access to the start of the walk proper, a good few kilometres NE of the farm. A choice currently has to be made when the track crosses the Water of Tulla on a big footbridge opposite the ruins of Barravourich Farm: does one stick with the track, knowing that the former footbridge that used to cross back over further along has recently been swept away, or take the decidedly inferior muddy footpath on the south side of the river ? The website advises sticking with the track, and I took their advice - very glad I did, on the whole.
The next problem was to identify exactly where to leave the track, so as to cross the river at the correct point to find the underpass under the West Highland Railway Line at NN359467. I must admit that I cheated and used GPS: the route leaves the path around NN352468. There is a faint path that leads off to the right of the track at this point, but I'd almost certainly have missed the start of this if I hadn't used GPS.
To the other side of the river is Crannach Wood, a very beautiful old forest of Scots pines, which is apparently an isolated remnant of the ancient Caledonian Forest that covered the country in neolithic times. (There are various small pockets left elsewhere, including the Coille Choire-Chuilc on approach to Beinn Dubhchraig near Tyndrum, bits of the Ardnamurchan peninsula, and so on.) Anyway, Crannach Wood is a striking savannah-like landscape, with the ancient pines well spaced out on rolling grassland. The pines looked lovely with Coire an Lochain hazily visible above them.
The faint path led down to what's left of the former footbridge at NN353468. Count me out ! Fortunately, it proved fairly straightforward to cross the Water of Tulla just about 50 metres further NE, using big boulders as stepping stones (and my trekking poles for balance).
Across the river, I headed on eastwards in the general direction where I thought the railway underpass should be, and to my relief I quickly picked up an intermittent path that heads straight for the railway crossing. The underpass is straightforward enough, but there certainly isn't a lot of headroom !
Once under the railway, a clear path carried on up into Coire an Lochain (Beinn a'Chreachain's big northern corrie), with the Allt Coire an Lochain to the left and a line of fencing to the right. The Clag had reluctantly decided to shuffle off the summits by now, and Beinn Achaladair was looking spectacular (but also rather intimidatingly Alpine ) through the pines.
The Allt Coire an Lochain sports a very attractive wee series of waterfalls in its mid-section: there were also some grand icicles decorating a shelf to its left, but I didn't get a decent photie of them. Anyway, here's one of the waterfalls on the Allt.
It wasn't too much longer before I got a proper look at Coire an Lochain - a truly spectacular spot, with a'Chreachain's towering buttresses directly to the south, complete with a picturesque dusting of snow, and a cute-as-a-button corrie lochan in the middle of it all.
Thankfully it isn't necessary to tackle these buttresses directly (or I'd have been straight off home again !!) - there are relatively gentle grassy slopes directly to the left (east) of the corrie that provide a straightforward, although pathless, route up onto Chreachain's NE ridge. As I huffed and puffed my way up those slopes, I began to worry slightly about the amount of snow higher up - it was definitely more than average for late April, and I'd freely confess that I'm not much of a winter walker (I have the gear, but not really the skills - definitely more practice required).
Once I finally got up there, however, a'Chreachain's snow-dusted NE ridge proved to be a delight. Thankfully I hadn't been the first person up here today, so I could just plod up through the snow stepping in other walkers' boot prints, saving a lot of effort. It was still fairly slow going, all the same, but with some fantastic scenery around, that wasn't such a hardship!
Before too much longer, I was up at a'Chreachain's impressive summit cairn. This is the highest of the five Bridge of Orchy Munros, and its position right at the edge of Rannoch Moor makes it a grand viewpoint.
Summit Selfie with Bobble Hat:
The ongoing ridge to Beinn Achaladair over Meall Buidhe, with the Black Mount Munros in the background:
Looking north across Rannoch Moor towards the vast half-dome of Ben Nevis:
However, unless I wanted to turn round and go back the same way I'd come (and I did give some serious consideration to this option), I had another Munro to tackle. And a rather steep one at that. The ongoing route first involved negotiating some mildly treacherous snow-covered boulderfield (definite ankle-twisting potential, so I took it slow!) down to the bealach with a'Chreachain's western Top, Meall Buidhe.
