Munros: A' Mharconaich, Beinn Udlamain, Geal-chàrn (Drumochter), Sgàirneach Mhòr
Corbetts: The Sow of Atholl
Date walked: 10/10/2021
Time taken: 7 hours
Scientific name: Sus drumochteri.
It was a Sunday in the middle of the stalking season and the weather sounded decent, so I wanted to go somewhere. Looking for a sign that boasted 'no stalking on Sundays' - because if good weather fell on any other day, the place wouldn't be accessible - the choice fell on the Drumochter group. And once I got there, it would be a shame to leave the Corbett be and only stick to Munros, right?
Speaking of the sun, the forecast said most clouds should keep above 900 m, although there was a chance of passing showers. The situation looked good from the start though, the hills clear and inviting.
Leaving the car by Dalnaspidal lodge, I started the walk following the suggested route up the Sow of Atholl, crossing the dam on Allt Dubhaig and taking the track next to Allt Coire Luidhearnaidh. Oh, and scaring a few dozen sheep away. Seriously, that initial track had moments where it was difficult to find a clear place to step on; they must really love these areas!
The track was nice while it lasted, and then it forked. Feeling slightly hopeful, I took the right branch, only to realise that the whole thing was a turning circle and would double back on itself. A boggy path stemmed off of it, though, so I followed it up the slope until it dissipated. The last bit was thus pathless, but really easy at that. Without needing to push myself, I was at the top less than an hour after leaving the car, and felt quite good about it. Then I saw (or, rather, failed to see) where I was heading next and the good feeling started to develop question marks.
Okay, the forecast said 'most' clouds, not 'all', and it mentioned 900 m while I was heading to 1000, but c'mon, that's basic decency!
A solid path led down to the 640 m bealach. Initially, at least, then it got faint until I wasn't sure whether I was still following it. Paths withering away seems to be a trend in this area. Nevertheless, the bealach was obvious, and I spied a track a little beyond that I hoped would carry me to the Munro summit.
The whole time, I kept checking the cloud situation, hoping I wouldn't need to end up relying on my compass. Fortunately, the cloud group photographed above was leaving and took its shower along down Coire Luidhearnaidh, so I reached the summit of Sgairneach Mhor in good conditions.
It was this path's turn to grow faint, though. Where the ridge made a right turn, the path never did. Given how often Sgairneach Mhor and Beinn Udlamain are combined, I expected it to, and when I realised it wouldn't go that way, it was too late to make the proper right turn. So I headed to the bealach across pathless terrain. But as I saw three people in front of me taking a similar route, I guessed this actually was the right way to go.
A little further, past the bealach, I started ascending Beinn Udlamain. Pathlessly, through the heather. But as I checked on the walkers ahead of me, I saw them on my right by quite a bit, in single file. 'Could there be a path?' I wondered and started to edge towards them. About halfway there, though, I came across a different path - but one that led upwards nonetheless, so I took it. And lead to the crest of the ridge it did.
The summit was on and off cloudy, and switched between the two states pretty frequently when I was there. I did my best to use the clag-free windows to snap a few photos.
'The Munros of Geal-charn and A' Mharconaich' - in that order. It might seem more obvious to head up A' Mharconaich first and then go for Geal-charn, but my car was by Dalnaspidal Lodge, and I was trying to minimise the trek along the A9 I'd have to finish the walk on. Plus, this way I had the opportunity to add the second pig, the Boar of Badenoch, to the walk. Starting on one porcine guard overlooking Coire Dhomhain and ending on the other. I don't know what sort of picture this description paints, but I sure was going to make the most of it!
To join Beinn Udlamain with Geal-charn, I could see two options offering themselves: a) staying on the ridge and cutting diagonally across the slopes of A' Mharconaich, or b) descending into Fraoch-choire and picking up the path marked there on the map. Arriving at the cairn on the NE end of Beinn Udlamain's summit plateau, I picked the latter; the path in Fraoch-choire was actually a track and immediately obvious, while the SW side of A' Mharconaich didn't look that friendly. Down I went, then.
