Sunday, 15 January 2012

Ben Alder Brainwave

A trip to Ben Alder this weekend was a great little brainwave we had when trying to maximise our hill time- not easy when you live on a Scottish island and you need "new" mountains for your logbook. Getting in and out of the Ben Alder area requires a bit of time and organisation, so we packed our big sacks for a couple of nights out and headed off the island on the first boat on Friday morning. By lunch time we were in Dalwhinnie and setting out on the long estate road next to the beautiful Loch Ericht.

 The Loch Ericht track

Its a 15km walk in to the Ben Alder area from Dalwhinnie, but it passes quickly on easy estate roads. Many folk mountain bike in which seems a good idea, although when chatting to a man from the estate (more on this later) he said that mountain bikes are causing a lot of erosion problems on the smaller trails higher up.
We arrived at Culra Bothy at dusk, and although we had brought a tent and planned to camp, we found the bothy to be very plush, and empty, and were not able to tear ourselves away.... It was a cold clear night, the stars outside were incredible, and we were very happy people indeed.

Culra Bothy with Ben Alder behind. 

The next morning was dull and misty, but there was not a breath of wind, (which makes a change this winter) and after a good breakfast we headed up the glen towards Ben Alder.  Our main objective for the trip was the Long Leachas, a grade 1 ridge that rises up out of the bog in a rocky crest to meet to the summit plateau.

There is a river crossing to get to the start of the ridge, which would be hairy in spate, and even when fairly low was an unpleasant icy boulder hop. 

Snow conditions on the ridge were generally good, if firm and icy, but we needed to pick our line to get continuous fun. If I were to do it again I'd consider wearing a helmet as it was steeper than I expected...!

On the crest high on the route. 

The route itself was fairly straight forward for grade 1, but I the spring conditions made the route feel quite steep and icy at times. There is a short gully on the right about half way up that avoids a very steep rocky band, fun in firm winter conditions but I imagine loose and dank in summer. From the top of the ridge, it was a couple of short nav legs to the summit of Ben Alder.  The plateau was only half covered in hard neve, the rest scoured. We caught glimpses through the mist of big saggy cornices along the coire rims. From the summit, we descended to the bealach, and took in Beinn Bheoil.  This is also a Munro, but is a hundred metres lower and did not have much snow left- no crampons needed.
We were back at the bothy for dark to find it bursting at the seams with new arrivals, so packed our kit and boosted down the glen to a camp spot by the river. It was another cold clear night, and the big bright moon lighting the mountains in the morning was staggeringly beautiful. We made an early start, thinking about the long trek back to the car and the need to catch a ferry home.

Contemplating the long walk out again.

All in all it was a fantastic weekend, and the icing on the cake was a kind offer of a lift from a very nice man with a landrover who cut a hefty 10km off our day today.  It was interesting to hear his perspective on the fantastic paths that have been put in on the estate, many of which have been funded by SNH but a lot of the work has been funded by the estate owners who presumably are not short of a bob or two. It was nice to feel so welcome in such a remote and beautiful region.

Taking it easy on the way out.


John Hunston said...

Hi Lucy
We were the party you met at Culra! I was up not much later than you in the morning for a quick ascent of Ben Bheoil - on the ridge for sunrise over Schiehallion - fantastic views as you can imagine, especially of Ben Alder. Then back to the bothy for 9.30 and an ascent of Carn Dearg with two of the others. Three walked out as one of them had come down with Labarynthitis (dizziness and sickness) - he was the one in the sleeping bag when you arrived and in fact knows you from Arran (Steve Richardson - ring any bells?) - and he had a pretty awful walk out (unlike you - lucky things!). He didn't even have the energy to talk. We enjoyed the walk out in fact and the sunset was amazing. A long wait for a train at Dalwhinnie with no hotel/pub was the only downside. Best wishes with the Winter MLA and hope to see you both again on Arran or elsewhere some time.

Lucy Wallace said...

Hi John! Its a small world. What an amazing day the Sunday was. I was a bit miffed to be leaving actually as we didn't get any views the day before- but I'll be back for sure.... My sympathies to Steve about the labarynthitis- I've had a touch of that in the past myself- no fun at all. Hope he makes a speedy recovery and happy walking to you!

Nick Bramhall said...

A fantastic wee adventure there Lucy. The Ben Alder region looks an amazing area of wilderness. It's on my radar this year but I'll probably leave it for longer and slightly warmer days. Good info on the Leachas though, thanks!

Lucy Wallace said...

It was absolutely brilliant Nick, my only regret being that we weren't there for long enough. I'd plan to stick around for a few days next time and really explore the area. Its a great bothy, really spacious, though I always take a tent just in case as I like to get up early and make lots of noise!