Sron Coire na h-Iolaire - 955m
Ben Alder - 1148m
Geal-charn - 1132m
Diollaid a' Chairn - 922m
Carn Dearg - 1034m
Friday 13th July 2012
Weather/Conditions: Good weather. Arrived at Culra the previous night in the dark. Got cloudy conditions the next morning which broke into sunlight at lunchtime. Good day to be high.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 53.8km / 2000m / 11h 05m
I headed into Culra bothy the night before, after doing Meall Chuaich. It was all an awful rush - I packed quickly and cycled down Loch Ericht in gathering darkness. Pedalling over onto the moor, the mountains pulled into view, a cirque of magnificent, mist-wreathed mountains; utterly daunting and glowering in the half light. It was getting on for 11pm, Culra was nestled in among those distant peaks as a single point of light. A single sanctuary in this massive, dark land. I felt a shot a fear that complete darkness may overtake me before I got there. I went into overdrive on the bike, and then failed to find the turn off onto a stalkers track. I couldn't quite work out the topography of the land in the darkness. And in a moment of "fk-it-I-need-to-make-a-choice", I hauled the bike on my shoulders and stomped off across the moors. I picked up a stalkers track, and in the dim light, cycled down it to reach Culra by 11:10pm.
Though apprehensive to go inside out of worry of disturbing anyone sleeping, I discovered the side-room unoccupied and ready for me. I put the candles on and I got a meal on the go while the midsummer glow fizzled out in the northern skies out the window. I rolled over to sleep, quite content, ready for a big day tomorrow.
Morning brought an dense mist to the mountains, a ceiling clamped down on the summits. The light was a dirty yellow, and oddly, it really had an effect on my mood. I headed off for Beinn Bheoil, feeling all too acutely the sweeping silence of the mountains, their hemmed in walls. This dirty ceiling which wouldn't lift. Ugly rock structures streaked the side of Ben Alder. It was all a bit sickly.
I took the stalkers track to just short of Loch a' Bhealaich Bheithe, then headed up the side of Beinn Bheoil. As I gained the ridge, the mist began to lift and the views opened up. I get this recurring theme on mountains - I like to leave the enclosure of the valleys behind and feel the body charge up and get ready to boost for a day on the high tops. It's a great feeling to watch the horizons pull into view, and Beinn Bheoil was no exception.
Unfortunately, Beinn Bheoil was too clouded in to get a summit panorama, but things just continued to improve as I headed on my way to Ben Alder via. Sron Coire na h-Iolaire. Ben Alder is a fascinating peak. It's plateau encloses an east face with sculpted spurs falling off into valleys, all classic glaciated carving. It resides in an remote part of the Highlands, but can also be seen from the A9 down the length of Loch Ericht. It's has an air of mystery; it's own (haunted?) bothy on the south side, a Prince Charlie's Cave, and the association of having had a French guy found shot dead on the plateau in 1996. Eek.
Another quirk of this mountain is Lochan a' Garbh Choire, which must be the highest (named) lochan in Scotland. It's really more of a stony puddle, but I enjoyed the novelty anyway.
On the summit, I gave Struan a call - he was still in work in Edinburgh, and made his envy known in no uncertain terms! I looked back up Loch Ericht - Dalwhinnie seemed a very long way off - definitely a longer distance than I had just cycled and walked. I took some time at the top before heading off for my next Munro, Geal-charn.
Geal-charn is a distance from Ben Alder - and this section was interesting for being somewhere I had to bring the map out in completely clear visibility. The plateau to the north is so expansive that I simply didn't know which direction to go. I knew I wanted to cross via. the Bealach Dubh, but where was it? As I made progress towards Geal-charn, the west was all clear and in sight, a ragged skyline contrasting the soft browns of this portion of the Central Highlands. I crossed Bealach Dubh, surprised by the appearance of aircraft wreckage that I only learned out about later.
Geal-charn was a long slog yet pleasurable in switching off, and in gaining altitude without thought. On the broad open slopes of the upper mountain, deer trotted off in their hundreds, all lingering on the high meadows, every one jolted into action by my sole presence. The summit cairn was gained soon after. It's a great mountain - an expansive plain up in the sky, boxed in by coires that drop off in sweeping lines. I wondered how this place would be to navigate in bad visibility - I did that very thing the following summer, and hit the summit cairn dead on after over a kilometre of blind navigation. Yes!
Carn Dearg was a (highly enjoyable) formality after the previous big hills, It's mostly downhill coming off Geal-charn I suppose. There's a narrow ridge given the name Aisre Ghobhainn, and this is surprisingly unobvious, even in good weather as I had on this day. I was over Diollaid a' Chairn without issue and arrived on my day's last Munro, stopping for a while to take in the high afternoon before my descent.
Descent to Culra + cycle to Dalwhinnie
An uneventful descent took me back to Culra - not much left to do but pack up, get my stuff together and go. Culra was busy - I chatted to a couple foreign guys who were there. One of their wives appears, "zis eez my wife", who was also exceptionally obese - good job to her for getting this far into the wilderness.
It was a sunny cycle out, and everything also seemed a lot more obvious than the night before - I found out where to leave the main track near Loch Pattack (which funnily enough I've now almost forgot...)
I was due to meet Struan and Dougie in Aviemore for a curry, so the cycle out was pure pleasure, my hills behind me, heading off for a curry with friends and a couple days walking with them. Great stuff.
Sron Coire na h-Iolaire
Geal-charn (North, 180°)
Geal-charn (South, 180°)
(0.00) 9.40pm Dalwhinnie (12th July)
(1.30) 11.10pm Culra bothy
(0.00) 9.10am Left Culra
(2.00) 11.10am Beinn Bheoil
(2.30) 11.40am Sron Coire na h-Iolaire
(3.40) 12.50pm Ben Alder
(4.45) 1.55pm Bealach Dubh
(5.35) 2.45pm Geal-charn
(6.15) 3.25pm Diollaid a' Chairn
(6.50) 4.00pm Carn Dearg
(7.45) 4.55pm Culra (arrived)
(8.25) 5.35pm Culra (left)
(9.35) 6.45pm Dalwhinnie