Monday 11 July 2016

Creag Pitridh and Geal Charn (Laggan) - quite a bit of floundering about inside a cloud

Crossing the River Spean at Luiblea

Despite a bit of an iffy forecast we, eternally optimistic, felt that the "improving in the afternoon" statement, meant that the sun would come out and we'd get some hill views - and we hedged our bets on the weather looking at its best in the Creag Meagaidh area...

So after a bit of a lie in, we drove our little hire car (suitably protected from a potentially wet dog!) down to Loch Laggan and parked up in the layby on A86 by the bridge over the River Spean - we had the three Munros to the south of Glen Spean in our sights - Creag Pitridh, Geal Charn and Beinn a'Chlachair.

Jim and Rafe - the track into the hills at Luiblea - with non views to Beinn a'Chlachair

It was dark and moody - is it going to rain?

We set off in that kind of precipitation that isn't quite rain, isn't exactly mist, is a bit more than just damp - perhaps that great Scottish word dreich about covers it! - and there were definitely no mountains to be seen.

Abhainn Ghuilbinn by Luiblea

Aww well - it'll get better!

The track was wide and clear - mostly easy walking (apart from the occasional rubbly bit) - and the moor, wood and river views were pleasant. We made good time.

Rafe and Jim - crossing the burn at the western end of  Lochan na h-Earba

After a couple of turns in the track and a couple of brief easy ascents we found ourselves beside the very lovely Lochan na h-Earba. A meandering burn flowed into the western end, through an inviting golden beach - at least it would have been inviting, if it hadn't been for the cold wind blowing across the water, straight at us (I suppose that's why the beach is there!) - it would have been in idyllic spot for a picnic and a swim on a better sort of a day.

The western end of Lochan na h-Earba en route to Creag Pitridh

But we were ready for a snack, so we tucked in behind a rock and had a small repast before the ascent began - it's a good job we did, because it was the last time we stopped before we got back down of the tops!

Jim and Rafe - beginning the ascent - beside Allt Coire Pitridh

Very soon we were off again - an obvious path wound south east across the moor and disappeared into the mist.

A cyclist overtook us, soon vanishing into the fog - never to be seen again!

A burn joins Allt Coire Pitridh (NN472804)

Upward, gently into the white world, soon crossing the Allt Coire Pitridh at its confluence with another burn, the path continuing up the glen.

The weather was worsening - drizzle and then rain...

Looking back (NW) towards Lochan Ardruighe early in the ascent of Creag Pitridh (before we lost any view at all!)

The vaguest of paths, hardly more than a grassy trod across the moor - good job we were looking for it!

Jim and Rafe - heading off the main track and onto the almost path - ascent of Creag Pitridh

But even this soon disappeared into long grass and stretches of minor bog - we headed up!

The mist/fog/cloud was complete - visibility was probably about 20 yards - and the rain came down. We had a feeling that the weather forecasters had got it wrong.

Once we hit a rockier section, towards the top, a path appeared again, winding through the boulders. Just a damp stroll to the summit - a grey outcrop with a jumble of stones piled on the top - Creag Pitridh (Munro 264, 924m).

Creag Pitridh summit (Munro 264, 924m)

We paused for a photo - amazing views! And keeping the lens dry was a minor miracle.

Jim - descent into col between Creag Pitridh and Geal Charn

We descended south east into the col, heading towards Geal Charn, the path meandering through rock and tussock. If anything the weather was getting worse.

Rafe - col between Creag Pitridh and Geal Charn

Soon the angle of the path changed to up again - we were a bit head down in our hoods at this point! Rafie kept us cheerful - watching him trying to get even wetter by throwing himself into every muddy puddle made us smile.

Jim - Geal Charn (Laggan) summit (Munro 81, 1049m)

200m or so of that up - in absolutely lashing rain - and we made it to Munro number two! - Geal Charn (Munro 81, 1049m).

Even Rafie was looking woebegone.

Rafe - Geal Charn (Laggan) summit (Munro 81, 1049m)

Time to go down. That third Munro (Beinn a'Chlachair) would just have to wait for another day.

Jim - descent from Geal Charn towards Loch a'Bhealaich Leamhain

Being a bit too intent on just getting off the hill directly down to Bealach Leamhain, we headed a bit too much to the south and ended up descending towards Loch a'Bhealaich Leamhain. When we realised our mistake (and it didn't take too long, as it was just too steep!), contouring across the bouldery slope in the rain and mist didn't seem the best option. We decided to continue to drop down into the glen and pick up a path marked on the map just above the loch. It was pretty steep, pathless and bouldery in places, but we've come down worse!

