GM\WS-009 Ben Alder & GM\WS-047 Beinn Bheoil

Ben Alder, one of the great remote mountains of Scotland, well so it says on one website and I can’t disagree. Remote it certainly is, I decided to make this a a bit of an expedition, meaning I got to spend more time in the hills.
Parking up at Dalwhinnie, the mountain bike was removed from the car and the front wheel re-fitted ready for action, checking I had my bike tools I hoisted my expedition rucksack onto my back and locked the car – as it turned out I wouldn’t be back for about 70 hours.

The first objective is to cross the railway line, it’s a bit like crossing the road, you have to make sure that there are no trains coming first. From here the track leads of down the side of Loch Ericht to Ben Alder Lodge. Passing a few houses along the way all built in the same distinct style – apparently owned by a Swiss banker or at least that’s what I’ve been told. This is a good track and for a such a remote track there was a fair bit of traffic on it, I pulled over 3 or 4 times I think to let cars or vans past, it is a long, hard track to walk though, I’ve done that in the past and the bike is much the better option. At Ben Alder lodge the right fork leads up a gentle incline before levelling out to Loch Pattack where a junction leads to a cool rickety bridge. Around the edge of the Loch the track is a bit sandy which can be a problem with the rear wheel of a heavily laden bike sticking a little too much in the sand. After another fork and some more short but steep for the bike inclines the track leads to Culra bothy approximately 10 miles and 1.5 hrs from Dalwhinnie, this was to be my home for the next few days. The bothy was doing a good impression of a bike yard with about a dozen mountain bikes propped up against the outer walls.

Next time I take an exped rucksack on the bike I must remember to pump the rear tyre up a lot more than normal, I forgot the extra load it would be under compared to my normal mountain bike rides.

The following day wasn’t particularly clever weather wise so I decided to postpone the planned and alerted ascent of Ben Alder – apologies to anyone listerning for me but there isn’t much internet access or mobile coverage out there :wink: That night though I was able to see one of the most impressive night skies I can remember, there was almost no cloud and no light pollution so the sky was full of stars and the milky way was stretched across the sky – brilliant! I really should take my book of constellations with my one day so I can identify a few more.

Sunday was a much better day weather wise so Ben Alder, WS-009 was on in fact looking up at it from the bothy it had to be the only place I was going, leaving much of my kit at the bothy as I would return here to pick up my bike for the ride out. Crossing the river a few hundred yards back down the track I picked up the obvious stalkers track which leads up to Loch a’ Bhealaich Bheithe. Just before the loch though I left the track to ascend Ben Alder via the Short Leachas ridge. Boulder hopping over the river and crossing the heather to gain the ridge proper I climbed onto the summit plateau of Ben Alder. The short Leachas is a really nice ridge, a good scramble. In Snowdonia or the Lakes it would be a busy classic scramble, but here in such a remote location, well I only saw one other person on the ridge that day. Emerging onto the summit plateau and into the cloud I made my way to the summit, here there are a couple of wind shelters, the larger one was occupied by the other person to ascend the short Leachas ahead of me so I settled down in the smaller shelter by the trig point.

On 2m SSb I immeadiately heard Robin GM7PKT/P on WS-023, only about 7km to the north west, followed by 2 more s2s’s on 2m FM with Graham, 2M0GIL/P on SS-222 and Andy, MM0FMF/P on CS-017, two more QSO’s and the cold wind was telling me it was time to move. Whilst on the summit I was initially in the cloud but it kept breaking up showing me some amazing views. But the best views were saved for as I wandered over the summit plateau folwing the cliff edges to Sron Bealach Beithe.

I made my way down the steep and wet slopes to Bealach Breabag before making the ascent up the other side to Beinn Bheoil, WS-047, some good views down Loch Ericht from here. The wind had picked up significantly now but I managed 4 QSO’s on 2m FM including Robin GM7PKT/P again, this time on WS-031 about 9km and a couple of hills to the north of me.

From here I descended north then north west to eventually pick up the stalkers track I had left earlier in the day and followed this back to the bothy. At one point during this walk back I looked back at Ben Alder to see swirling cloud in the Bealach Dubh between Ben Alder and Lancet Edge, with the sun breaking through the higher clouds to give the cloud in the bealach a golden tint, just for a minute before the clouds obscurred the sun again. A good end to the day.

I had intended to bike out back to Dalwhinnie but decided that I’d ride out the next morning instead, it did mean some rather random food for tea & breakfast, using what food I had remaining, but there was no rush.
The next morning and all that was left was a leisurely ride back down the track to Dalwhinnie, there is more downhill this way so it’s a bt quicker.

Many thanks to the stations worked, especially GM7PKT/P & GM0UDL worked from both summits.

Iain, M(M)3WJZ

In reply to M3WJZ:

Great report Iain. It was nice to work you S2S using nothing more than a handy and its rubber duck from Meall Ghaordaidh the other week. I wondered how you’d approached this remote summit. A work colleague has walked in and done Ben Alder and walked out the same day. That’s a bit much I think. I have to say I don’t like cycling with my SOTA pack on my back. Even at only 16kgs or so, I found it to be a nightmare. It must have been worse with food and camping stuff. A rear cycle rack and paniers is the answer, I now have the paniers and just need a rack to mount them on.

I’m looking forward to another 2m S2S contact next time you’re up this way.


In reply to MM0FMF:

Yeah it is do-able to walk in from Dalwhinnie, climb Ben Alder and walk out in one day especially with the long hours of daylight in summer, but that is almost 20 miles walking just to get to/from the hill. Why walk when you can ride! The first stretch along the side of Loch Ericht to Ben Alder lodge is in effect a long hard pound down a road, I’ve walked that stretch a couple of times on separate occassions, once in each direction and I have to say the bike is much the better option.

I agree riding with panniers rather than a rucksack is a much better option, I’ve just never got around to getting organised on the pannier front.

The stalkers track I used from the bothy towards Ben Alder actually extends back the other way to Ben Alder lodge I think and is a more direct route if you can find it - certainly it can be accessed via a small track off to the left when the landrover track bends right after the incline from the lodge. Of the guys I met, 2 prefered the stalkers track and 2 the landrover track for biking on. I didn’t try it myself as a DofE group decided to walk out that way the morning I was leaving so rather than “barge through them” on the singletrack stalkers track I just rode around the landrover track via Loch Pattack.

I’ll listen out for you when I’m next north of the Border.

Iain, M3WJZ