From Meall Buidhe's summit cairn, Achaladair's steep west face was definitely starting to look a tad scary ...
I got a better look at it on descent to the bealach. Revise that to £%$^ing terrifying !
Thankfully, however, it wasn't as bad as it initially looked. The steepest bit is towards the bottom, and fortunately that was largely snow-free: there is also a fairly clear path that helps a lot. Higher up there were a number of tricky wee lingering snowfields that blocked the path at a number of sections: I managed to find scrambly bypass routes around most of them, but there was one unavoidable big sheet of snow about half-way up. Thankfully the gradient had eased quite a bit by then, however, and there were again other walkers' bootprints that I could step in. All the same, I continued to take it fairly slow (I didn't really have much option!). There was a fantastic view back the way over Achaladair's northern crags for distraction:
It was definitely quite a relief to reach Achaladair's summit cairn, another terrific viewpoint perched right at the edge of the Munro's steep NW slopes, with grandstand views out over Rannoch Moor. Although I'd been up Achaladair before, that had been in Clag, and I was so glad to have re-done it on a day like this. The Black Mount Munros were looking particularly impressive, with Loch Tulla in the foreground:
As I'd hoped, my Snow Issues now proved to be pretty much over for the day, since my ongoing route was along Beinn Achaladair's gentle south ridge. From Achaladair's South Top, fresh vistas opened up towards the Crianlarich Munros, with Ben More and Stob Binnein being particularly prominent:
A nice glimpse of Loch Lyon in the distance:
On descent to the Dothaidh / Achaladair bealach, there were terrific views of Beinn an Dothaidh's awesomely craggy east face - something I really had no appreciation of, when I climbed this one years ago by the standard route up its south ridge!
At the Dothaidh / Achaladair bealach, I picked up the descent path that goes down through Coire Daingean and then Coire Achaladair back down to Achallater Farm. Maybe I was just knackered by now, but this path proved to be much more trying than I remember from my last attempt at these hills: it was ankle-twistingly rocky in its upper sections, and became boggy and intermittent lower down. Eventually it seemed to peter out altogether ... but to my surprise, just when I was wondering what direction to take, I spotted some very new-looking Hydro Works on the Allt Coire Achaladair down to my right, complete with a brand-new vehicular access track. Obviously this would give an easy way back to the farm ... but actually getting down to the track proved to be more of a challenge than I'd bargained for, as it starts off deep in a craggy gully of the Allt. I eventually bum-shuffled my way gingerly down some steep grassy slopes to reach the track, and after that, things were straightforward. There was a lot more headroom crossing back under the West Highland Railway Line in this direction!
Eventually the Hydro Works access track comes out through the Achallater Farm's yard, back to the old car park at the farm, then on down the track to the new walkers' car park. I noted on the way along that there is currently some 'jiggery-pokery' to try to re-route the walkers' access path to Beinn Achaladair so as to avoid the farm buildings, with a sign off east of the track not far from the new car park for 'footpath to Beinn Achaladair'. I had missed this on the walk in, and I would respectfully point out that since most people tackle this round in the clockwise direction, what the farm really needs to do (if they want walkers to avoid the farm buildings) is to create some sort of signed link route to the left of the hydro access track (once it is under the railway line) so that walkers can use the best bit of the access track but not have to trudge right through the farmyard. Anyway, it seems to be 'work in progress' so maybe they are already planning something along those lines.
A fantastic day's walking this - so glad I took advantage of the brief weather window !
by Cairngorm creeper » Sun May 01, 2016 2:15 pm
by ancancha » Sun May 01, 2016 9:59 pm
Hydro hydro everywhere
by bobble_hat_kenny » Mon May 02, 2016 1:28 pm
Cairngorm creeper wrote:Nice report and really useful as we hope to do this sometime soon. You had a nice day and some lovely photos.
Thanks - yes, I was certainly lucky with the weather .
They're great hills, these two - enjoy them when you do them yourselves!
by bobble_hat_kenny » Mon May 02, 2016 1:31 pm
ancancha wrote:Fabulous views from up there
Hydro hydro everywhere
Yes, it's that old thorny issue of green-energy-versus-wilderness-preservation ...
At least this one is less intrusive than some, I suppose.
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