Benalder Cottage to Culra Bothy (walking) Route Details

Route Description

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Introduction

The third part of a multiday backpacking expedition, featuring a steep climb to the top of Ben Alder and a hair raising decent via a hanging valley to Bealach Dubh.

Conditions

Pathless rocky mountain terrain, often covered in snow

Hazards and warnings

The route down is not recommended, as it was very tricky getting down from the hanging valley. Better to head down to the top of Bealach Dubh.

Detailed description

From Ben Alder Cottage, climb the steep but well defined track to Bealach Breabag, before heading up the steep rocky slope to the secondary peak of Sron Bealach Beith, and then along the ridge to the main peak of Ben Alder.

I made a mistake that nearly killed me, and in my haste to get down from the mountain, followed the stream to the north of the peak. Everything was fine, until I was reminded of the fact hanging valleys suddenly drop. I made my way down iced rock, next to the water falls, until after what felt like an age, I reached the relative saftey of the boulder field at the bottom.

A safer route is to decend the more gentle slopes to reach the top of the col at Bealach Dubh, making sure you avoid the cliffs on the north side of Ben Alder. 

After crossing the river, I picked up the fairly good path along the river, and made good progress to reach Culra bothy.

Narrative

I did this walk in the winter of 1987. Several things were different then: I was younger, very, very fit and well able to cope well with difficult conditions. On the downside I was fairly poorly equiped- goretex bivvi rather than tent, no lightweight cooking kit and not particularly good clothes, and lacking in experience of winter conditions. Winters were much colder then. There was plenty of snow on the ground, and most standing water was frozen.

My self and another party at the Ben Alder bothy decided to summit Ben Alder, on the way to Culra Bothy. The weather was overcast, with snow in the air, and the possibility of poor visibility on the tops. Once we made it to the top of the Bealach, the other two guys decided to ditch the heavy rucksacks, and go for the summit with only basic equipment, and return to pickup the 'sacs on the way down, before heading to the next bothy. I decided to go for the summit fully kitted up, to avoid doing so, and give me the option of a highlevel bivvy if the weather closed. The weather did in fact close in, and summit was in dense cloud with snow really starting to fall heavily. We all made the summit in reasonable time, although I was noticably slower with all the extra kit.

At the summit, the other party decided to retrace back to the bealach. I decided, rather foolishly to head north and try and follow a small stream down. At first everything was fine, and I dropped down into what seemed like a small coire in no time. However, this was a big mistake. The gentle slope gave way to a steeper and steeper slope, as the stream plunged over a series of waterfalls (which were iced up). I slid, scrabbled aroudn with my iceaxe, and hacked steps beside the stream on snow and ice covered rock as best as I could with a growing fear that progress might become impossible. Th worst part was when, just as the cloud lifted enough to see down into the valley, I noticed a small but vertical section of rock below me. Retreat this late in the day (remember it's gets dark about 3 PM at that time in Scotland) was not an option, so I decided my best bet was to throw my rucksack down the drop onto the snow runout below, and follow by jumping of after it. I landed, grabbed my rucksack and managed to slide down the snow covered slope below. To my great relief, the slope eased, and I found myself at the foot of the steep sided valley. After a fording of the infant river on icecovered rocks, and some floundering in deep snow, I picked up the path along the north side of the river. It had snowed heavily and any tracks were obliterated by the snow. The rest of the walk to the welcome site of the bothy was uneventful, and soon I found myself in a dark, smelly but warm bothy, sharing stories of the days exploits with others, including the party at the previous bothy.

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