In November 2015, the Club enjoyed a memorable visit to one of the Edinburgh JMCS’s huts, the Cabin, in Balgowan, near Laggan – memorable for several different reasons! It was now time for a return trip and on 23rd and 24th February, the club did just that.
The Cabin is very well situated with easy access to the Monadh Liath and the plethora of Munros either side of the A86 in Glen Spean/Loch Lagganside. The hut itself is superbly appointed with showers, a good sized communal area and a nice solid fuel stove that quickly warms the place up in cold weather. The only downside is the 100 yard plus trek up through the trees from the car park, but it is a small price to pay for the location.
The national news in the run-up to the weekend was full of foreboding regarding the icy Siberian winds that were heading towards the UK bringing heavy snowfalls and severe disruption. However, the reports indicated that the horrendous weather was still a few days away and the members were optimistic that they might enjoy some fine winter conditions on the hills before it was time to batten down the hatches.
Raymond Evenden, James Fraser, Paul McGrandles, Neil Morrison, Norrie Shand, Lorn Smith, Gerry Weir
Friday morning dawned bright, if still pretty cold as Norrie headed up to the car park on the A86 near the bridge over the River Spean where he had arranged a 9.30 am rendezvous with Caroline and also George and Susan who were venturing out for a day hike. Lorn was also heading up, but with further to travel wouldn’t manage the 9.30 am meet up. There was no doubt however that he would manage to catch up with the others.
The plan for the day was the two Munros of Geal Charn and Creag Pitridh to the north of the Allt Coire Pitridh. Lorn though had decided he would tackle these two and also Beinn a Chlachair, the highest of the group lying some distance to the south-west of its neighbours.
Sure enough, after the initial obligatory wander down the wrong track for a few hundred metres, the group were soon caught up by Lorn before they reached the shores of Lochan na h-Earba – a glorious location with patches of snow decorating the sandy beach lining the lochside.
Blethers were keenly exchanged as they all headed east up the burnside before Lorn broke off to tackle the south-west ridge of Creag Pitridh. The snow was a joy to walk on, being firm enough to support the weight of even the less svelte-like members of the party. After several hums and an equal number of haws, and having tramped a further kilometre towards the bealach, George and Susan decided that they would take advantage of the favourable underfoot conditions and add Beinn a Chlachair to their day.
As the human cheetahs shot off up towards the steep slopes leading to the summit plateau of this fine hill, Norrie and Caroline turned north-east to venture up the even slopes which would eventually lead to the summit trig point of Geal Charn. With the pace a bit faster than he is used to, Norrie took a short break, looking forlorn on the ridge of Geal Charn and looking for Lorn on the ridge of Creag Pitridh.
Eventually he and Caroline reached the large summit cairn behind which welcome shelter was taken and a rejuvenating hot drink gratefully sipped. As they revitalised themselves they thought they spotted an arctic fox loping over the icy terrain, but a closer look revealed that it was Lorn closing in his second Munro of the day. After an exchange of repartee between the trio on Geal Charn’s summit, they parted company again as Norrie and Caroline headed west down the icy incline towards Creag Pitridh while Lorn took on some more nourishment before marching off towards the distant Beinn a Chlachair.
Munros don’t come much easier than the ascent of Creag Pitridh from Geal Charn and Norrie and Caroline made short work of the barely 150m climb from the col between the Munros up to the “wee brother” of the Group before setting off south west down the ridge and the track back to carpark.
In the meantime, George and Susan were revelling in the conditions and happily ticked off the three Munros, stopping to exchange accounts of the day with Lorn as they passed each other.
While all this was going on, Raymond was making an ambitious and adventurous commencement to the weekend by attempting to cycle directly to the hut from his home in Falkirk. The first part of the journey was very enjoyable with some great views opening up on the back roads heading north. Eventually though he was thwarted after a mere 83 miles as, 7 miles short of the Drumochter summit at Dalnacardoch, deep snow on the path prevented further progress on the bike. Fortunately, a white knight in the shape of Paul was on his way north at Perth and was able to stop and pick up him and his bike and continue north to Balgowan.
With Norrie’s legendary navigational skills once again letting him down, and with Caroline following him in her car they eventually located the hut after a slight unnecessary detour and commenced the task of unloading gear, musical instruments and fuel for the stove up the path to the hut. Raymond and Paul were only a short time behind them and very soon afterwards Lorn arrived fresh from his day’s round. No time was wasted in getting the stove lit and the hut warmed up.
With the “Beast from the East” still waiting in the Siberian wings, the “Mooth fae the Sooth” aka James made his appearance not long afterwards having travelled up with Gerry. Unfortunately the “Pest fae the West” was unable to make the trip. Neil arrived not long afterwards completing the group for the weekend. A relaxed evening followed with the usual exchange of tales, banter and plans for the following day..
Everyone was up early on Saturday morning with Caroline being first to make a move. She had a friend arriving from France later that day and wanted a mini-walk before heading home to meet her. She made the short trip along the Newtonmore road before ascending the steep rocky slopes of Creag Dubh, a very attractive Graham and an excellent viewpoint.
