March Day Trip to the Dalmally area

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Just when it looked like being a winter without much snow…..along comes a cold spell, warnings to stay at home unless the journey is really essential and road closures. However, there was little to stop a group of 10 (Kenny, Willie, James, Mark S, Miriam, another Mark, Gavin, Alan H, Louise and me) from meeting up at the Green Welly in Tyndrum to discuss plans for the day. Remember Louise??? – last seen in September 1994 (see the Log Book entry for Suilven and note the stripey breeks – Cool!)

Kenny opted for the Connoisseur’s Choice of Beinn a’Bhuiridh and set off from Dalmally to climb this Corbett. The other 9 decided on an ascent of Ben Cruachan. The cold wind of earlier in the week had abated as we left the roadside and made our way steeply up to the Cruachan Reservoir, where we were met with some sleet. We headed to the north end of the reservoir and ascended up into the corrie. About halfway up the snow started to fall. We made a lunch stop just below the col to review the options.

Ascent to the reservoir  At the reservoir  On the ascent  Lunch stop  Summit of Meall Cuanail  The group below ...

Everybody decided to aim for the col, but only James and Allan Hutcheon decided to push on for the summit, about 300m higher. Mark, Willie, Gavin and I decided to press on to the subsidiary top of Meall Cuanail at 916m. Everyone met their chosen targets and then made their way back down into the corrie, where the snow had now accumulated to a few inches deep.

After a short stop to admire the view from the dam we all headed backed to the cars and then on to the Glenorchy Lodge Hotel in Dalmally for a welcome bottle or two of the locally brewed Piper’s Gold Ale and luxury Champagne Truffles (courtesy of Miriam) ... a fine end to a great day out!

Allan Boyd

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March Weekend to Culra

On the Friday, Jim Waterton had planned to take the train to Corrour and walk through to Dalwhinnie over the Bealach Dubh, call in at Culra, then catch the train back to Glasgow ....

When I first decided to do the walk there was almost no snow around, but that soon changed. In the circumstances, I thought I'd try the walk the other way round .. going from Dalwhinnie to Corrour, with the wind behind me and leaving a note at Culra to mark my passage. Things didn't work out quite like that!

I went up on the early train from Queen Street. My first surprise was that on disembarking at Dalwhinnie at 9.20am, I found Raymond had been sitting only a few seats from me in the same carriage. While he went to the rendezvous point (which I didn't know about) to wait for the rest of the group to arrive, I pressed on, getting to where the 'green shed' used to be in under 2 hours .. very easy going on the estate road .. and to Culra in 2 hours 45 minutes. There was about 10cm of snow in most places, but a semi-firm crust, so the going wasn't too hard. It was a lovely day, and I had vague hopes that as I got higher up, the snow would get firmer and easier, and perhaps someone before me would have broken a trail. WRONG!

The snow got deeper and softer .. maybe the sun had unfrozen it .. and no-one had preceded me. After another hour I was only halfway from the bothy to the bealach .. just about where you would turn off for the Lancet Edge. The plodding was getting too hard for me, and I decided to turn round. Then 20 minutes or so after leaving Culra for the second time I met the vanguard of the weekend party, and over the next 15 minutes I met everyone. I think they may have had the place to themselves, since there was no-one else around. I got to Dalwhinnie in nice time for the 6pm train, and back home before 9.

Jim Waterton

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Picking up from Jim Waterton’s tale …a group of 8 walkers mountaineers set off from Dalwhinnie about 12 o’clock. The estate road to the Lodge was well clear of snow but the snow level was not much higher. The new Lodge and its satellites are quite spectacular, complete with fairy-tale pointed towers – no expense spared. We met up with the wild ponies and several deer as we made our way up towards the site of the old boathouse, before a long trudge through wet snow and many hidden potholes to reach Culra bothy about 3.30pm. Crossing the river was tricky .. hopping over icy boulders or trying the rickety bridge. When we arrived there were already 2 residents and another 6 or so arrived as the evening wore on, including 1 cyclist.

The Culra Team (James Anderson behind the camera)  The locals keep a watch on the visitors ....  On the walk-in to Culra .. from the left, Ben Alder, Sgor Iutharn and Carn Dearg  Culra Bothy looking west with Sgor Iutharn and its Lancet Edge behind  Culra Bothy looking east with The Fara behind

The bothy was in great condition with a new cast iron stove, new sleeping platforms and new wall panelling. We opted to move into the ‘annexe’ and to use the main room for social/eating. Stories of a previous visit to Loch Ossian YH and a moonlight ascent of Beinn na Lap were recalled and this obviously whet Raymond’s appetite for an evening stroll up Carn Dearg. He set off with Miriam about 5pm up the slope behind the bothy. Mark and I set off a bit later to check on their progress and take some photos. We caught sight of them on the summit ridge .. Raymond went on ahead to check out the terrain and returned a few minutes later, declaring that the route was too icy and the Munro would need to be left for another day .. Sunday morning?