The surface of the N shoulder of Beinn Udlamain: small(ish) rocks on a layer of moss; not the most stable of terrains in the wet, so the way down was slow and careful. But I made it down and, aiming to veer left of the obvious ravine ahead (sporting what I suppose is the main branch of Allt Fraoch-choire), joined the track.
Beyond the bealach, the track was descending into the opposite glen, but a path branching off was heading up Geal-charn. The path got indistinct at times, but it still got me to the summit. Munro #3 of the day in the bag.
I have to say here, this part took ages, or at least it felt that way. 'Passing showers,' wasn't it? Well, one was passing over Geal-charn just as I was ascending it, complete with icy wind. The waterproof jacket did its job, but my trousers didn't work as well. Plus, Geal-charn was the place where I wanted to have a short break and eat some snacks, and not only did it not seem to get closer, I couldn't see myself unpacking the backpack in weather like that. Fortunately, the shower had passed before I made it to the summit. The wind stayed, though - and maybe it was helping to dry my trousers and backpack, but it was still freezing cold!
It was down the same path to the bealach, from which a really nice gravelly path, complete even with stone stairs, led up A' Mharconaich. It still got boggy at some places - no surprise, given the weather - but the gravel was able to stop the path from becoming a stream of mud, which was appreciated. The way up to the Munro (well, to its summit plateau) was thus quite pleasant.
...at least, it had the potential to be that way, if not for the Geal-charn shower. Sure, the shower was long gone at this point, but it had somehow rained through my trousers and into the shoes, and my socks were soaked and making squelching noises with every step. Well, at least they were thoroughly wrung by the time I reached the plateau!
When I reached the plateau, though, I also reached another cloud. Safe to say, my mood sort of paralleled the clag, dropping even further. 'Why is this even a Munro?' I found myself thinking on the way to the summit, recalling that prominence dictated whether a hill was 'official' or just another one's top, and A' Mharconaich didn't rise up enough from the bealach separating it from Beinn Udlamain. (*By now I have discovered that Munros are free of the prominence requirement, and even if A' Mharconaich had been just Beinn Udlamain's top, I still might've gone over it in order to reach Pig #2. But I stewed on it on the plateau regardless.)
There were no paths leading to the Boar of Badenoch from A' Mharconaich, not that I expected any. As the views from the summit equalled approximately zero, I took out the map and compass, judged the bealach between the two hills to lay in a SE direction, and headed roughly that way. That only lasted a minute, though; I came to a drop, and what I could see underneath was telling me an emphatic 'Nope'.
In the dry, perhaps I might've attempted it. But I for sure didn't dare to attempt the steep scree when slippery and wet. So I headed back along the edge of the plateau and kept looking to my left, as the slope was meant to get milder eventually. I tried again when I judged the land ahead was still visible for far enough, and the descent was indeed easily manageable there. Heathery and grassy too, with none of the scree. I followed a line of old fence posts (initially, then I veered left towards the bealach), but I don't see it marked on the map, so I'm not sure if I drew the line right there. It shouldn't be far off, though.
Bypassing the patch of peat, I thus went for the final ascent of the walk. Similarly to A' Mharconaich, my socks started playing up, making me wonder why I was bothering with this non-baggable hill with no path in sight; I suppose I was tired mentally much more than physically, though. The climb didn't present any challenge and was over in under 30 minutes anyway.
After the descent - again, heathery and pathless, but not difficult - I joined the track leading to Coire Dhomhain. I then had to leave it shortly afterwards - as the track met with Allt a' Chaorainn, I had to search for a suitable place to cross a bit upstream - but aside from that, the track deposited me on the minor tarmac road running alongside the A9 that I followed all the way to the car.
And once in the car... The 'driving' pair of shoes was where I'd left it and I changed into it, not liking the lack of sensitivity that came with walking boots. I had thought that it might be a good idea to start bringing a spare pair of socks too, just in case something happened, but I always forgot. As I contemplated whether to keep my drenched socks on or drive without socks - neither option sounded good - I swore that would change!
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