Monday, 31 March 2014

Alder Forest, Mar'14

Al was leading a group of 5 into Culra for a weekend hiking while based in tents by Culra bothy. Here's his story of how the weekend went....

A week before, in mid March, I did my winter mountain leader assessment in very spring like weather: sunny skies, light winds, consolidated relatively safe snow pack. I thought.. well this is the beginning of the end of the winter season for sure. But, come the 21st of March that was all to change. A low pressure system centred on the north Atlantic was bringing polar maritime weather to Scotland. Very strong westerly winds, minus five on the summits and lots and lots and lots of snow. Come the start of our weekend hill walk to Ben Alder the weather was turning into some of the wintriest I'd seen all season.

So our scheduled start to the weekend, what should have been a straightforward two hour cycle into Culra from Dalwhinnie on Friday afternoon, was postponed to Saturday morning. It snowed all night and Dalwhinnie was cold, snowy and frosty in the morning. With care we set off and made good progress along a crunchy snow covered track along the shore of Loch Ericht to Ben Alder Lodge. From there the ground steepened ascending from 350m to 460m. And straight away we hit snow! Lots of wind blown snow covered the trail and we had to push our bikes for most of rest of the way to Culra. All agreed it was pretty tiring work and we decided, upon reaching Culra, to take an hours break, put up our tents, eat food and take stock of the situation.

It was very apparent from the large accumulations of snow, strong winds and poor visibility that the four planned Munros (Carn Dearg, Geal Charn, Aonach Beag and Beinn Eibhinn) wouldn't be possible today. Instead we made slow but steady progress up the Glen and did a five hour circular hill walk taking in Loch an Sgoir and Carn Dearg. The views of the Lancet edge and Geal Charn were very impressive indeed and the huge depth of snow in the Allt Loch an Sgoir burn was quite amazing and evidence of the especially large amounts of snow we've had this winter. Back at our camp site at Bothy we enjoyed a pleasant evening eating, drinking and chatting before hitting the sleeping bags.

Sunday morning was beautiful. The mountain tops were clear and covered in huge amounts of snow. But it was still very cold and the prospect of a tough 3-4 cycle back on snowy tracks seemed to all to be a sufficient challenge for the day. So we headed off and to everyone's surprise found the journey great fun. With the wind behind us, the sun out and the gradient in our favour we made delightful progress. "Magical", "Amazing", "Great fun" were shouted out as we freewheeled down the long snow slope to Loch Ericht, watching red deer running along beside us. Before long we were in the woods and making easy progress back to Dalwhinnie.

Although we didn't get all the Munros done the trip was a great winter experience, leaving us with a new sense of wonder and respect for this amazing area of wild land by Ben Alder.

Our next Alder trip is planned for October !