There was no dry wood at the bothy so everyone was grateful for the coal and kindling that we had brought in. Soon, with the aid of an MP3 Player and speakers from one of our fellow guests (the boys from Oxford), we joined in with Cat Stevens, Neil Diamond and many other old favourites .. aided by a drop or two of the amber nectar.

There is no fire in the ‘annexe’ and the temperature dropped well below zero during the night .. Linda and Allan Hutcheon later decided to abandon ship and sleep near the fire in the main room. We woke up to a brilliant morning, some blue sky and the cloud rising. Two classic ridge routes were in good winter condition .. the Long Leachas of Ben Alder and the Lancet Edge on Sgor Iutharn. The main group of Willie, Raymond, Linda, Miriam, Mark and myself opted for the Leachas, and James and Allan H opted for the Edge. Both groups set off together early while the snow was still frozen, well wrapped-up against the cold and donning sunglasses within the first mile. The cloud quickly cleared the summits and both groups were in for a classic day on the Scottish hills.

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Ben Alder/Ben Bheoil

The Long Leachas is a ridge consisting of three of four towers and some narrow ridge walking. The steepest part of the scramble is near the start and required some step kicking in the firm snow. We later made use of some steps left the previous day by a couple of climbers who had descended the ridge … thanks! There were a couple of tricky parts where ice had to be cleared from ledges but, after a few stops and starts we all arrived safely at the top of the ridge.  The horror look on Linda’s face turned to sheer exhilaration when she finally exited the narrow top section of the ridge. The summit of Ben Alder is a fair distance from the top of the ridge but the ascent is not too troublesome. The cliffs were heavily corniced, which meant that we had to stay well back from the edge.

Linda heading for Ben Alder  On the Ben Alder plateau

After lunch we continued to the end of the summit plateau and dropped down steeply into the col. The snow was now becoming quite slushy and heavy going. A further 100 metres of ascent saw us up on to Sron Coire na h-Iolaire (but no eagles in sight today) with its fantastic views down the whole length of Loch Ericht. The final ascent up to Ben Bheoil was a tiring trudge through wet slush before following the ridge down towards Culra. There was even time for a few wet bum slides on the lower slopes, before arriving back sunburned and tired after a long winter’s day.

Lancet Edge

On Saturday, after a hearty breakfast and with the conditions looking perfect, Allan Hutcheon and I decided to make the ascent of Lancet Edge. The whole group was ready by 8.30 and we all set off together with firm snow underfoot and blue skies overhead.

When the Ben Alder group left the stalkers track, we pressed on for a further ½km before following the burn up to the foot of the Lancet Edge. As there was some sign of recent snow slides, we decided to keep to the right hand side of the obvious gully. This was when we realised that the ridge was much steeper “up-close” than it had seemed from a distance and after a brief stop where I swapped poles for ice axe and crampons we continued up the ridge in the tracks of two of the other Culra occupants.

Allan H and the Lancet Edge

The ridge narrowed and steepened and I was glad of my crampons as we negotiated in winter conditions what must be an airy summer scramble. Taking care to stay clear of the cornice and negotiating a narrow arête we finally arrived at the summit of Sgor Iutharn (1028m) where we were able to observe the progress of the Ben Alder group as they arrived at the top of the Long Leachas.

After a brief stop for coffee and a snack we crossed the 2km to the summit of Geal-charn (1132m) where we had views down to Loch Ossian and over towards the Glen Coe hills although the cloud level was only just above the nearby summits.

Negotiating a route down to the ridge connecting with Carn Dearg proved exciting as our initial attempts to avoid the steeper top section of the ridge led us onto a steeply sloping snow slope. However, once back on the ridge and fortified by lunch we made quick progress to the summit of Carn Dearg (1034m) traversing high above frozen Loch an Sgoir.

With Culra Bothy looking enticingly close below Carn Dearg summit, it seemed that we would be down in record time but the softening snow conditions over grass and boulders made progress much slower than expected. However, we were back at Culra by 4pm and soon had the stoves on for warm drinks.

This was a classic winter day out in perfect conditions and a good reminder of why we go out walking .. and why we carry the heavy crampons and ice axes!

Back at Culra we all compared notes, drank copious quantities of tea and enjoyed the sauna, music and headed for an early bed. Fortunately it was not quite so cold so all enjoyed a well-earned sleep. In the morning there was a wide green patch of grass around the bothy .. testimony to the heat from the fire?

On Sunday morning any plans for a quick assault on Geal Charn were dismissed and we packed up and set off back to the cars at Dalwhinnie. A truly classic weekend!!!

Allan Boyd and James Anderson

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