Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal Ascent of Ben Alder
BY PROFESSOR RAMSAY.
MR STorr'S graphic account of his ascent of Ben Alder,
in the May number of this Journal, took the piece out of my mouth, for I had
set my heart upon doing that very trip that month, and on opening up a route
to that most commanding of Scotch mountains to my brethren of the Club. It
is the peak of the central Highlands, standing "severely alone,"—the very
glorious moorland region which stretches unbroken from Ben Macdhui to Ben
Nevis, from Schiehallion to Loch Ness, and which counts the great Moor of
Rannoch as a mere incident on its surface.
Not easy to get at; the very sanctuary of a great deer
forest, or rather of several deer forests; no inn nearer than Dalwhinnie and
Loch Laggan; no right of way any direction; guarded jealously on the only
hopeful side by an impassable forest lodge, and even that only to be reached
by six miles of private road, running along the steep northern banks of Loch
I had explored all round it in August 1889, and
returned baffled, like King Turnus in his attempt to turn the Trojan camp.
"Come back in May," said Mrs Macdonald, the obliging landlady at Dalwhinnie,
"we'll send you down the loch in a boat, with two days' provisions, and
maybe the keeper at the west end will put you up."
So when our indefatigable colleague, H. T. Munro,
looked in on the glorious afternoon of 22nd May last, and finding me deep in
fusty books, said, "Let's have a walk ""No spot on earth," I answered,
"shall drag me from these invaluable researches, save only the top of Ben
Alder." "A bargain," was his reply. So off we went by first train in the
morning; telegrams enough sent on to commissariat a regiment; but, alas! we
discovered at Dalwhinnie that of the two cottages on Loch Ericht one was
full of men making a new deer path; the other was standing empty between an
out-flitting and an in-flitting keeper, each with his whole chattels on
board of a boat, in the bay. In vain we drove, with a well-packed hamper, to
the Forest Lodge of Loch Ericht itself (six miles), hoping to melt the heart
of Baron SchrŲder's housekeeper into giving us beds; we were spurned from
the door, had to drive back ingloriously to Dalwhinnie, and have our hamper
unpacked, and turned into supper, shortly before midnight.
But we did our peak next day. A short sweet walk to
the loch; a slow pull over dancing water, in keen bright air; the south side
of the loch dark with steep rocks; the north side bright with young larches
and occasional bursts of broom in full flower.
In two hours we land close by the Loch Ericht Lodge.
We pass in front of its inhospitable windows, and striking away from the
loch due West (Loch Ericht runs from N.E. to S.W.), cross a charming low
pass, which leads to the headwaters of Glen Pattack, a wild, solitary glen,
which runs down due North to Loch Laggan. Up this pass, and down Glen
Pattack beyond it, there is an old road, with a right of way. A climb of
half an hour brings us to the top of the pass, where we have a lovely view
of Loch Pattack in front, a huge basin of flat, wettish moor at its head to
our left, with the grand buttresses of Ben Alder and Ben Aonach springing
out of it on its far side. To the right, down. Glen Pattack, runs the track
to Loch Laggan. Deserting it at this point, we follow a well-made deer-path,
which carries us high and dry across the swampy ground at the head of Loch
Pattack—which we leave well to our right or northern hand—and straight to
the foot of the grand north buttress of Ben Alder.
Here we stop for lunch at 12.40, having left Loch
Ericht at II; and after half-an-hour's halt go straight up the edge of the
arÍte described in Mr Stott's paper, reaching the top of the shoulder at
2.20, and the cairn itself (3,77 feet) at 2.50. This arÍte—whose Gaelic name
means "the steep of the ladder "—deserves all Mr Stott's encomiums. It is a
real bit of climbing; a good knife-edge of rocks, sometimes natural
out-crop, sometimes loosely piled in chips as big as horse-boxes, falling
straight and steep on either side, calling hand as well as foot into play,
and presenting here and there some genuine bits for negotiation, with that
delightful sense, at each point gained, that one may be baffled after all.
The view from the top is superb; but alas! we did not
see it. Just one hour before we reached Mr Stott's "croft" of thirty acres
(very big acres!) at the top, those glorious three weeks of May weather came
to an end; and we saw the beginning of the wet summer of 1889 creeping along
in the shape of fleecy Atlantic wreaths—from Ben Nevis onwards, from one top
to another, till before evening everything was blurred with mist and rain.
Leaving the summit at 3.30, we made a grand sweep
round the main ridge of the mountain, which presents a crescent to the
north-east. It slopes easily to the west, but plunges in grand precipices on
the eastern side into the corries which form the north-east face which we
had first sighted across Glen Pattack. On. this side the snow was still
piled up to a great depth. There were some fine cornices, melted at some
points into sharp snow-edges, at others broken off from the rock faces
against which they had drifted by veritable berg-schrunds. After some
delightful larking in this snow world, we descended easily by the long
south-east arÍte to a point just below the mist, and overhanging the highly
perched Loch a' Bhealaich Bheithe (2,347 feet). From this point—after a
grand wrangle over the names to be given to the splendid panorama of peaks
which rise over the Moor of Rannoch from Ben Cruachan to Ben More—we leave
Beinn Bheoil on our left, and rush down a steep but easy descent to the
shores of Loch Ericht, which we reach at 5.40, at a point about two miles
east of the keeper's house known as Ben Alder Lodge. Two hours' pleasant
walk along the loch side, on another good deer-path, brings us within sight
of our boat, hovering about to catch a sight of us; and by ten o'clock we
are back at Dalwhinnie, after about as charming a day of wild and yet easy
walking as Scotland can afford. Less than nine hours' walking, with abundant
halts, sufficed for the expedition.
Two slight inaccuracies in Mr Stott's paper may be
noted. The Pattack does not flow into the Spey, but through Loch Laggan, and
so into the sea at Fort-William; and the "lancet-edged hill" (p. 73) is not
Cam Dearg, but a spur of Aonach Beag (or Aonach Bea, "the little lump which
lies immediately to the south of Loch an Sgoir.
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