Lo­ca­tion: Bade­noch and Strath­spey Map: OS Lan­dranger 42 Dis­tance: 14 miles (23km) Time: 7-9 hours Grade: Se­ri­ous moun­tain walk

The Herald Magazine - - CONTENTS - CAMERON McNEISH

THE A86 Lag­gan to Spean Bridge road must be one of the most scenic in the country. With the mas­sive bulk of Creag Mea­gaidh dom­i­nat­ing one side and the hills of the Ard­verikie For­est on the other, the sec­tion that runs along­side Lochs Lag­gan and Moy of­fers an in­tox­i­cat­ing blend of water, for­est and moun­tain scenery.

One hill al­ways grabs my at­ten­tion when I travel that road. Be­yond Loch Lag­gan and the craggy out­line of Bin­nein Shuas the long ridge of Beinn a’ Ch­lachair sud­denly comes into view, a fairly or­di­nary hill made spe­cial by the beau­ti­fully sculpted cor­rie that has been gouged out of its northern slopes, the clas­sic hang­ing val­ley. I’ve lost count of how many days I’ve en­joyed on Beinn a’ Ch­lachair’s flanks, but de­spite the num­ber of times I’ve wan­dered up its north-east ridge from the high Bealach Leam­bain or skied its northern slopes I’d never ac­tu­ally tra­versed the moun­tain from one end to an­other. Since the hill is pre­dom­i­nantly lin­ear, as op­posed to its neigh­bour­ing Munro of Creag Pitridh, which is squat and rounded, a tra­verse seemed the ob­vi­ous way to en­joy its best as­pects.

Beinn a’ Ch­lachair runs in a slight north-east trend­ing curve with its north-fac­ing slopes bro­ken by the beau­ti­fully sculpted Coire Mor Ch­lachair. The south slopes of the hill form a long and steep es­carp­ment, the Garbh Bhruthach, whose scree slopes drop down to the re­mote water­shed of An Lairig. The best view of this as­pect of the hill is from the Fara, high above the eastern end of Loch Ericht from where it ap­pears as a high steep-sided wedge. With the sheer head­walls of Coire Mor Ch­lachair on one side and the high-an­gled slopes of the Garbh Bhru­tach on the other, the tra­verse of Beinn a’ Ch­lachair’s up­per slopes gives an im­pres­sion of walk­ing along a high and nar­row cor­ri­dor of stone.

Bull­dozed tracks from Luiblea on the A86 give ac­cess to Lochan na h-Earba, but just be­fore you reach the loch an­other track bears off to the right, close to where the Allt Meall Ardraighe flows out from a smaller lochan. This track even­tu­ally de­gen­er­ates into a rough path as it climbs be­side the wa­ters of the tu­mul­tuous Allt Cam which tum­ble down in a se­ries of mar­vel­lous cas­cades be­tween Meall Cos Char­nan and Beinn a’ Ch­lachair’s western slopes. I had cho­sen a bright but blus­tery day and it was tempt­ing to sit by the burn and en­joy the sun and the song of a ring ouzel, the moun­tain blackbird. I was un­com­fort­ably aware that once I left the path and climbed the ridge I’d be ex­posed to the strong south-western wind but that, af­ter all, was the main rea­son I’d cho­sen to tra­verse the hill from west to east – so I’d have the wind behind me.

And so it was. Grassy slopes led me to a broad rock-strewn ridge which in turn nar­rowed ap­pre­cia­bly be­fore broadening out again into a stony plateau. No won­der this is the “stone-ma­son’s hill” – the trades­men of old would have had more than enough to choose from. The gusty wind had me slith­er­ing across snow patches and re­sort­ing to a rather timid form of boul­der-hop­ping be­fore the huge sum­mit cairn ap­peared in the dis­tance, tempt­ing me on with the prom­ise of some shel­ter.

Beinn a’ Ch­lachair is well po­si­tioned within the Ard­verikie For­est. To the north, across Loch Lag­gan, lies Creag Mea­gaidh, al­though its prime at­trac­tion, the cav­ernous Coire Ar­dair, is well hid­den from view. The long Aonach Beag ridge dom­i­nates the view to the south, and to the west a plethora of shapely peaks fill the hori­zon, cul­mi­nat­ing in the high­est of them all, Ben Ne­vis.

As it was the sum­mit cairn didn’t of­fer much shel­ter from the wind at all so I pushed on to the far end of the ridge where a short but ex­tremely steep de­scent made me take extra care. No point in run­ning the risk of a slip at this stage in the day.

Shel­tered behind a boul­der on the sum­mit of the Bealach Leamhain and look­ing down at the wind flur­ries on Loch Bhealaich Leamhain, it seemed that up here at least win­ter had still re­fused to re­lin­quish its grip. The con­so­la­tion was that I knew that within a few min­utes I’d be de­scend­ing back into the warmth.

Beinn a’ Ch­lachair: a fairly or­di­nary hill made spe­cial by the beau­ti­ful cor­rie on its northern slopes

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