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The Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal
Ascent of Ben Alder


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 of that 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 Ericht.

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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