So I’ve not posted for a while, 2016 has been an extremely frustrating year riddled with injuries and setbacks and I usually think if you’ve got nothing nice to say, don’t say anything.
I’m still waiting to see a specialist for my dodgy hip, but this weekend I pulled my finger out and decided that this new found spare time not training and racing could be filled with things idling on my to do list.
A long time ago I did my Duke of Edinburgh expeditions around Rannoch Moor, and remember vividly the vast bulk of Ben Alder towering over us as we camped near Culra Bothy which I termed at the time “the best campsite in the world”. I always meant to return to climb it and this weekend I finally made time to do it.
The weekend got off to a fantastic start when I pulled over into a tiny side road near Tummel Bridge to let the dog out and had the amazing experience of a Golden Eagle swooping down the road in front of me and off up into the trees. Absolutely magical.
After parking at Dalwhinnie I set out by mountain bike, with the trusty pooch by my side, a rucksack full of kit and food for two days, and headed along the estate road towards Ben Alder Lodge.
Eventually the road turns up behind the lodge and to slightly rougher ground, Loch Pattack appears into view and alongside it a cool suspension bridge which I negotiated with bike and bag on my shoulders. The dog chose the smarter but chillier option of swimming across.
Contouring around the base of Carn Dearg brought the lovely Culra Bothy into sight with the spectacular backdrop of Ben Alder behind.
After abandoning the bike at the bothy, sadly closed due to asbestos, we decided to push on and walk up to Bealach Beithe. In part this was to shorten the day ahead, but the real reason was some campers were already set up there and I selfishly wanted the wild to myself so we trotted on.
This is more like it! Just as soon as I pitched the tent the temperature dropped, and it wasn’t long after I’d stuffed some tea down that I was layered up and zipped into my sleeping bag. So began a night of crap sleep, cold feet, rutting deer and a sore hip keeping me awake. I was grateful for the furry hot water bottle tucked in beside me. She was very well behaved for a first camping trip and managed not to set anything on fire with the stove.
I must have dropped off in the small hours because I didn’t wake until well after 7.30am. I unzipped the tent preparing myself for a day of clag and compass bearings and was shocked to see golden sunshine and blue skies greeting me.
After a quick brew and breaky we set off up Ben Alder via the Short Leachas. I wasn’t sure how difficult the scrambling would be but it turned out to be easy and the dog clambered up with no issues. In fact, as I climbed I thought this would be a fun one to do in winter conditions. I really have to stop adding stuff to that list!
In no time at all we were on the top of Ben Alder. Although a little chilly, it was a small price to pay for the blue sky, bright sunshine and views that money can’t buy.
A stroll down to the pass and up to Scròn Coire na h-lolaire. Another of the countless hills I’ve been up since moving to Scotland that I can’t pronounce. It provided superb views of Loch Ericht and a reminder of how far we were from the van!
Onto the next munroe Beinn Bheòil and bumped into the only other person I saw on my trip. We exchanged pleasantries and carried on our way. As we started to descend we could see our tiny tent far below and great views of the Leachas we had ascended earlier.
We made a beeline for it and soon we were back at the tent. I packed up the kit, Ellie smashed some dog biscuits and we set off on our walk back to the bothy. For some reason (she’s mental) the dog didn’t seem to be tired and was still keen to play stick which is quite hard with a heavy rucksack! I couldn’t help but to keep sneaking looks back at Ben Alder. I still couldn’t believe my luck with the weather.
Once back at the bothy we saddled up and set off on our final leg. I decided to brave the ‘short cut’ across the bog and once again luck was on my side, because of the dry weather it was easily rideable. Once back on the estate road I tried to ride slowly as the dog likes to run when I ride with her and she has no pacing skills and no idea how far we still had to go. We arrived back at the van still bathed in sunshine with plenty of the day left to enjoy.