Sunday, 20 April 2014

Beinn a' Chlachair

Beinn a' Chlachair summit, cornice collapsing
Saturday, 19 April 2014
Ascent:      1325 metres
Distance:    24 kilometres
Time:          6 hours 58 minutes

Creag Pitridh             924m    2hrs 21mins
Gael Charn             1049m    3hrs 10mins
Beinn a' Chlachair  1087m   4hrs 57mins

The car was frosted over but the air was still and the sky was blue; days like this are made for walking. I left home at 6:30am for the two and a half hour drive up the A9 to Dalwhinnie and from there to Luiblea by Loch Laggan. I was walking by 9:00am and it looked like I had chosen the hills with the least cloud cover. It is a long walk in from Luiblea along well graded track towards the cobalt blue waters of Lochan -na-h-Earba. Behind me were the southern flanks of Creag Meaghaidh and Beinn a' Chaoruinn, a wonderful long ridge walk over 5 munros when combined together.  To the west the Easains and Grey Corries rose above the nearby plantations and were easily distinguished as was the conical peak of Stob Ban.

In front was the massive northern slopes of Beinn a' Chlachair, which would be the third of the munros today. My four previous visits to these hills had included a gloomy November day and three occasions when I had walked in after a day at work and camped high before a long day in the hills to follow. I had not witnessed conditions anywhere as good as today. It would be relative straightforward excursion and I was equipped in summer gear including a pair of goretex trainers and I even had room for an SLR camera in the small rucksack.

After curving round and crossing the outflow of Lochan na-h-Earba, I began the climb up a good path to Bealach Leamhain before cutting off at 470 metres to begin a long but direct climb over heather strewn ground to Creag Pitridh. It was certainly a lot easier than it had been when I had last taken this same route on a September day. The cool air was persisting despite the sun and a breeze was providing a pleasant climate for the ascent. On the summit it felt cold and I put on a jumper and had some food and drink whilst soaking up the views. It is an easy descent of only 110 metres before a steady climb to the long summit plateau of Gael Charn. There were a number of snow chutes on the north facing slopes, too steep for my trainers to gain any purchase but needs must. The cairn on Gael Charn is at the end of the ridge and one of the largest cairns, it provides good shelter from the winds. The high stratus cloud cover had blotted out the sun, I hunkered down and feasted on some cold roasted root vegetables left over from last night.

The walk over the ridge plateau from Gael Charn is easy going and despite a line of low cliffs to be descended it is a relaxing walk to Bealach Leamhain. I regained the path to the bealach and eyed the route up the north east face of Beinn a' Chlachair. There was a lot of snow remaining and it was a bit of a puzzle climbing up the steepish rocky slopes. I found a small burn gurgling with pure perfect tasting water that reminded me how tap water has lost its purity and taste in the quest for 'purification'. The long but gentle climb to the summit was accompanied by perfect views of the Aonach Beag ridge to the south and beyond that the snow loaded Ben Alder plateau. Nearing the summit  the corrie was hosting a massive cornice that was peeling off in the early afternoon sun.

I was on the schedule that I had set myself and took 15 minutes to eat, photo and chat to a couple from Bridge of Allan who were embarking on a munro round. They were still at the stage of being in awe of their surroundings and slightly agog at the length of days that were needed to access so many of the hills - wait till they get to Fisherfield and Knoydart. I decided that a direct descent to the north would be preferable to retracing my steps to the bealach and set off over the convex edge of the summit. I was in luck there were three or four snow chutes to speed progress down and the grass and heathers were largely rock free. Nevertheless it took almost an hour to descend the 700 metres to the track by which time the afternoon sun was beginning to scorch me. Then another hour of walking on the meandering track to get back to Luiblea. I stopped at the bridge to take some photos of a Japanese couple against the magnificent scenery.

The drive home down the A9 was less busy than I expected and I decided to continue rather than taking the more scenic but slower route through Trinafour. It was a mistake there had been an accident and we were held up by two crashed vehicles on the southbound carriageway whilst the Police took statements and left the traffic to fend for itself. As usual the A9 was a nightmare, I should have gone via General Wade's road to Trinafour.

Luiblea looking west
Creag Meaghaidh
Looking west from the Luiblea track

Lochan na-h-Earba and Creag Meaghaidh plateau from Creag Pitridh
Looking west from  Gael Charn to the Easains and Grey Corries
Ben Alder centre and Beinn Dearg from the Beinn a' Chlachair east ridge
Aonach Beag ridge from Beinn a' Chlachair
Binnein Shuas (left) and Lochan na-h-Earba

Beinn a' Chlachair from Luiblea
Easter Saturday car parking overload at Luiblea

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