Rafe - a misty, remote and little visited Loch a'Bhealaich Leamhain

Unfortunately the path didn't appear to exist on the ground. But by that time, we had descended out of the worst of the weather and the loch appeared ethereal - Loch a'Bhealaich Leamhain was just lovely - the little visited loch had an otherworldly feel, especially with the diaphanous and almost luminous mist veiling the hillsides.

Rafie just had to get in there for a plodge!

Looking back (E) to Loch a'Bhealaich Leamhain from ascent to Bealach Leamhain 

Descending to the loch meant that we had about 100m of ascent to get us back to Bealach Leamhain - it was a bit of a slog up the pathless hillside, but it had been worth it, Loch a'Bhealaich Leamhain was probably the highlight of the day.

Rafe (and Jim) - Bealach Leamhain

We ascended back into the mist (but the rain had definitely eased off) - and met the first other walkers of the day at the bealach. They had been up Beinn a'Chlachair first with a view to bagging Creag Pitridh and Geal Charn - but they'd made the same decision as us - get off the hill and into a cafe! (Little did we know we would meet them again, later in the week on the Grey Corries ridge

They stopped for a rest and a bite at the bealach and we carried on along the much improved path, down into Coire Pitridh.

Descent from Bealach Leamhain into Coire Pitridh

The weather was definitely getting better and we soon found that we could see something other than the inside of a cloud, and it was now only raining lightly (definitely still more than drizzle though).

Rafe - views west to Lochan Ardruighe

At the confluence of Allt Coire Pitridh and another burn (NN472804) we found a nice boulder and enjoyed a slightly damp second lunch. Rafe found some more water.

The other walkers passed us there - striding out, back towards their car.

Rafe - still has to get into the water/any water - Allt Coite Pitridh

We were soon on our way too...

Looking back to the lower slopes of Creag Pitridh
We went up that way, although we couldn't see it at the time!

Rafe - views west to Lochan Ardruighe
the mist has risen slightly and Beinn Teallach and Beinn a'Chaorainn are just about visible!

Rafe and Jim - descent towards the western end of Lochan na h-Earba
Views (at last) towards Binnein Shuas

By the time we made it to Lochan na h-Earba, the rain had about stopped, the cloud was rising and we had some hill views - although our summits of the day were stubbornly shrouded.

Lochan na h-Earba - views north east

We unzipped our waterproofs and flapped - we might even be dry before we get back to the car!

Looking back (SE) to Sgurr an t-Saighdeir and Coire Pitridh

It was still about 5km back to Luiblea - the track was wide and clear - mostly easy walking again (but there seemed to be rather more in the way of  rubbly bits) - and the views were just that little bit wider.

We walked the last few kilometres with another couple of walkers, who had just been up and down Creag Pitridh - it was definitely a day of thwarted ambition! But we finished our walk with cheerful chat - the hills will be there another day - and stories of battling against horrendous weather and navigating through impenetrable mist will just grow with the telling.

And the coffee just tasted all the better for us being weathered.

Rafe and Jim - beside Lochan Ardruighe, on the track back to Luiblea 

Route:  Lay by on south side of A86 (NN433830), West along A86 briefly and then turn S and cross bridge over River Spean (NN432829), continue S then E (at NN434828) through gate and continue on track, taking L fork at NN443822, take R turn (S) at NN452808 and Take L turn (E) at NN453808 just before Reservoir, continue on track to Lochan na h-Earba, R turn at NN463813 and R again at NN465810, continue track to confluence of burn with Allt Coire Pitridh at NN472805, at small ciarn here, take boggy intermittent path NE up hillside (path soon disappears altogether), head NE over open hillside to Creag Pitridh summit (Munro 264, 924m), SE on very intermittent path to bealach, over sh 837m and second bealach, E on very intermittent path to Mullach Coire an Iubhair, summit of Geal Charn (Munro 81, 1049m), SE then S on pathless steep hillside to Loch a'Bhealaich Leamhain, W along loch shore and ascend to Bealach Leamhain (NN492800), E to pick up stalkers path in Coire Pitridh and take this to confluence at NN472805 and return to start.

Statistics:  Distance: 21km  Ascent: 1050m  Time: 7 hours

Map:  OS Explorer 393 Ben Alder, Loch Ericht & Loch Laggan

Creag Pitridh - Munro 264

Geal Charn (Laggan) - Munro 81

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