The forecast was for a much better day, with sunshine and little cloud. The day started with some cloud on the higher hills, but we decided to go for a Munro, with the possibility of a Graham later. Our targets were first Meall Chuaich and then Creag Ruach which share a couple of miles flattish walk-in before the ascent proper starts. We parked in lay-by 94 on the southbound side of the A9 and walked a short way back to a track with a “Welcome to the Moor” sign. There was a little cloud hanging over some of the summits, including Meall Chuaich, but unlike the previous day The Fara was clear. The track headed gently uphill to meet another track which runs alongside an aqueduct and we turned left to follow it as it gently meandered along the side of the valley. After a couple of kilometres the aqueduct ends at a small hydropower station: the aqueduct takes the outflow to Loch Ericht. A large pipeline feeds the power station as well as the river flowing down from Loch Cuiach though there was little water in the river. The water level in the aqueduct also seemed quite low and relatively slow flowing.
Creag Ruadh and Meall Chuaich (centre with cloud on top)
Pipeline and Meall Chuiaich
We ignored the track by the pipeline and continued along the track by the river, passing two men working on a bridge over a tributary who asked about the poles. Where the track forked before the Loch we headed right, passing a bothy and were overtaken by a couple on mountain bikes who were also going up the Munro.
Looking back on ascent route
Crossing a bridge over the stream the track bent right, and it was time to leave the track and start ascending on the sometimes muddy and boggy path ahead. The bikers had stowed their bikes in the heather and were making good speed ahead of us. Although a higher summit the gradient was easier than the previous day on The Fara. As on several of the hills there was a mixture of stony sections and peaty boggy sections. The cloud had now cleared from the top of Meall Chuaich but was still covering some of the hills to the south and west. Eventually the large cairn appeared on the flattish top, soon followed by extensive views along the Spey valley and towards the Cairngorms looking splendid under cloudless skies. There were still clouds around the hills to the south and west, some of them cloud covered, but with some of the higher ones sticking their heads above an inversion.
Cairn and Spey Valley
The other walkers were sitting on the more sheltered side of the cairn facing the Cairngorms, but the wind wasn’t too bad so Caroline set up on the other side where there was an old fencepost which was used to support the VHF antenna. This again proved to be a pointless exercise: Caroline had thought she had heard a couple of weak stations on the handheld while setting up the FT817 but heard nothing when she called CQ. So after Martyn had qualified with just 4 contacts on 5 MHz, Caroline moved over to 40m qualifying with 11 contacts. We needed to pack up soon to get a second hill in, but since Caroline still had lunch to eat Martyn decided to try 20m to make his log less minimal. However after changing the links he had very high SWR: on further investigation it appeared that one leg of the dipole wire had failed at the centre point. Martyn stripped the broken wire and tried twisting it back together, but it’s wasn’t likely that it would stand the stress of being hoist to the top of a pole in the moderate wind.
Given Caroline’s failure to get any VHF contacts from the Munro, there was no realistic chance of activating its smaller neighbour on VHF, so we abandoned thought of a second ascent. We would have been short on time anyway but were confident that we could return along the track from Loch Cuiach by head torch if necessary.
Instead we took our time over descending including taking a closer look at dam at the end of Loch Cuaich. As we passed the hydropower station there were a couple of vehicles outside and the doors were open. As we continued, we noted that there seemed the be more faster flowing water in the aqueduct, so maybe the power had been increased.
Loch Ericht towards Ben Alder
Aqueduct and Meall Chuaich