Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Drumochter Hills: Geal-charn (279) and A' Mhanconaich (179)

Let's start by thanking Blogger once again for turning a once pleasurable pastime into a frustrating chore with their wonderful Beta-Bollocks(TM). Thanks dudes.


Walk date: 03/03/07
My Munro #'s: 100 and 101

Pronunciations - translations - heights:
Gyal chaarn - white hill - 917m
A varkaneech - the horse place - 975m

Duration - 12:00 - 15:00
Distance - 12.2km
Weather - dry at first with light wind. Wind increasing to moderate after first peak. Snow underfoot from 700m. Hail at col between the two peaks with fast snowfall on descent from second peak and some blustery wind.
Team - solo

A quite obvious route kept me close to the blue:

Today's menu, Geal-charn (R) and A' Mhanconaich (L):

I only decided to do this hike on Friday night, as the Saturday night I thought I was having was not the same as others thought!! However, this was by no means a bad thing as this hike rocked!
With daylight hours increasing I only had to leave Aberdeen at 09:00 and made my way via Keith and Aviemore, past Dalwhinnie to Balsporran cottages where our tale begins. I knew there was going to be some snow as I passed Glenfarclas as the relatively stumpy Benrinnes was covered in the stuff. Having plenty of time and with the day's weather forecast to be ok, I was definitely of the mind to 'bring it on'.

Which was good, because I immediately went wrong, heading onto the first path I saw going up, which was headed for Creagan Mor (see map). I obviously wasn't the first as the then required crossing of Allt Beul an Sporain was evidently well used with the mud being full of footprints. To avoid this detour, stay on the track until a path forks off that you can actually see rising up Geal-charn.

Once on the path, and above the boggy sections, the way is simple enough. With the snow soon reached, the going wasn't as quick as it otherwise would have been, but for the most part it was soft and pre-used by hikers ahead, so good time was still made. Fine views soon opened up, but ahead I could see dark clouds coming from behind the peak. Not the forecast simple day coming up perhaps? Nonetheless I pressed on and an hour after setting off, I was stood chatting to fellow hikers on the rounded summit of Geal-charn.

The view ahead on Geal-charn:

To the south, the impressive A' Mhanconaich:

The view across Loch Ericht here to the imposing peaks of Beinn a' Chlachair and 'the other Geal-charn' was unexpected and superb. Some great future hills to look forward to. Also unexpected was how close Beinn Udlamain was. In that dark corner of my mind that I shouldn't listen to, whispers of plans to capture it began to circulate. However, as I made my way to the col, south west along the length of Loch Ericht and towards Ben Alder, some very dark weather could be seen coming in, which quickly brought me back to reality (no map, no plotted route? Details!) and I slapped on my coat on in readiness. Sure enough, I was soon trying to eat a sandwich with stinging hail against one side of my face, which certainly made the few pieces I could get in taste better!

Across Loch Ericht to hills I haven't tasted:

With everything being in white, I ended up starting my ascent of A' Mharconaich a litte late (see map) and that in turn meant the ascent was steeper than it should have been. Nevermind I thought, as I staunchly plodded up the snowy slopes (thick-snow, tiring to lift feet out of; thin-snow, slippery and tiring to keep balance) to finally make it onto the fine backbone of the peak. The wide gentle slope to the top provided easy walking, but it also meant that as another cloud moved in for the kill, there was nowhere to hide. Thus, the second peak of the day was hurridly bagged amongst drifting snow and fresh fall carried on a no-slouch wind.

Drifting snow on A'Mhanconaich:

A' Mharconaich has some extremely steep drops on its east face, so I stayed well away from the edge as I started my descent into clearer weather, all the time wondering which way the two hikers I seen ahead before the weather closed had gone, because now they were nowhere in sight!

Fellow hikers on A' Mhanconaich, where'd they go?

The chilly top of Munro 103:

Looking back once out of the fray:

Once below the snow line, the return route was simple, and I even got up to some of my patented 'controlled falling' descent method, which after a 'I don't give a damn' river crossing got me back at the car exactly three hours after setting out. Now that is Munro efficiency!

Back down beside Balsporran cottages, choo-choo!

On a high from my stomp, and after passing Dalwhinnie on the way to the hike, I hatched a plan to return to Aberdeen via Tomintoul, a small community high in the hills and visit the superb Whisky Castle whisky shop there. Obstentiously, I was to collect a bottle of Dalwhinnie double-matured, but the crafty whisky-pimp there steered me off it with his opinion that they should have 'left it alone'. In my defence however, I resisted his pimping of a good number of independent bottlings in the £50-70 range and opted for a fine looking bottle of Pittyvaich for only £32. Pittyvaich was a little-known Speyside distillery on the outskirts of Dufftown open only from 1975 to 1993 and was shamefully used almost exclusively in blends and I'm going to open it as soon as I finish typing this. You realise this is just for research purposes yes? Good.

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