Ben Alder bunch - beware brilliant weather!

Route: Aonach Beag: Four Munros from Culra

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

Date walked: 28/04/2021

Time taken: 11 hours

Distance: 60.5km

Ascent: 2021m

I'd been eying up this area as a challenge for quite some time and with lockdown being eased and the promise of good weather it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss. The remoteness of the area appealed as did the 15km run in from Dalwhinnie.

Arrived at Dalwhinnie about 5:30am and made good time along the track toward Ben Alder lodge. Some stunning scenery along an almost completely still Loch Ericht. The promise of clear blue skies and light winds seemed to be holding true. It took about an hour and twenty mins to jog along the track beside the loch and then a sharp right turn before the Alder range comes into full view for the first time - wow!
It did seem to be holding more snow than I'd anticipated but plan A for today was to do the four outliers with plan B being to include Alder and Bheoil if energy levels permitted.

There was some lingering low cloud by the time I reached Culra but it was spectacular.
There were one or two tents dotted about but other than that and a few deer brilliant solitude. It seemed pretty obvious by this time that although still cool (probably just above freezing) the sun was going to be on me for the whole day so I'd taken plenty sun cream with me (something that would be a factor later on) to counter this.

Nevertheless a quick change into the bog socks and I made off up the steep, initially wet side of Carn Dearg. After a few hundred metres it became much more enjoyable and I was enjoying beasting up at a decent pace. As I gained more height the views became more and more spectacular. There was still barely a cloud in the sky and the sun continued to beat down. I saw a group of two who I exchanged waves with who had taken a more direct line a hundred metres or so away but I favoured the route avoiding the snow and was on the ridge in no time. From this point there was a very good view of the route ahead. There was also more snow than I had anticipated, crampons were in the bag so no problem.

I was very quickly on the summit of Carn Dearg and spent some time enjoying the vista and made a call home to advise of progress. The route to the next summit (Geal-charn) was clear in front of me and involved an enjoyable trot downhill toward the bealach.
The views down toward Loch Coire Cheap
were magnificent, the pull up toward the summit was very white and looked fairly narrow.
With the sun now stronger by this point and spring snow into the bargain I was worried about how stable this might be underfoot. I decided to take a route around the face of Gael-charn. What I didn't get a very good view of at that point was a massive cornice running all the way round the front of the face. I gingerly followed some other steps which took me round to a much better less white approach. This did mean a small amount of doubling back but nothing to worry about. I made the largeish summit cairn just before 11am so time was on my side. It was definitely warming up by this point and I was feeling it a bit and had probably covered around 20km what turned out to be around a third of the trek.

The route up Aonach Beag was quite straightforward with marvelous views all around.
I was around 20 mins from summit to summit so making good progress at this point. The sun was definitely having more of an effect on me by this point and I was glad of flowing water to fill up my reserves. I decided to press on to Beinn Eibhinn without further delay.

I could sense that I was nearing the summit. I did encounter a couple of others at this point and exchanged hellos. They were clearly camping as they were very lightly equipped I found a good slab and decided to stop for lunch and the first proper break of the day. It was very warm by this point even at around 1,000m and the sun was relentless. I felt refreshed after lunch but was wary of the fact that I had around 16km to do by the time I got back to Culra. Still I wasn't overly concerned at the point and told myself it was only a 10km +5. I worked out that I might have around 12km to get back to Culra (without doing plan B) and it was still early in the day. I should have paid more attention to the fact that whilst the last 16km or so was along a good runnable track to get to that point was a bit of an unknown (other than what the map and GPS were telling me). I made it to the summit of Eibhinn without any difficulty. It was decision time. I felt there was still a decent amount of daylight left, conditions were good, I had a good supply of water and food so I thought I would press on with plan B. I thought that I could bail out without adding too much distance at the bealach between Alder and Bheoil and then escape along Loch a'Bhealaich Bheithe.

I found quite a good line down from Eibhinn loosely following Allt Coire a' Charra Bhig. I was only losing slightly less height than the original planned route over bealach dubh and thought that I could revert to this if I wished. I got to the foot of this and noticed a great stalker's path which seemed to wind around the massive bulk of Ben Alder. I worked out that this would take me out around Ben Alder Cottage.

I made really good progress along the excellent path at a good running pace. The cottage seemed to be in view for an age without getting much nearer, the sun was relentless. I stopped to asses my position and the prospect of incorporating plan B was becoming doubtful, all the while the sun, the sun. In hindsight heading down toward the cottage (and the loch) would have been a sensible idea to cool off and get out of the sun. Nevertheless I headed up behind the cottage to bealach breabag. After a few hundred metres I had slowed to a snail's pace and the sun was really starting to effect me. It was clear that I wasn't going to be doing plan B and now the focus was on lowering my body temperature and getting off the hill safely.

It was difficult to find any sort of shade given the position of the sun but I did manage to find a large rock to hide under. I stopped to recharge the batteries, change of top etc. After 15 mins or so I felt a lot better. I wonder if these were the early stages of heat stroke. The day was rapidly moving on and my pace had slowed significantly. I knew that so long as I made it back to visual contact with Culra during daylight it would be straightforward enough to get off the hill. Plan B was completely thrown out the window at this point. After the great stalker's path the ground up to the bealach was rough going. Eventually I got to the high point and could just about make out where I needed to get to in the distance.

I did have a silly moment of summit fever where I convinced myself I could get up Alder and then across to Bheoil in 90 minutes. That wasn't realistic in peak condition never mind 40/45km in. I wisely considered that omitting these two would be a great opportunity to come back. The views back to Alder from the loch side were spectacular and offered a different perspective up close.
The path along the loch was pretty wet and seemed to go on forever. My music died at this point so I had time to wonder when I would see this magical place again. Eventually I picked up (with some relief) the track back past Loch Pattack toward the lodge. The 'only a 10km + 5' was a mixture of running and walking. It was quite enjoyable as the sun began to set on a memorable hill day.
I was back at the car not long before nightfall.

This was undoubtedly my best day in the hills to date despite the issues I had. I certainly learned a few lessons this day. I'm used to long days and not panicking as things inevitably go wrong on long (and short days).Even in Scotland in April the sun can be a factor.

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Comments: 1

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Attachment(s) Munros: Braeriach, Cairn Toul, Sgòr an Lochain Uaine, The Devil's Point
Date walked: 21/09/2020
Distance: 37.35km
Ascent: 2162m
Comments: 4
Views: 890

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Date walked: 14/08/2020
Distance: 14km
Ascent: 921m
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Views: 637


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Activity: Hill Bagger
Pub: Prince of Wales
Mountain: Lochnagar
Place: Glencoe
Gear: La Sportiva mutants
Member: None
Ideal day out: Pacey scramble over rough terrain

Munros: 130
Wainwrights: 1
Hewitts: 1
Sub 2000: 3

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Distance: 60.5 km
Ascent: 2021m
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