The walk: Drumochter’s Geal-Charn Winter trek, with easy access from A9

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Location: Inverness-shire

Grade: Moderate mountain walk

Distance: 6 miles/10km

Time: 4 hours

THE Pass of Drumochter separates the rounded hills of Carn na Caim and A’ Bhuidheanach Bheag from the more distinctive mountains of the Druim Uachdair, the ridge of the upper ground.

Gathered nicely together in one corner of this area, the four Munros of Geal-Charn, A’ Mharconaich, Beinn Udlamain and Sgairneach Mhor make a good expedition and give some of the best views possible of the Ben Alder hills across the long trench of Loch Ericht, particularly from Geal-charn.

In the short days of winter a curtailed round of Geal-Charn and A’ Mharconaich offers a satisfying day out and has the advantage of starting at just over 400 metres at Balsporran Cottages, just off the A9.

From here a comparatively new track crosses the railway line and gouges its way through the heather slopes and on to the north-east ridge. Be careful you don’t take the wrong track though.

Not far beyond the railway line the first track on the right follows the line of the Allt Beul an Sporain. The route to Geal-Charn takes the second track on the right.

This whole area has suffered a surfeit of bulldozed tracks in recent time, as estates make full use of woolly planning legislation to create access tracks for grouse shooters under the guise of ‘agricultural use’.

Representation has been made to the Scottish Government to tighten up the planning laws for the creation of such tracks.

There has always been a footpath running up the eastern ridge of Geal-Charn and higher up the ridge there used to be a series of high, slender cairns which looked like a row of marching men when seen from below. Over the years they seem to have vanished – whether they were deliberately knocked down or just victims of the strong winds that blow here we’ll never know, but they seem to be growing again.

It seems that few hillwalkers can resist putting stones on cairns – any cairns!

From the summit of Geal-Charn (there are two summit cairns. The higher is the western one) with its long and wonderful views down the length of Loch Ericht, drop down the very stony slopes to a high bealach at the head of Coire Fhar. From here, where small crags offer shelter from the south-westerly winds, continue in a roughly south-east direction up grassy slopes to reach A’Mharconaich’s long, broad ridge. The summit cairn is at the north-east end, perched high above a big corrie.

Descend in a northerly direction down stony slopes and follow the footpath as the ridge veers to the east.

A bulldozed track runs alongside the Allt Coire Fhar on your left, so once the slopes become less steep drop down to cross the stream and reach this track which is then followed all the way back to the railway crossing and Balsporran Cottages.

Cameron McNeish

ROUTE PLANNER

Map: OS Landranger sheet 42 (Loch Rannoch & Glen Garry)

Distance: 6 miles/10km

Time: 4 hours

Start/Finish: Balsporran Cottages off the A9, 6km S of Dalwhinnie (GR: NN628792).

Transport: Regular train and bus services to Dalwhinnie, 6km from the start. Details from www.travelinescotland.com

Route: Cross the railway and follow the track up Coire Fhar for a short distance. Take the second track on the right and follow it up the hillside to the NE ridge of Geal-charn. Pass the remains of the old cairns at about 850m and continue W to the rocky summit. The western cairn marks the high point. Continue S on a broad ridge to a bealach at the head of Coire Fhar. Continue SSE and climb steeper slopes to reach the broad ridge leading to A’Mharconaich. Follow the hill’s N ridge for a short distance before turning NE. When the slopes become less steep drop down to the N, cross the Allt Coire Fhar and gain the track that runs back to the start.

Due to current restrictions, we are running our favourite previously published walks. Please follow the Scottish Government’s latest coronavirus restrictions, see https://www.gov.scot/coronavirus-covid-19

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