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Seemed a good idea but how not to climb Carn Dearg (Alder)

Seemed a good idea but how not to climb Carn Dearg (Alder)


Postby dogplodder » Sun Aug 06, 2017 7:41 pm

Route description: Aonach Beag: Four Munros from Culra

Munros included on this walk: Carn Dearg (Loch Pattack)

Date walked: 02/08/2017

Distance: 32 km

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I'd had the idea to climb Carn Dearg from the north some time ago but it was strengthened when I saw it from The Fara in May. I knew it was quite a distance but I'd walked the paths approaching the Laggan hills on several occasions, there were paths marked on the map either side of Loch a' Bhealach Leamhain so the only unknown was crossing the river running alongside the Carn Dearg ridge and climbing the ridge itself.

Carn Dearg (centre left) and Loch Pattack from The Fara
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We parked in the layby just east of the track to Luiblea and started walking at 8.00 am. There was another car already there, the occupant of which was applying a liberal layer of midge repellent before donning a midge net. I hoped he was being extra cautious. We learned he too was aiming for Carn Dearg making me feel it was perhaps not such a crazy idea after all. :crazy:

Looking west from Luiblea towards the Fersit hills.
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Distant Grey Corries
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The best of the weather was forecast in the morning with rain due to move in around 4.00 pm and so far this prediction was living up to expectations.

Reflected Beinn a' Chlachair
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I've always thought Lochan na h-Earba a beautiful spot with its sandy beaches and loch framed between Creag Pitridh on the right and the Shuas and Shios Grahams on the left. But today it was at its most stunning and I even got this photo published on the BBC Scotland site! :D

Lochan na h-Earba
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Wild flowers
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It was by now 9.00 am and three and a half hours since breakfast so we stopped for a snack with a view of the loch; but it only took minutes for the local midge population to find us and we felt for the Outward Bound kids who were camped on the grassy area behind us. One of them said they had been advised not to open their tents that morning as the midgies were so bad. :twisted:

The WH instructions say to look out for a cairn at the start of a grassy path but the grassy path has been replaced by a hard core track, which we walked on past, and in any case we didn't want to walk through the area where the tents were pitched. So we stayed on the track parallel to the end of the loch until it met another track running west which we turned right along. This would have added a little to our route but not a lot. Soon we were heading south on the stalker's path alongside the Allt Coire Pitridh.

Stalker's path
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So far we'd been going well but when the path steepened I started to wonder if taking on such a long walk at the tail end of a cold was such a smart idea! My nose ran continuously and I must have gone through more than a dozen hankies. It was humid and there was no breeze so we were surrounded by a swarm of midge that got into eyes, nose and mouth and repellent-laced sweat ran into my eyes, making them sting and water so much I couldn't see. To add to that it felt like the stuffing had been knocked out of me and I couldn't get any speed up. James asked if I was okay and said he didn't think I was firing on all cylinders. He then admitted he was getting twinges of pain from an old groin strain. I gave him Ibuprofen but we couldn't stop as the only way to survive the midge attack was to keep going (they avoided the areas of skin where I'd applied repellent but three days later I'm still suffering from a mass of bites on my scalp) but our going was slower than usual.

Meanwhile we could see Ian standing waiting patiently on the skyline away ahead of us. When we reached him at the bealach we found to our relief there was a breeze and we could stand still without being eaten alive. Ian said he was keen to traverse further along the ridge from Carn Dearg towards Geal-Charn, and suggested he go on ahead and meet us back at the Carn Dearg summit. Since Ian's pace was faster than ours this seemed sensible at the time, although as things worked out it proved not to be the best plan. So Ian set off while James and I found rocks to sit on a with a view down over Loch a' Bhealach Leamhain.

Loch a' Bhealach Leamhain
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We had a leisurely break and were surprised by how long it took before we could see Ian's figure making its way along the loch. The reason for the delay was the steepness of the slope from the point we were sitting and the non existence of any path worthy of the name until quite a long way along. James then asked me to point out Carn Dearg and if there was a path up on to the ridge. I said the map showed a path to the river and alongside the river but the section up to the ridge would be off piste. James then decided that with the old injury already niggling it wouldn't be wise to attempt it and he'd be better to climb the much closer Geal Charn at whose foot we were sitting.

