Geal-charn and A’Mharconaich
Above is a perfectly innocuous photograph…of a hill.
What makes this hill important is that it is my hill or more strictly speaking it is the hill that The Fatdog and I are supposed to be ascending. This is unfortunate because between us and the hill that we are supposed to be ascending is an ever widening gorge. Current route thinking, and in fact best practice, suggests that we should not be on this side of the burn at all, but that we should be working our way up the spur in the photograph.
Cursing myself for being such a numpty I quickly scanned the ground…then followed the clear trail left by an earlier numpty across the snow filled corrie towards Geal-charn.
A’ Mharconaich (left) and Geal-charn (right)
This ascent of Geal-charn should have been almost eejit proof. You’ll note I said almost! What could be simpler…follow track until another forks off to the right, head up this track and then up the broad spur.
At Balsporran we crossed the railway, followed the track and took the first right. I admit to taking my eye off the ball as I rummaged through the pack, eventually hauling the whole lot out into the snow, in an attempt to find my glasses case. This proved to be an unsuccessful exercise and left me in a grumpy mood, my glasses now having to put up with the indignity of residing in the plastic box with my hot cross buns and strawberry jam. This minor distraction proved to be my undoing.
Looking back to Balsporran with A’ Bhuidheanach Beag in the background
The Big Yellow Digger
Maybe I should have realised as we passed the big yellow digger that our track might be that bit more recent than the “first right” mentioned in my instructions. I just hadn’t checked the map…an omission I was deeply regretting at this point. The thought of dropping way back down the track to find the correct route was never going to happen…so it was press on and hope the terrain in the corrie at the source of the burn was easy to cross.
But not all mistakes are total disasters. I looked at the map (about bloody time they all grumble) and reckoned that if I followed the burn up into the shallow Coire Beul an Sporain I’d be able to tackle Geal-charn from the north. The plan having been formed we followed the tracks of the other eejit who had obviously done the same thing the previous day.
Up in Coire Beul an Sporain
And very good tracks they were too. Our benefactor had made steady zig-zags up the north slope giving us a reasonably easy approach. Eventually the boot prints curved eastward, meeting up with what I assumed to be the main trail on Geal-charn’s NE spur.
Light on the hare? tracks
Clouds below the Monadhliath
The Fatdog in the snow
At the memorial cairn to Mick Costello
We stopped briefly at the cairn erected in memory of Mick Costello before turning west towards the summit. It had taken us about 2 hours which wasn’t bad considering my blunder at the start. Now I had to decide whether to press on to A’ Mharconaich or call it a day and head back to the car. No brainer really! The sun was blazing down and the sky was bright blue. The views across Loch Ericht to Ben Alder were spectacular. I’d never seen this mountain mass before. The chiselled blocks of the mountains looked intriguing from our vantage point, a potential exploration for another time.
Into Ben Alder
Beyond Ben Alder
It was only 11.30 so I decided to keep pressing on. I stuffed a chocolate bar into my mouth and a Bonio into The Fatdog’s, then down into the bealach we lurched.
Last view of Loch Ericht
About an hour later I was wondering why…why did we not go back to the car? My legs were tiring and I had watched what felt like the same 30m of snow stretch up to the horizon…for over 30 minutes! I was suffering from “hamster in treadmill” syndrome.
Slogging up the north slope of A’Mharconaich
We were following another set of footprints now…this time cutting west to east across the north face of A’ Mharconaich. The powder was just deep enough to cause a drag even though I was studiously placing my feet in my predecessor’s prints. While the Fatdog was full of beans (and various other consumables) my legs were beginning to complain. Rest stops became more frequent. I wasn’t disappointed though. I had reckoned this second hill was about my limit anyway so the drop in power was not entirely unexpected.
I was grateful to leave the long slog behind me as I reached the broad summit ridge of A’Mharconaich. I’d only seen one other person since the walk began but as we made our way to the centre of ridge a skier shot across our path heading south west towards Beinn Udlamain. Three more plank-footed adventurers waited between us and the summit. As The Fatdog and I approached they prepared to move off, until FD (by now on her lead) wagged her tail and decided to visit. The Fatdog weaved in and out the group, winding the cord around ski-footed legs. All it needed now was FD to gallop down the slope with three tangled skiers in tow leaving me to explain that shambles to the local MRT. To prevent what was heading for slapstick catastrophe I dropped my end of the lead to the obvious relief of Maisie’s new found friends.
Skiiers on A’Mharconaich
At the summit three walkers were finishing lunch…which as we all know was incredibly lucky for them. I hope you’re reading this Galdo (ScottishHills member) ‘cause your photo’s up next! As you can see…Galdo wasn’t quite as lucky as his friends.
Galdo finds he hasn’t eaten lunch soon enough…and ends up giving half of it away
We had a quick bite with an overexcited Fatdog knocking over the flask and losing half of my tea. I couldn’t stay grumpy for long as the sun was beating down and the views were glorious.
Galdo and friends
Galdo and friends headed for Geal-charn while The Fatdog and I contemplated our descent down the NE slope. The sun was beginning to heat up the top of my head and the back of my neck so on went the bandana and the sunglasses. I sent up a prayer of thanks to The Minor God of February Sunshine for such a cracker of a winter’s day for walking.
Heading down A’Mharconaich’s NE spur
With big crags some 30m off to the right I decided to keep FD on the lead for the first part of the descent. Off down the steep snow slope we hammered, clouds of white powder swirling up from our feet. With only descent left to come my legs were once more in a happy mood so after the ridge flattened out we set of at a quick trot, following the easy downward gradient of the wide rounded spur. Running…ME!
Looking back up to A’Mharconaich
It took us an hour from summit to car with a couple of minor delays. The first was a couple of minutes looking for a burn crossing which, as it transpires, appears not to be necessary once you reach the bridge at the railway. The second was an “Oof!” moment. I thought “Oof!” only lived in comic books but, as I chose not to attempt the splits while erratically descending a short snow slope, I landed heavily on my back to the sound of “Oof!” , as air was dramatically expelled from my lungs.
Even the fall was shrugged off after a brief count of arms and legs. It was difficult to be disappointed about anything in this glorious weather.
Camera balanced precariously on top of the Tank’s wing mirror!
Some 5 hours after setting off we arrived back at the tank ready for the journey home. Back on the A9 the cruise control was set to 60mph and with Steve Earle blasting out the CD player The Fatdog and I left the sunshine of Drumochter (not a phrase in common usage I suspect) already planning a midweek excursion…
The Minor God of February Sunshine smiled benevolently upon his worshipers below. Since giving up his job as a Building Control Officer to a post where he could say “No!” on a more regular basis, he was basking in the somewhat puzzled adoration of his newly acquired earthly followers.
February wasn’t supposed to be like this, it was supposed to be dull wet and thick grey…with a bit more wet thrown in just in case. It was his job to deny sunny days to all petitioners but it couldn’t hurt to be nice, just this once. To make sure things didn’t get out of hand he was rationing it strictly to one day per person only.
As he watched the two figures drop down off the mountain his eyes narrowed…he could sense a plan in the making, a plan that would involve an extra day’s sunny weather. He checked his list. No…that pair had most definitely had their February allocation, that was them finished for another year. He made a mental note to keep a beady eye on them.
Odd, he could have sworn that the small black hairy one had just turned and winked…naw…he must have imagined that. He poured himself a cuppa from his flask and with careful precision opened his “My Little Pony” lunch box and reached inside. He frowned as his hand rummaged in an empty void.
Coming soon…” The Weather Thieves”