Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Dalwhinnie - Tail end of winter

The days are lengthening now and there's a hint of warmth in the sun when it's out. Winter may be on the wane but Rob and I were happy to steal a final wintry weekend in the hills above Dalwhinnie.

Late evening we biked to Loch Pattack along a dirt road and into a stiff wind that the ruffled the grey waters of Loch Ericht. Spots of rain fell and the darkness advanced so that eventually we put on our bike lights to illuminate a small patch of trail ahead. Rob's new tent went up on my favourite wild camp spot hereabouts. It's a wide open place with mountain views and big skies where the river flows silently under the wooden slats of a shoogily bridge before emptying into the loch. In the wind and the darkness we were glad we'd practiced pitching the tent the previous weekend between the daffodils on Rob's lawn.

We lay late next morning listening to the pitter-patter of rain on the tent and the distant warble of black grouse, then opened a sliver of door to watch snow falling. But the forecast had been right and by late morning the day dried up and brightened. We continued along the lochside track watching a pair of whooper swans out on the water, perhaps pondering their flight to Iceland to breed. Our boots came off for a river crossing then we followed a rough path to Creag Pitridh, eventually pulling up into the snow.

Creag Pitridh is a modest hill itself but the views to its higher neighbour, Beinn a' Chlachair, were spectacular. Steely grey clouds drifted around it's snow-sculpted edges while sunlight illuminated its fine lines. Our return route found a path that passed along the edge of the snowline on a shelf above the waters of Loch a' Bhealaich Leamhain. Several point avalanches scarred the steep east face and had sent down snowballs in spiral patterns.

Next day dawned grey again with the hills covered in low cloud as we biked south through Drumochter. We hid the bikes in heather before slogging up the boggy slopes of Sgairneach Mhor. 

Eventually our boots were on the snow again as we walked along the massive cornice edge overhanging the hill's north side. A crack line was forming and it seemed like the gentle push of a boot could send the whole lot down into the glen. We were lucky again with the weather and by the time we were striding across the broad top, the cloud had cleared and the sun beat down.

Visibility was crystal clear and our view stretched westwards to Rannoch Moor and the snow-streaked peaks of the Black Mount and Glen Coe. Closer to, the massif of Ben Alder and its near neighbours still held huge amounts of snow.

lt's always difficult to walk away from the top of a mountain on a beautiful day like today but eventually we turned our backs on the views and on this year's winter. A bit of heather bashing took us to the glen below and a downhill bike ride put as back in Dalwhinnie.

Fact File
More photos on Flickr - click here.
Start/finish: Dalwhinnie
Public transport: Glasgow/Edinburgh trains stop at Dalwhinnie.
Route for Creag Pitridh: Out of the station turn right along Alder Road and cross the level crossing at the end. Continue straight along this track, passing to the right of the estate gate house and then along the shores of Loch Ericht. The track splits eventually but hang right and climb uphill. Eventually Loch Pattack will come into view and at the loch take a lefthand track that follows the water's edge. After the second bridge take a right hand split in the track and follow it to a ford over the Allt Cam. Pick up an obvious path on the other side. Follow this path up the east side of Loch a' Bhealaich Leamhain and onto the bealach between Creag Pitridh and Geal Charn. We struck up the hill on its south side skirting crags and found a bit of a path in the snow. We returned via the path that passes above Loch a' Bhealaich Leamhain on its west shore then picked up the outward route.
Route Sgairneach Mhor: From the station in Dalwhinnie cycle down Station Road and turn right on the main street. Just before this road joins the A9 the cycle path to Pitlochry leaves to the right. Follow it as far as a track heading down to a cattle creep under the railway at grid ref NN636742. Turn right on the other side and follow this track to a bridge over the Allt Coire Dhomhain. Cross the bridge and strike up south towards the point at 758m before turning southwest to Sgairneach Mhor. A faint path crosses boggy ground then joins a firmer path along the top of the ridge to the broad top. We returned via the same route.

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