I agreed with him but it presented a dilemma as Ian was expecting to meet us at the Carn Dearg summit. We had only covered about half of the total distance and I didn't like leaving James on his own for what would be a long wait. He reassured me he would be fine, had a sheltered spot in the sun, could read his book and if he felt like it could take a dander up Geal Charn. Our original plan had been to get back to the car for 6.00 to be home for 7.30 but I was starting to doubt we would make it. My last words to him were "It might take longer than we think but make sure you stay here and we'll come back this way" before beginning the descent to find the path marked on the map on the NE side of the loch, which we had earlier agreed looked easier than the one that climbed over the rocky shoulder of Beinn a' Chlachair on the SW side. Well that was wrong and we ended up returning by the much better path on the SW side.

Where's the path clearly marked on NE side of loch?
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It went from no sign of any path to an intermittent water-logged path which was useful only in as much as it showed you were going in the right direction. Aware this would not be a good place to turn an ankle I was being extra careful and the going was slow.

Looking back to where I left James
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Once beyond the end of the loch the path was clearer, although still wet, and improved as it dropped down to the river in the glen between Carn Dearg and Beinn a' Chlachair.

Path on left leads to river crossing point, Carn Dearg on right
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Loch Pattack straight ahead
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I hoped that to save time I'd be able to cross the river with boots on but when I reached the point where the path reached the river there was too much water flowing too fast and the boulders weren't positioned in a way I could safely make it all the way across. So I walked upstream in the direction I'd be going anyway before heading up the ridge. I eyed up a few places but wasn't confident I could make it without missing my footing on a rock and plunging in. So although it would waste precious time I reckoned it was better to be safe and take the boots off to wade over. The rocks were uneven and slippy and I had to watch where I put my feet as some places were too deep but I made it across. Being alone certainly focuses the mind on the need for safety! :o

Once over the river there was a short distance over lumpy ground to reach an excellent track running parallel to the river and up the glen.

Looking back to crossing point
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What a relief it was to walk on a good solid surface again and I decided to stick to it for a while until I reached a burn coming off the ridge which I thought might provide an easier way up than through heather. By now I knew I was later than I should be to reach the summit at the agreed time to meet Ian and was concerned he would come off the ridge and with the lumpy terrain we'd miss each other. So I tried to send a text to both him and James to say where I was and what time it was. The texts appeared to go, which was hopeful, but they weren't received. :?

Excellent track along river
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I left the path and roughly followed the course of a burn up the side of the ridge. It wasn't too steep but it was soft and lumpy so going was slow. I was also anxious Ian would already be descending the ridge further to the east and kept looking back to the river crossing point and the path heading back, knowing he would be visible on it. If I saw him I would turn back irrespective of where I was on my route to the summit. Don't get me wrong, I was still keen to climb Carn Dearg but I was all too aware of what a remote place this was and the greater priority was to reconnect with the rest of the group. It was by now 1.30 and already the clouds were gathering and there was a heavy gloom in the air. I could feel the rain coming long before it did.

North east from Carn Dearg
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I looked over to Geal Charn and wondered if James had gone to the top which later I discovered he had. He'd tried hard to see us from the summit but we were too far away to be visible. Meanwhile Ian had reached the summit of Carn Dearg and concluded by the time it had taken him to get there he didn't have time to go any further along the ridge. While at the summit he met a man who said it was 20 miles to do Carn Dearg from Laggan, probably the reason most folk don't tackle it this way. :think:

Geal Charn from Carn Dearg
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Nearing the top of the ridge
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Shortly after taking that photo I spotted a tiny figure at the highest point of the ridge that I could see, which I took to be Ian. I kept climbing as he made his way down and as soon as we met up he offered to return with me to the summit. He said he thought it would take 30 minutes and having come so far I was very tempted. After half a ham roll for energy I told him to wait there and I walked on a bit further. But it didn't feel right. I knew if I continued to the summit it would mean adding another hour to the time James had already waited and it didn't feel right doing that. So I turned back down the slope to where Ian was waiting.

