Words & Photos Chris Townsend
Distance: 10 miles/16km
Time: 4-6 hours
Start/finish: Layby 79 on the A9 (GR: NN 632755)
Map: Ordnance Survey 1:50,0000 Landranger sheet 42 (Glen Garry & Loch Rannoch)
Information: Aviemore TIC, 0845 22 55 121
Big, bulky, heather-clad hills rise either side of the A9 road as it runs through the dramatic Drumochter Pass.
Those to the west contain four Munros, three of which can be climbed in a circuit of long, deep Coire Dhomhain.
I’ve often stopped on journeys up and down the A9 to spend half a day on these hills. Starting at 450 metres you can be high up very quickly. On my last spring ascent the day began hazy and dry with a weak sun shining through thin clouds and a strong south-west wind. I followed the track that runs under the railway line and up into Coire Dhomhain until I was well past the steep cone of the Sow of Atholl, a Corbett which rises directly above Drumochter Pass. Leaving the track I crossed the shallow Allt Coire Dhomhain on stones then climbed through grass tussocks and thick heather to the ridge of Sgairneach Mhor.
This is open rolling country with vast views and big skies. As I rounded the edge of Coire Creagach – which contains some of the few scree slopes and small crags found in these rounded hills – and reached the summit of Sgairneach Mhor, the huge vista of the central highlands spread out before me, a rippling mass of hills fading into the distance. Most prominent was Ben Alder, just a few miles west across the deep trench of Loch Ericht. Ptarmigan crept across the grey stones and thin vegetation, hoping not to catch my gaze, and golden plover whistled plaintively as I dropped down to the head of Coire Dhomhain then climbed Beinn Udlamain, the highest but least distinctive of these hills.
From Beinn Udlamain I looked back at the late patches of snow still hanging on the sides of Coire Creagach. Across Drumochter Pass rose the brown East Drumochter hills.
The walk to A’ Mharconaich was uneventful – an easy stroll listening to the birds calling and watching the clouds racing by on the chilly wind and bursts of sunshine illuminating patches of hillside. A’ Mharconaich has steep slopes to the east and south and these were edged with old snow. Cutting round one of these little snowfields I spotted some piled-up snow in curious shapes far below. Descending I found that an avalanche had stripped off the top layer of soil and rocks and dumped a big tangled heap of earth and snow at the base of the slope. Some of the blocks of snow were massive, 12 to 15 feet high. The avalanche had been recent, as the ground all around was very unstable and I had to cross it with care. With the thought that all this landscape is ever-changing and the hills are slowly eroding away despite their seeming permanence, I descended back to the noise and rush of the traffic.
Take the track SW into Coire Dhomhain. After 1.5km cross the burn and head SW up to the east ridge of Sgairneach Mhor. Follow the ridge to the summit. Descend west to the col with Beinn Udlamain and then climb this hill by its south ridge. From the summit go NE to A’ Mharconaich. Descend SE to the track in Coire Dhomhain.Tweet