Dalwhinnie – Loch Ericht – Ben Alder Cottage
06 April 2012
23.3 km/298 m/06:45 hrs
With the TGO Challenge only a bit over a month away, I thought I’d better get some training done – I needed to get used to walking distances of around 25 km with a big pack again.
I had walked from Dalwhinnie along Loch Ericht several times in the past, but at Ben Alder Lodge I had always turned west towards Culra bothy. I was curious how the walk further along the loch would be, and I had never visited (the allegedly haunted!) Ben Alder Cottage near the southern end of the loch.
If the weather and the snow conditions allowed, I could even walk over Ben Alder on the way back, using the normal route from the Bealach Breabag. On my first ascent in June 2010, going up and down via the Long Leachas ridge, I had not seen a thing from the top due to low cloud and drizzle. Nonetheless, I had found Ben Alder very impressive, and I was keen to come back sometime on a clear day to see the views!
When I started from the level crossing in Dalwhinnie, the clouds were quite low, but at least it was dry and pleasantly warm.
The walk along Loch Ericht was as boring as ever, but when I approached Ben Alder Lodge, it looked as if the clouds might lift.
The wide track leads around the fenced-off lodge, and about 200 metres after the bridge across the Allt Coire na Mèine, a smaller path branches off to the left. It leads over a wooden footbridge and into the forest.
A well maintained and even signposted (!) path winds its way through the trees and eventually emerges on a track beside the loch.
Looking south along Loch Ericht.
Beinn Bheòil, seen from the lochside path.
Where the Allt Camas nan Cnàmh flows into Loch Ericht, the track ends and continues as a footpath – this area would make a nice camp site.
Looking back along the loch.
Even the way to the bothy is signposted…!
Corrievarkie Lodge on the other side of Loch Ericht.
I was pleasantly surprised about the good state of the path, considering that it’s probably not being used very much. It is grassy, dry and instead of fords there are several substantial wooden bridges along the way.
The craggy SE flank of Beinn Bheòil.
Approaching An Dùn, the path becomes a bit rougher.
Further on, the path seems to disappear completely between some sloping rock slabs. I found a way around them, climbing up the steep heathery slopes, which was a bit awkward with a big pack, but I managed it without falling into the loch…
And for the first time today, it looked as if the sun would come out.
Colourful moss on the slabs.
Just when I walked around the corner and got the first view of Alder Bay and the bothy, it started to rain.
I tried to get to the bothy as quickly as possible, but I was still soaked when I got there. At the same time two men and a little boy arrived from the opposite direction, they had started from Loch Rannoch.
The room on the left and the small one in the middle were occupied by a group of young men who kept the doors shut and didn’t seem to be interested in communicating with us (they had a radio blasting anyway), so the four of us settled in the other room and waited for the rain to stop.
The shelves on the wall had apparently been used as firewood…
It kept raining for a while, so I went to collect water and made a coffee and a soup, and the others left to pitch their tents on the grassy, flat area between the Alder Burn and the Allt Bealach Breabaig.
When I had finished, the rain had stopped and I went to pitch my tent as well, then I went back to the bothy to cook my dinner. But in the meantime it had become so warm that I carried a chair outside and had my dinner sitting in front of the bothy.
After dinner, I went for a short walk around the bothy, but it quickly became too dark to take photos.
Bridge across the Alder Burn.
Late in the evening, the bothy inhabitants walked towards the loch with fishing rods, but returned soon after. It was way past 22:00 when they started hammering and sawing firewood outside the bothy, accompanied by shouting and laughing – aaargh, I just wanted to get some sleep!
With hindsight, I should have camped further away from the bothy, but the other walkers had already pitched near the Alder Burn, and so I ended up with a place in the middle. After what seemed like an eternity, the noise stopped and I fell asleep.
Ben Alder Cottage – Culra Bothy – Dalwhinnie
07 April 2012
24.7 km/613 m/08:15 hrs
After packing up my tent in the morning, I followed the path along the stream up to the Bealach Breabag.
View back to Alder Bay and the bothy.
Approaching the bealach.
Allt Bealach Breabaig.
From the bealach I could see quite a few snow patches between the crags, and decided against the ascent of Ben Alder. I didn’t feel comfortable in these conditions with a big pack, and with the low cloud level I couldn’t be sure if I would get any views from the summit.
I wasn’t too disappointed, because I’d rather wait for a perfect day – Ben Alder is “bagged” already, after all…
Instead I made my way down to Loch a’ Bhealaich Bheithe.
Sròn Bealach Beithe.
Looking back to the bealach.
On the way down, I got a good view of the Long Leachas ridge, the route of my first ascent.
Loch Pattack in the distance.
Instead of walking all the way to the footbridge and then back, I crossed the Allt a’ Chaoil-rèidhe a few hundred metres before Culra.
View towards Lancet Edge of Sgòr Iutharn, another interesting, but easy scrambling route.
I had planned to have a quick lunch break in Culra bothy, but I ended up chatting with a bothy inhabitant for almost an hour. He was waiting for his friends to return from the hills, he couldn’t join them because he was recovering from a leg injury and was in charge of the catering instead.
Looking back to the bothy, now the hills were all in cloud.
The path from Culra to Ben Alder Lodge must have been improved recently, it was a lot drier than I remembered it, the deeper potholes have been filled and new culverts have been built.
Loch Pattack and Geal Charn, in low cloud.
Looking back from the track to Ben Alder Lodge, the Ardverikie hills were still in cloud, but there was also a large patch of blue sky visible and it looked as if the clouds might lift.
Even above Loch Ericht, there were signs of improvement.
All that was left now was the long walk back to Dalwhinnie, but it didn’t seem so bad this time, maybe I’m getting used to it…