So for me, after walking most of the 20 mile route, it was technically a fail. I didn't reach the summit of Carn Dearg and I didn't get the views of Ben Alder from the top. I was disappointed but I knew it was the right thing to do to turn back when I did. There's more to walking in the hills than reaching summits. Since I didn't get the views from the top Ian has given me permission to use three of his photos to show you what I missed. 8)

Ben Bheoil and Ben Alder from near Carn Dearg summit (Ian's photo)
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Carn Dearg summit cairn (Ian's photo)
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From Carn Dearg summit west along ridge towards Geal-Charn (Ian's photo)
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We walked off the ridge together and along the track to the river crossing point. Once again I had the palaver of taking boots off and wading across, with a vicious midge attack to add to the mix. Once rebooted we quickly found the path which I saw from the map led to a junction with the path on the SW side of the loch, reached by crossing a burn. As we neared the burn I prayed I would get across with boots on and this time the boulders were positioned more helpfully and I managed it. :thumbup:

This path although wet in places was a much better path than on the opposite side of the loch and if I ever make a second attempt on Carn Dearg from Laggan this is the path I would take.

View back to Loch Pattack from path on SW side of loch
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As the path took us higher over the shoulder of Beinn a' Chlachair the wind picked up. It was quite strong but was fortunately at our backs. I was concerned about James who had now been 5 hours on his own so suggested to Ian he speed on ahead and locate James who would hopefully be sheltering by the large rocks at the foot of Geal Charn where I had left him.

Traversing NE shoulder of Beinn a' Chlachair
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Loch a' Bhealach Leamhain in the rain from NE shoulder of Beinn a' Chlachair
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Ian did forge ahead and when I came over the highest point I wondered why he was waiting on the path and not looking for James. The reason was he had finally got a text through to James and received a text back saying James had set off for the car about 20 minutes earlier, which was a huge relief. We then trotted down the path as quickly as we could and caught up with James near where the Outward Bound group where camping. So for the last hour we walked together arriving back at the car at 7.20, nearly an hour and a half later than I had aimed for. :oops:

With hindsight a few things were clear.

1. I'd underestimated the time it would take to complete the route, assuming a path on the map would be a path on the ground.

2. I shouldn't have agreed for Ian to go on ahead as there was no sure way of letting him know the plan had changed, apart from following him.

3. Walking with a cold will probably slow you down.

4. You can still have a great day in the hills without reaching the top. :shh:
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Re: Seemed a good idea but how not to climb Carn Dearg (Alde

Postby mrssanta » Sun Aug 06, 2017 8:05 pm

Carn Dearg is a long trek to reach from any direction!
Glad you had a good day despite all the tribulations, and it is good to know that the path on the NE side of the loch is poor - will file that away in the memory banks for when we do eventually get there.
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Re: Seemed a good idea but how not to climb Carn Dearg (Alde

Postby Cairngorm creeper » Sun Aug 06, 2017 8:58 pm

We did a similar route to this approaching Carn Dearg from Luiblea. Lochan na h-Earba is one of my favorite places and your photo of it is truly beautiful. You did the right thing wading across the river, we continued along the bank trying to find a place to cross and got embroiled in the most awful peat hags. Apart from the peat hags I thought it was a very scenic route, and you experienced the best of it, even without the summit tick.
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Re: Seemed a good idea but how not to climb Carn Dearg (Alde

Postby Alteknacker » Sun Aug 06, 2017 11:31 pm

Got this area next in my sights, and this has really whetted my appetite (I really love a good midge fest :D ).

Some of these pics indicate the place is every bit as good as I thought!

Glad I'm not the only one that does less than wholly wise things on walks..... :D
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Re: Seemed a good idea but how not to climb Carn Dearg (Alde

Postby denfinella » Mon Aug 07, 2017 11:16 am

Great report with some interesting dilemmas. Glad you still had a good day though!
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Re: Seemed a good idea but how not to climb Carn Dearg (Alde

Postby dogplodder » Mon Aug 07, 2017 3:59 pm

mrssanta wrote:Carn Dearg is a long trek to reach from any direction!
Glad you had a good day despite all the tribulations, and it is good to know that the path on the NE side of the loch is poor - will file that away in the memory banks for when we do eventually get there.


Was being lazy choosing the lower path and should have known the higher path would be better! :wink:
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Re: Seemed a good idea but how not to climb Carn Dearg (Alde

Postby kmai1961 » Mon Aug 07, 2017 4:09 pm

Hi, DP, just saw your pic of Lochan na h-Earba on the BBC website. I saw "submitted by Kathleen from Inverness," and thought, "aha -- I'm pretty sure I know who that is!! I popped over here to see your report at the top of the list.