Lorn and Raymond had their sights on the huge bulk that is Creag Meagaidh together with its two neighbouring Munros – a long enough trek in summer but as a winter walk, only for the elite! Lorn’s device later confirmed the route as just over 21k.Starting from the large car park at Aberarder, they took to the hillside aiming for their first Munro of the day, Carn Liath before turning west along the frozen highway leading to the 2nd Munro, Stob Poite Coire Ardair some 4k distant.
The blue skies and rigid snow were greatly appreciated but the biting wind resulted in what many of the party commented later was one of the coldest days they had ever spent on the hills. The tenacity of Raymond and Lorn was rewarded though as they came upon a series of snow holes carved into the hillside, presumably as part of a training exercise. The opportunity to get out of the harsh blast, albeit for only a few minutes, could not be refused. Blissful serenity was enjoyed briefly before they set off again for the great summit plateau of Creag Meagaidh passing the curiously named Mad Meg’s cairn en route.
Not too much time was spent at the summit before they turned west and headed back down the Puist Coire Ardair ridge with great views down into the magnificent corrie of that name.
Neil’s mission was the pair of Munros Chno Dearg and Stob Coire Sgriodain accessible from Fersit which is reached by a side road on the south side a few miles further along the A86. A group of members had tackled this pair on a claggy day the last time the club met at Balgowan – with a certain individual causing much consternation by wandering aimlessly along the wrong forest track for a couple of hours.
Neil was far too savvy to cause any concern for his fellow members this time round and he enjoyed a spectacular icy trek up the north ridge of his first Munro, Stob Coire Sgriodain where he enjoyed much better views than his predecessors had in 2015. From there he followed the rim of the corrie south east over a few minor bumps before easy angled slopes led to the higher but less impressive summit of Chno Dearg. The descent to Fersit was a pleasant stroll down a moderate gradient with extra care being taken to avoid “Norrie’s Gate” on the return to the car park.
Meanwhile, Norrie clearly thought that one Geal Charn in a weekend wasn’t enough and he decided to continue his Geal Charnathon in the company of Gerry and James by tackling the Monadh Liath outlier of that name from Garva Bridge. A short drive took them to the well-constructed bridge where General Wade chose to cross the mighty River Spey in 1732.
The recommended route heads over another bridge that crosses a big burn which flows into the Spey near the start spot. But with “My Way” Fraser taking charge of route finding the group headed up the west side of the burns and although a bridge took them over one of the tributaries, they had to head up quite a bit further before managing to cross the Feith Talagain’s stream peppered with icy-boulders. Apart from the burn crossing the going was probably easier on the west side of the burn and the Chairman claimed it was all part of a well thought out strategy.
Once back on firm snow, the march proceeded north east up an even incline. Once on the summit plateau though, the glacial wind whipped up numbing the group to their very core. Highly unusually for Norrie his plod took him first to the summit cairn and he was greatly relieved that it was big enough to offer a bit of shelter from the penetrating blasts. James and Gerry had presumably stopped to do some shopping on the way up but eventually the pair could be spotted clumping over the ice-field towards the top of the hill.
All three made sure every single item of clothing in their bags was donned before turning and heading directly back down the slopes with a decent pace being set to take them down below the worst of the gales.
With everyone back in the hut at a reasonable time, and in high spirits after a great day in the hills the group decided that they would head the short distance into Newtonmore to watch the Scotland vs England rugby match on TV in a local hostelry. The optimists thought that Scotland might have a good chance of winning the Calcutta Cup for the first time in 10 years – while the pessimists thought that at least it was a good opportunity for a decent pint. As it happens, the pints were very decent indeed and as the match unfolded it became clear that optimists were justified as Scotland ran out comfortable winners.
Back at the hut the gleeful mood continued and there were some impromptu auditions for next years “Strictly”, with Gerry’s hornpipe easily scoring a maximum 10 points from all the judges. It was all a bit too much for Norrie who slipped into deep repose shortly afterwards as a rejuvenated Gerry uncased the guitar and regaled the company with a few favourite songs.
Blue skies were evident again on Sunday morning and James, Gerry and Neil decided to take advantage by bagging the Munro of Meall Chuaich just north east of Dalwhinnie. This hill offers a fairly straightforward ascent albeit with a bit of a walk in. The group made short work of it though and they thoroughly enjoyed another climb up a crisp incline to the massive summit cairn.
Meanwhile, with Norrie heading back home to Pitlochry, Raymond and Lorn suggested a wee jaunt up his local hill, Ben Vrackie – followed by a beer in his local pub, The Moulin Inn. Stopping only to pick up Norrie’s trusty retriever, Slioch, the three joined the inevitable Sunday crowds scaling this fine wee peak. Joined later by the 45 Degrees social member, Debbie (Norrie’s wife) in the Moulin, the ale and a Malt of the Month rounded off another great weekend.