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Aonach Beag Four from Culra Bothy

Aonach Beag Four from Culra Bothy

Postby NBrooks » Tue Jan 15, 2019 2:23 pm

Route description: Aonach Beag: Four Munros from Culra

Munros included on this walk: Aonach Beag (Alder), Beinn Èibhinn, Càrn Dearg (Loch Pattack), Geal-chàrn (Alder)

Date walked: 15/01/2019

Time taken: 9.25 hours

Distance: 50 km

Ascent: 1240m

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An early start for me; leaving the house at 5:30am. Uneventful drive from Fife up the A9 to Dalwhinnie. It was still dark by the time I got there about 7:20 and it took a while before I realised that the parking was down the lane. There is a sign there saying parking for walkers, but tricky to see in the dark. I hauled the bike out of the boot (Volvo estate) and started kitting up. The temp was about 1deg but not a breath of wind. Eventually, I was ready and took a massive drink of juice to preload for hydration. Then switched on the head torch. The gates for the crossing were negotiated and I took a long look up the line both ways before crossing.
Once across, I fairly bombed along and the loch was just managing to glint as the sun began to heave itself up bit by bit. The road really is excellent and one of the best I've been on. There are a few steep sections which meant I had to drop into the low gear - then I started to sweat. There is a saying, "be bold, start cold" and I had a base layer, a mid layer and a shell. And gloves. And a hat. I decided not to wear a cycle helmet this time as the reports had said it was a nice road. Stupid, I know but it was because I could not fit the head torch on too. Duh! A couple of estate vehicles passed, and I saw one person feeding horses just before the cut off to the bothy. The cut off is down a track which was rutted in places and frozen, so much so I nearly came off a few times. The near death experience of the day came when crossing a stream on a wooden bridge, the tyres slipped on the icy wood and I fell off. I stopped myself from toppling all the way down into the stream by wrenched my back a bit. I dismounted for the next bridges. I got to the bothy in about an hour and 25 mins. I contemplated going in to have a look around but had just finished listening to a ghost story and it looked spooky. I propped the bike up and decided not to lock it as there was no one else around, then worried the whole way round that someone might show up and pinch it.
I only had a drink at this stage, and started up the hill straight away and was soon into the snow line. There was only the briefest glimpses of a path and most of the time I was wading through heather topped with snow. That first bit was a bit of a beast to clamber up and I wondered if I'd ever get there. At last, I summited Carn Dearg. The climb up had been in fairly glorious weather and I had dumped the mid layer into the rucksack.

It looked a long way to Geal Charn and the rocky steep ascent looked quite daunting from afar. I started to consider whimping out but plodded on as most of the time I find that what looks terrifying from a distance normally resolves into mildly scary up close. The weather had now decided to close in and start to be a bit blowy and chuck in some bits of snow. At the base of the rocky climb, I paused for some grub, a drink and a few moments to contemplate nature and my own mortality. I put on the crampons and got out the ice axe. In the end, it was an easy ascent. The snow varied from a couple of centimetres, which made the going tough with crampons due to the rocks and meant I had to go slowly and place my feet carefully, to about 20cm in small drifts. Quite soon I was heading over the plateau to Geal Charn but stopped to take the crampons off to make the going easier. At this stage, I should have put the snow goggles on but they were in the bag and I couldn't be bothered taking it off again.

I caught a glimpse of Aonach Beag through gaps in the clouds and the climb up looked steep. In the end it was dealt with in pretty short order and I didn't need to put the spikes back on. Three down and one to go. Then it got windier and colder and started to snow a bit so visibility was quite poor. I couldn't be bothered to stop and eat properly - the tuna sandwiches would have to wait - so munched on an energy bar and my rehydration drink (sugary juice with half a teaspoon of salt - home made and seems to do the job). Then I reached the bottom of the bealach and the decision was a whether to go on or call it a day due to the conditions.

I looked steep from what I could see, and rugged. The ground overall had been a mixture of soft snow and icy patches. Consistently inconsistent fact. There really was no excuse for not going on, it wasn't that bad. I started clambering up and after about 50m, stopped to put the crampons on again. Then I had a brain wave. As I was coming back this way, I did not need to take my rucksack all the way up and back. I dumped it and set off. After another 300m or so, I thought that this was another daft decision. It has all my gear in it such as storm shelter, survival blanket, food, locator beacon, drink, spare puffer jacket. To go back or to go on, that is the question. I went on, but was possibly more careful. I made the top with no trouble and then managed to see some of my footprints on the way down back to my bag, but most of them had been blown away. I was glad to be reunited with the back, it's like a wee security blanket on my back. Down to the bealach for the descent and I decided to keep the spikes on for a bit. Once it stopped being icy though, they were back in to bag.

The walk out was through heather and snow and was slow going, as I was protecting a dodgy knee. As the snow receded, the going got considerably slippier and I nearly ended up on my backside a few times. Eventually I made the good path out and was surprised to see there was a bit more ascent; this was because I just glanced at the map for this bit and thought it looked straight forward, which it was. A fairly easy walk back to the bothy apart from negotiating a few streams that were bubbling away. I looked over to Ben Alder and thought that would be my possible next conquest, but not today. Approaching the bothy, I was pleased to see that the bike was still there. A walk time of 6hrs and 50 mins, which I was pleased with considering the conditions. I stopped for a while and had a bite to eat - outside though as it was still spooky looking inside.

Back on the bike and the downhill section meant I made it back in 1hr 5 mins. Some of that time was to fix a chain that came off and then got jammed in the cogs. It was really quite darkish now but because my eyes were used to it, I did not need the head torch again. At the level crossing, I looked both ways and then sauntered over. Just as I got the second gate open I hear a toot and looked up to see a train was very near. I mean about 50m and closing so fast. It had been silent. I was completely clear of the track, but wondered in my tired state, had I looked carefully enough.

I always say that every trip into the mountains is another opportunity to learn something. About yourself, or the mountains, or skillset, planning etc etc. This was no exception. Lessons for today. Wear a bike hat when biking. Get the snow goggles on sooner - my eyes hurt a bit by the end. Read a map the whole way round and not just the mountain bits. All that safety 'just in case' gear that I haul around in my rucksack; it's no good to me half way down a mountain, so keep it with me. Level crossings are much more dangerous than I thought as I didn't realise how silent the approaching trains are, so in future I will have a much more thorough look before wandering over.

All in all, a total trip time of 9 hrs and 15 mins. It was an enjoyable day and the weather was not too unkind after all. That's another four in the bag taking me up to 174.

Not too many pics for this trip and only my second trip report.
IMG_B6AEC26A8A0D-1 2.jpeg
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Re: Aonach Beag Four from Culra Bothy

Postby Sunset tripper » Wed Jan 16, 2019 9:01 pm

Great report. Cracking picture of Ben Alder. That's a big day, especially for this time of year. I was in there twice last year in May ~ Great area.

All the best :D
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Sunset tripper
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Re: Aonach Beag Four from Culra Bothy

Postby bigkeith » Mon Jun 10, 2019 9:39 pm

Really enjoyed reading that. Thanks. :clap: . Honest and helpful insights into what you were thinking as the challenges emerged. I wont be going in winter! Like your recipe for the homemade rehydration drink - electrolyte tablets seem like a bit of a rip-off. Cheers.
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Location: Bath

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