The Dumochter Pass lies just to the South of Dalwhinnie and sits around 450m. This gives easy access to many Munros and a Corbett or two in the area. The Dumochter 4 consist of Geal-charn CS-047, Beinn Udlamain CS-022, Sgairneach Mhor CS-028 and A’Mharconaich. These 4 Munros are often done as a round, it’s a fair old walk but not impossible. There’s nothing techinal about the walk or climbing except possible a river crossing to consider but that can be done as long it’s not in spate. There are some good paths never mind the typical Munro trench to be found in a bunch of easyish summits, so navigation is not too challenging. Extra fit people can include The Sow of Atholl CS-078 to spice up the day. Of course trying to fit 5 summits into a SOTA day is a little harder and well beyond my capablitites.
I’d bagged Geal-charn with Jeremiah Fuzzface (Brian G4ZRP ) last October on a grey and quite impressively wet (at times) day. I picked up The Sow of Atholl and Sgairneach Mhor a few weeks later. That left me Beinn Udlamain to complete the set as A’Mharconaich which looks quite shapely is not a Marilyn. Sadly this one is the farthest from either possible car park. Access is either via Sgairneach Mhor from Dalnaspidal or possibly combined with Geal-charn from Balsporran Cottages, both of which offer plenty of parking just off the nasty A9. I decided that as the approach to Sgairneach Mhor is over morraines with no path then I’d take the good estate track past Geal-charn and out to Beinn Udlamain and possibly pick up Geal-charn on the way back. The extra climb up is only 175m from where I’d have to be and it would be an easy 6 points on top of the 8 for Beinn Udlamain. But it depended on time, feet, legs etc.
Saturday finished with a sunset to kill for and Sunday dawned a glorious day, bright blue sky and few clouds. The WX forecast was the for a bit of wind but no rain and possibly a little high altitude cloud later on. I had an unventful chug up the A9 and pulled into Balsporran about 9.30am. 5 cars already there and 1 arrived as I finished booting up. A quick chat and I gained a tip that the obvious path from the bealach to Beinn Udlamain involved a lot of height loss and a very steep climb out from nasty ground. The best way was to follow the Munro trade route up onto A’Mharconich and then along the ridge on a good path. There was still some height loss, but it should be much easier walking.
Now the forecast was for a bit of wind. Bit of wind indeed; in the car park it was howling in from the NW and diabolicaly cold. End of July, the sun was shining, sparse clouds and I needed a fleece. It was still cool then. Anyway, with a full pack I set off. It wasn’t quite full though… my EFHW tuner was left in the kit box so that meant that 15/12&10m were out. I realised this 30mins into the walk. The first 3.5km is along an excellent estate road and it was no real effort to yomp along up to the bealach. The Allt Choire Fhar was wondeful to watch and listen too and was quite full. There’s been a bit of rain recently but in general the ground is very dry and the rivers look to be full of surface run-off. The wind was on my back which was nice, I’d remembered suncream on my ears etc. which was aswell as the sun did beat down.
About 1hr10 I was at the bealach. That’s where the fun started. Being in a deep valley with a Munro either side gave some nice but limited views. Looking back Meall Chuaich (on the to-bag list) looked impressive. It’s easy though! Then you crest the bealach and your heart skips a beat. Well several. And you say rude words when the sight in front sinks in. Lots of rude words ending in “me”! There is the Ben Alder massive. I thought Beinn a’Ghlo from Beinn Vuirich was impressive but this grouping makes that look only a little impressive. Lordy, lordy, lord. (Have I said that before?) It’s a humungous lump. There’s Ben Alder at 1148m, Beinn Bheoil (veal or voil) 1016m in front, Aonach Beag 1112m, Carn Dearg 1034m. I’d caught a glimpse of Ben Alder when I was on Geal-charn with Jeremiah Fuzzface just before the rain hit us. I’ve seen its head poking up from other summits and I’d seen it from some distance on Carn na Caim (just a bit up the road). But nothing prepares you for this. It is just so big. Everyone I know says that when you walk in along Loch Ericht either way you can see Ben Alder and you think wont be long before I start climbing. Except it’s 18km to the summit from the Dalwhinnie end of Loch Erict and 14km from Bridge of Ericht. You’re looking at 4+hrs of walking BEFORE you even start climbing! And if you want to bag both Ben Alder and Beinn Bheoil there’s 450m of (steep) descent 350m of (steep) ascent between them. Big, oh yes, very big!
I could see the obvious path to ignore and also obviously to the left is a muddy path zig zagging up the side of A’Mharconaich. I followed this and found it suprisingly easy going. The path is well defined but could be very yeuchy if it has been wet for a while. I surprised myself in climbing 200m in 1km and about 30mins. I think I need to try this new found stamina out in Dumfries where I know I’ll be brought down to earth with a bump! Anyway, it wasn’t hard and I was on the main ridge path. I was in 2 minds to nip up and bag A’Mharconaich, it would have added 25mins to the walk. But that would be futile list ticking and there’s no points on offer! So from almost being at the summit, I turned and dropped 90m down and then started climbing again.
