Beinn Udlamain - 1011m
Sgairneach Mhor - 991m
Saturday 20th March 2010
Weather/Conditions: Cloud cover and hail showers initially. A' Mharconaich was clear, and the sun came out on the way to Udlamain. The summit was clear before getting fogged in as we left. Then brief showers fell and the cloud rolled through until it blew itself out. A glorious day up and over Sgairneach Mhor and back to the Drumochter Pass. The mountains have thawed enormously over the past couple of weeks and now extensive snow banks lie.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 16.3km / 950m / 6h 15m
Accompanying: Climbed A' Mharconaich alone, met Pete Swales on summit and did Udlamain together, crossing over to meet Kevin McKeown on the summit of Sgairneach Mhor which he had done separately. Descended together.
There are four Munros in total, two of which I climbed in June 2009. The other two, Beinn Udlamain and Sgairneach Mhor, were my priorities today but I also included A' Mharconaich on this trip.
It was my first walk with Pete Swales, who having arrived earlier than Kevin McKeown and I, started up his Munro Geal Charn early. By the time I set off from the Balsporran Cottages, he was on the summit of Glen Charn and instead coming up behind him, we arranged to meet on A' Mharconaich. The good news was that the plan worked to perfection, the bad news was that A' Mharconaich's long north ridge isn't one to be climbed fast when the legs are still getting into the stride.
Kevin McKeown, who's done these hills already made an easy day out of it and just climbed Sgairneach Mhor with his dog Rupert. He dropped me off and got on his way, so I was presented with my first task of getting to the top of A' Mharconaich against the clock. Crossing the river was hard, and in full flow, there were only a couple of possible passing places. Moreover, I didn't want wet feet this early. What I didn't seem to understand was that I could cross at the railway, pain free and easy. I just had to take the hard route...
And then traces of tracks came and went as I threaded my way around the hummocks of moraine. They are very evident here and fascinating to see, even though it makes walking a trickier proposition. The bogs, saturated with melt water, didn't make life easier. I wasn't in the flow right now but knew I had to push through it.
When I gained height, I felt better and a feeling of progress set in. I drew up onto the snaking arm and onto the final summit ridge. It became a little steeper here, so the ice axe came out although wasn't needed once. As I pulled up onto the summit of A' Mharconaich and it's two cairns, I spotted Pete on the snowfields approaching the summit beyond. We arrived within two minutes of each other and our plan had become a success.
Beinn Udlamain and Sgairneach Mhor
With the weather generally bright, we headed off towards Beinn Udlamain, the highest of the group. An easy romp over took us to the summit dome as Pete and I chatted about everything to do with the mountains. It was good fun and we arrived at the summit cairn with no problems. The wind was blowing heavily now and it looked as if showers were approaching from the west. The summit was engulfed in light fog as we left but didn't last long.
Next was the descent and reascent across to Sgairneach Mhor - the last Munro of the day. The drop between these two hills is large for a typical Grampian mound although this we were faced with no problems.
Best of all, was that the bad weather blew itself over and views opened up in all directions. This walk came into it's own at this point and we had a great (if windy) climb up to Sgairneach Mhor. It was a slog much of the way, but the sunny weather, vast snowfields and good weather brightened my mood to no end. I was in a natural rhythm and the great weather was the icing.
When we contacted Kevin McKeown to find out where he was, it was good to hear he was already at the summit and we watched him standing as we climbed the final slopes to the summit.
We spent a long time on top. A cold wind blew, but the weather was good enough to merit a long stay. Views were wide stretching in all directions and it was possible to see all the way into the Southern Highlands as well as the main Cairngorms, Monadhliath and flatter lands down to the south east. The higher Beinn Udlamain and Ben Alder blocked views to the west, but they were vast in all other directions.
We left after 25 minutes on the summit of Sgairneach Mhor. I didn't want to leave just yet - I wanted to do more hills to make use of the cracking weather, but there wasn't much else to do. I toyed with the idea of picking off the Sow of Atholl, but the return to the valley floor soon became a more appealing proposition.
But it was an eventful descent nonetheless, and great to be out in the sun of spring. Once down into Coire Dhomhain, we followed the track back to the A9. If it was up to me, and I'd had the time I'd have stayed up with all the great weather, but a three Munro day was great for me, two of them new. Sgairneach Mhor brought my Munro "tally" to a rounded 70.
A' Mharconaich (180°)
(0.00) 9.45am Balsporran Cottages
(1.15) 11.00am A' Mharconaich
(2.30) 12.15pm Beinn Udlamain
(2.45) 12.30pm Beinn Udlamain (left)
(4.25) 2.10pm Sgairneach Mhor
(4.50) 2.35pm Sgairneach Mhor (left)
(6.15) 4.00pm Drumochter