Cost : reward.

29 08 2016

The circuit of Ben Alder is one of those ‘classic’ Scottish mtb routes. Kenny Wilson has a version as does Phil McKane.

The route typically starts at Dalwhinnie, tracking alongside Loch Ericht, until Ben Alder lodge, before climbing towards Loch Pattack and then Culra Bothy, which is now closed due to asbestos.

If you read any blogs or reports on tackling the route, it is rare that the side of Loch Ericht is utilised. Riders typically swing around the west side of Ben Alder, anti-clockwise, on the excellent Bealach Dubh singletrack, then descend Bealach Cumhainn to Ben Alder Cottage and then ascend, by means of steep, grassy, H.A.B, to the Bealach Beithe. The trail recommences alongside the Loch a’Bhealaich Bheithe, nestled under the east facing cliffs of Ben Alder, before dropping beside the Allt a Bhealach Beinnback, to Culra Bothy .

A different approach is to ride in from Loch Rannoch, climbing from Tigh an Uillt, into the Grampians cutting west then north to the southern tip of Loch Ericht, bog trotting to Ben Alder Cottage, then ascending north-west to the Bealach Cumhainn, then to Bealach Dubh.

Here, you stop, catch your breath as you take in the stunning view north, before descending to Culra under the watchful gaze of Sgor Iutharn and the impressive Lancet Edge.

From Culra, you can skirt Loch Pattack and it’s rickety bridge (if you ride it like I did, west to east, beware the ladder dismount) and drop on good quality estate track to Ben Alder Lodge. Then there is the simple matter of returning to Ben Alder Cottage via the loch side singletrack.

About that.

It’s hard going. I rode around 80% of it, but it is very rough in a low but sharp amplitude sort of way.

Then there is the sting in the tail.

On reading about the loch side trail, the ‘free style’ section around An Dun, which looks sternly down on Ben Alder Cottage, was something of a concern. The gate entry and exit are the least of your worries – they do not permit passage of a bike, you have to get your steed over the deer fence. It is the slippery, broken rock and loose grass and heather poised over substantial drops that give you the heeby jeebies. Indeed, about a third of the way around, I slipped, sliding towards a painful looking fall, before grabbing a handful of heather that arrested me and my bike mid calamity.

The cost of doing the route this way is high: the boggy section south of Ben Alder Cottage must be traveresed twice, the ascent to Bealach Cumhainn would be better as a descent and the loch side trail is hard going. However, the reward is the endless, peerless singletrack through Bealach Dubh and the hoot of a descent to Culra. It went on for ever.

Stats and kit notes.

The route, including 8km or so alongside Loch Rannoch to and fro, took me 7.30. I would class it as a strenuous route, not to be taken lightly with iffy weather. I think it would be best to miss the Loch Ericht trail back and try and put together a bigger loop, out by Dalwhinnie, perhaps returning to Pitlochry and making it a 2 dayer, or even to Feshie and back through the Gaick or Minigaig.

I rode my Vertigo cycles hardtail and the 120mm of suspension was welcome, but I think plus tyres would have aided the sections of boggy riding and perhaps allowed a little more comfort on the Loch Ericht singletrack.

I carried a 2L bladder and a water bottle and slaked my thirst at several of the gushing streams that pour down into the Loch when I ran short.

I used the Gaia GPS app on my phone for navigation, downloading the map as there is no signal in the area and it worked perfectly, yet again.

Two riders had completed this same route ahead of me. I was a little surprised about that as the ‘traditional’ route is used frequently. Goes to show…


Glen Tilt.

20 08 2016

The route from Old Bridge of Tilt, around the great lump of the Beinn a’Ghlo mountains is somewhat of a Scottish classic. On a good day, the views, wildlife and trails deliver a microcosm of all that is best in Highland mountain biking.

The Monzie road starts the route with a stiff climb until Loch Moraig is reached. From here, land rover track takes you to Shinagag, then the Girnaig Burn must be forded. The trail has been improved and soon, access to the back of the Beinn a’Ghlo range of Munros will be fast.

For me on this day, the sun was shining, so I did not mind getting my feet wet.

Climbing through the purple heather was glorious and the singletrack trail to Glen Fernate was easy to negotiate on the fat tyres. The land rover track down to the ruin of Ruigh Chuilein, close to Loch Loch and the imposing cliffs above is fast and the low pressure tyres were welcome to tame the loose rocky terrain.

At Daldhu, climbing is the name of the game onwards and upwards to the re-known, pink, stone walls of the remotest hunting lodge in Scotland – Fealar Lodge.

On occasion, I have found rows of deer heads draining their crimson juice here, but today there were just the usual assortment of yapping dogs.

The initial portion of the singletrack descent down to Glen Tilt was boggier than usual – again, the fatties earned their keep after having been dragged up the climb before.

Soon enough, the trail dries and becomes loose and rocky down to the River Tilt and another hop-scotch on the rocks.

Descending Glen Tilt, alongside the river Tilt, is often interrupted by fast jets: they drop low in to the glen and the noise will make you jump out of your skin as they scream overhead at barely 90 meters altitude.

Despite the head wind, it was slightly disappointing to be back at the car. This loop is always beautiful and in 4 short hours, you can enjoy all the solitude the hills have to offer.

Old man strength.

8 08 2016

A write up of the Wilderness 101 is here, on the team site.

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