Only 260m to the summit. A well defined path made walking easy and the wind was blowing me. All the time I was checking to see if I could avoid climbing too far on the way back. It looked like there was a faint path that reached the bealach. And of course taking in the view of Ben Alder Lodge. It’s a bit Gothic In fact it’s so Gothic it wears black nail varnish and wears a Bauhaus T-shirt. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mriBc6NjUhg) Very impressive building in a wonderful location, simply fantastic views. Last bloke who bought is worth £700m or so. You can guess the price tag then
Apart from the path there’s a line of decaying iron fence posts that marked the boundary between Perthshire and Highland. Follow either to the summit. It’s very rocky and apart from the cairn there’s absolutely no shelter. A huge bare summit dome. But a substantial cairn that was welcome as the wind was really blowing now. It took about 2h20 from leaving the car. I was happy with that time. Someone has collected up loads of old fence posts and dumped them in the cairn. I was able to use them to support the fishing rod. The ground is loose rocks with moss between then. It would be very difficuly to get a tent peg in. With the pole tied off, I used rocks to hold the end of the dipole. With great difficulty I got my walking sticks in to hold the ends clear of the ground.
Onto 60m and Volmet and Shannon Volmet were huge signals. Sadly 60m was very unstable for me. People coming and going in the QSB very quickly. I worked Rob G4RQJ/P 1st but he wasn’t strong. Steve GW7AAV started off rock-crushing but was up and down soon. That was the pattern all activation. Brian G8ADD lost me so I plugged in the Palm Paddle and Don G0NES was every so easy to work. (Don, claim which ever county you want… the antenna straddled the boundary and I did as far as I could tell.) I continued with SSB chasers. Jeremiah Fuzzface resolutely did not hear me sending him 58 s-p-a-c-e-d out on the key. However, perseverence with them meant everyone who called got a report in the end. I tried 40m SSB and worked Coling G8TMV who said he found it was slow going. Well I don’t like 40m SSB… always seems to bring out the worst in a small number of chasers so I tried 7.032+/- instead.
I couldn’t spot myself, no coverage. So I called and called and called. Nothing. When I set up the antenna I made sure it was oriented E-W as that should give best coverage if the ground made the antenna less of an omni. Well it was pointing E-W as long your compass points E when it means N. So I moved the legs from N-S to E-W and called again. Bang, DL6KVA came back by return! It helps to beam where there may be chasers. Everyone was up and down in the QSB which was fast. 0DX was LA1ENA and I worked G/PA/DL&LA. I don’t know if DL1FU copied me but I heard his 229 report and sent the same. It was a good contact for me. As if a switch had been thrown the DL’s disappeared and Roy G4SSH and Jeff G4ELZ were 59+.
So time rolled on an I had to decide if Geal-charn was a go-er or not. I thought I’ll set off and see when I get nearer. I had a 2hr walk out and at least a 2hr30 drive home. I’d not be home till at least 19:00 or 20:30 if I did Geal-charn. It wasn’t a unique and I’m not desparate for the points though an easyish 6 extra is always nice. I’d had a great day so far so I wasn’t going to be greedy. The walk down to the bealach was easy but refreshing as it was into the wind. At the 1st bealach I could see an obvious path in the steep sided choire that went to the Geal-charn/A’Mharconaich bealach. (Too many bealachs!) Or I could climb up 90m to go down. So I took the feinter path. Well it was obvious after 5 mins this was not a good idea. The path had boot prints in it but it petered out quickly. It looks like everyone had the same thought… “Hey I’m on a damn steep grassy slope with about 150m drop and no path and hidden boulders. Don’t like!” I carefully started dropping down diagonally aiming for the path below but trying to loose height slowly. And certainly not by sliding off. That would have spoilt my day in a big way. 10mins later at the bottom I had a look back. Oooooh, that was a big steep bank. Don’t like one bit!
From here it was easy to the bealach and I decided I wasn’t so desparate for points I could be bothered with Geal-charn. Done it before! No uniqueness to it and I hate setting up the gear. So I ended up doing what does bug me… a linear walk. It was much less windy now and hot so off with the fleece. From here it was a simple yomp to the car, easy path and no navigational choices. Nowhere to fall off or get lost. Yomp, chomp, yomp. I topped the carbs and soaked up the sun and views out of the valley. At a small ford I saw a young trout swimming in the deep part of the water. Also a couple of hares on the heather and lots of grouse but not much else.
Back at the car it was boots off and watch the feet steam! 20C now so I finished off the water and set off South. I took the detour from the A9 down to Trinafour. This road is wonderful. They’ve worked on the “life-in-your-hands” hairpin bends so they are 3 cars wide not 1 wide. Especially as when people come down the hill and see the Erochty Dam they need somewhere to safely stop the car as they take in the wow-factor. In Trinafour I checked the parking for routes to Beinn a’Chuallaich and Creag a’Mhadaidh and then chugged back past Loch Tummel. A quick “wow” at the splendid industrial architecture of Erochty Power Station and then home via Perth for some cheaper petrol. The A9 was busy but bint-less and even the tin-tents weren’t causing any problems.
Total walked: 17.7km, total ascent: 817m, total driven: 224 miles.
Music provided by Blue Oyster Cult’s Secret Treaties and Joe Bonamassa’s Dust Bowl amongst others. Some pictures are on Flickr.