June Sunshine on the Drumochter Four

Route: A' Mharconaich and Geal Chàrn, Drumochter

Munros: A' Mharconaich, Beinn Udlamain, Geal-chàrn (Drumochter), Sgàirneach Mhòr

Date walked: 01/06/2024

Time taken: 7 hours

Distance: 25km

Ascent: 1084m

This was an opportunistic hillwalking trip. I hadn’t intended to go anywhere this weekend but the weather forecast was just too tempting, so I decided that today was the day to attempt the two Munros (Beinn Udlamain and Sgairneach Mhor) on the west side of Drumochter Pass I hadn’t done. But I wanted to do them - this is the route you see in Cameron McNeish’s book - along with two (Geal-charn and A’ Mharconaich) I’d already done – 17 years ago! – to make a more rounded round trip.

As I drove up the A9, my intention was to park at Layby 79 then walk the two miles along the road to the start first, to get the noisy A9 bit of the walk out of the way). But my late start (it was 10:30am as I drove over Drumochter Summit) meant the layby was already full, so I carried on and parked at Balsporran Cottages instead.

The walk up Geal-charn felt short and quick. I got to the top an hour-and-twenty-minutes after leaving the car. There was a point just as I reached the top of Geal-charn when the hum of the A9 behind me got suddenly replaced by the view of Loch Ericht and Ben Alder in front of me.

The view south-west towards Loch Ericht and Ben Alder from Geal-charn

I ended up taking loads of photos of Ben Alder. Flicking through them afterwards, I felt like Andrew Lincoln in Love Actually getting all that video footage of Keira Knightley at her wedding. I'm not sure if Keira Knightley would altogether welcome being likened to Ben Alder but you get the idea.

There was a slightly rocky - but easy - not steep or anything - descent from Geal-charn followed by a lovely stone staircase up to the A’ Mharconaich summit plateau from the bealach. It was nice to stand on the edge of A’ Mharconaich and look down on the Boar of Badenoch, which looks so impressive from the north as you drive past it on the A9.

Looking down on the Boar of Badenoch from A' Mharconaich

Then back along the ridge and the slow, gradual climb to Beinn Udlamain. This felt like the busiest section of the walk: I met quite a few people coming the other way, presumably these were the owners of all the cars that had been filling up Layby 79!. I paused at the mangled fence cairn on Beinn Udlamain’s north top and looked back at where I’d already been. You can see Geal-charn on the left and A’ Mharconaich on the right (with a distant Meall Chuaich between them)

Looking back at Geal-charn and A' Mharconaich from Beinn Udlamain's north top

From the actual top of Beinn Udlamain (a few hundred meters SSW of the north top, and at 1011m it’s the highest of the Drumochter hills) I then headed down – a bit steeper and stonier than the earlier descent of Geal-charn - to the bealach between it and Sgairneach Mhor. And then there was a gradual ascent over short grass to the summit plateau of Sgairneach Mhor, from where it was nice to look down on the other Drumochter animal – the Sow of Atholl. In this view you can also see the route of descent into Coire Dhomhain.

Looking down on Coire Dhomhain and the Sow of Atholl from the top of Sgairneach Mhor

It took me just over an hour-and-a-half to get from the top of Sgairneach Mhor back to the A9. It was all very pleasant and uneventful. Within sight of the main road, there was a bit of confusion as I tried to take a short cut to get underneath the railway (extremely bad idea – so I had to retrace my steps and go under the official tunnel instead), but the walk back along the road wasn’t anything like as bad as I’d feared: there was a nice smooth cycle path to walk along back to the car in the late afternoon sunshine.

I was back at the Balsporran Cottages car park by 6:30pm. Altogether it had been a 07:45h walk in perfect weather.

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Location: Edinburgh
Occupation: Healthcare Data Analyst
Activity: Mountain Walker
Mountain: Stob Gabhar
Member: Highways Hillwalking Club

Munros: 125

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