Nice one. :clap:

Karen
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Re: Seemed a good idea but how not to climb Carn Dearg (Alde

Postby dogplodder » Thu Aug 10, 2017 6:43 pm

Cairngorm creeper wrote:We did a similar route to this approaching Carn Dearg from Luiblea. Lochan na h-Earba is one of my favorite places and your photo of it is truly beautiful. You did the right thing wading across the river, we continued along the bank trying to find a place to cross and got embroiled in the most awful peat hags. Apart from the peat hags I thought it was a very scenic route, and you experienced the best of it, even without the summit tick.


It's not a bad route and if we'd stuck together it would have been fine. 8)
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Re: Seemed a good idea but how not to climb Carn Dearg (Alde

Postby dogplodder » Tue Aug 15, 2017 2:41 pm

Alteknacker wrote:
Glad I'm not the only one that does less than wholly wise things on walks..... :D


Yes it helps to know there are other dafties out there. :shh:
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Re: Seemed a good idea but how not to climb Carn Dearg (Alde

Postby dogplodder » Tue Aug 15, 2017 2:44 pm

denfinella wrote:Great report with some interesting dilemmas. Glad you still had a good day though!


A bit frustrated I didn't make the top - but as you say it was still a good day! 8)
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Re: Seemed a good idea but how not to climb Carn Dearg (Alde

Postby BlackPanther » Tue Aug 15, 2017 3:21 pm

I had a few days like that, when I didn't reach the top. Yes, it's frustrating a bit but... if you enjoyed the walk, who cares about list ticking :D

I'm thinking about combining this Carn Dearg with Geal Charn - some kind of traverse starting from Moy and using either your approach or the stalker's path along Allt Cam (or both). It will probably have to wait for next year as days are getting shorter now and the stalking season is coming.
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Re: Seemed a good idea but how not to climb Carn Dearg (Alde

Postby Huff_n_Puff » Wed Aug 16, 2017 10:52 pm

Some great photos here so well worth the effort - we're having a 'cautious' summer too, where target hills somehow remain unsummitted at the end of the day :roll: :roll:
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Re: Seemed a good idea but how not to climb Carn Dearg (Alde

Postby Sgurr » Wed Aug 16, 2017 11:18 pm

No, you are not the only one to do daft things. With rain coming (like you) we abandoned our plan to do a wide zig out and a wide zag back to Trum y Ddysgll and found ourselves imagining we could save time by only going one side of the triangle which saw us on the Nantlle ridge in wind and rain and getting to a point where we didn't trust ourselves to go back, so had to go on....and that was only just over a week ago. Compared with that, what you did seems a model of caution, Glad you all reunited. I can't believe the midges were so ferocious in that level of sun...well, I can, that's why we went to Wales.

Well done on the photo on the BBC site. I fire them off from time to time, but it is hard to get one displayed. Lovely one too.

When we did the Alder hills we met someone who had come across from Laggan, and could hardly believe it. Very ambitious.
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Re: Seemed a good idea but how not to climb Carn Dearg (Alde

Postby dogplodder » Fri Aug 18, 2017 3:51 pm

kmai1961 wrote:Hi, DP, just saw your pic of Lochan na h-Earba on the BBC website. I saw "submitted by Kathleen from Inverness," and thought, "aha -- I'm pretty sure I know who that is!! I popped over here to see your report at the top of the list.

Nice one. :clap:

Karen


Couldn't go wrong. Just a case of being in the right place at the right time. :wink:
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Re: Seemed a good idea but how not to climb Carn Dearg (Alde

Postby dogplodder » Fri Aug 18, 2017 7:34 pm

BlackPanther wrote:I had a few days like that, when I didn't reach the top. Yes, it's frustrating a bit but... if you enjoyed the walk, who cares about list ticking :D

I'm thinking about combining this Carn Dearg with Geal Charn - some kind of traverse starting from Moy and using either your approach or the stalker's path along Allt Cam (or both). It will probably have to wait for next year as days are getting shorter now and the stalking season is coming.


I think when and if I return it will probably be to camp and do it a more 'normal' way. Just have to persuade my pal that's a good idea! :lol:
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