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Third time sublime: The Munro Geal Chàrn, Monadhliath

Written by Fiona

December 21 2021

There are some Munros and Corbetts that I have deliberately repeated, whether as a walk, run or a ski. This is usually because they are convenient, such as Ben Lomond or The Cobbler, when I lived near Glasgow, and now Ben Wyvis, within easy driving distance of my home near Inverness. And, then, there are other mountains that I have somehow found myself repeating. This includes Geal Chàrn in the Monadhliath mountain range, near Dalwhinnie.

It is not unusual to find myself reaching the start of a walk only to realise I have been there before but forgotten. This might sound rather odd, but, to explain, when I first started walking Munros, I tended to let other people take charge of the summit choice and also the navigation. Rather like being a passenger on a car journey, if you are not in the driving seat, you are far less likely to take note of where you have been and the route.

3rd time on Geal Chàrn, Monadhliath

I knew I had walked to the summit of Geal Chàrn before. I recalled a walk with Hubby G and our friends Tommy and Jackie. However, I had no strong memory of the route we followed. It turns out we walked a circuit in an anti-clockwise direction.

G informs me we also did a straightforward out-and-back hike of Geal Chàrn many years before. I believe this was during his first Munro round and possibly not long after we met.

This time, I completed a circuit (again) but in a clockwise direction.

This time, I walked with a new friend Rachel.

This time I was an important part of the route finding (we shared the navigation).

This time, the walk was very memorable because it was the first snow I’d encountered of winter 2021.

This time, I do believe I will remember the walk.

It might look short and boring, but…

When Rachel and I were discussing a mountain for a Sunday adventure, she apologised that it might be a bit boring. It’s a fairly short Munro hike, especially if you choose the straigthforward return route. Even the circuit isn’t too challenging.

Yet, I have rarely walked a Munro or Corbett that turns out to be dull. There is always something – and usually many things – to recommend it.

Firstly, there was a thick blanket of snow on the higher slopes. We knew there would be snow, but we had no idea it would be so deep.

We also decided to follow a route that wasn’t the most obvious. This gave us the opportunity to navigate the route on the ground. It was clear that we both enjoy route finding.

The weather was beautiful, too, with sunshine and far less wind than I expected.

The views are also fantastic. I can’t actually think of a Munro or Corbett that doesn’t have great views, which means that even when the walk itself seems quite easy and non-adventurous, the views always reward.

Clockwise circuit: Geal Chàrn

From a parking area close to the dam, we followed a track north. To reach the start of the climb of the eastern slope of Geal Chàrn, we needed to cross a river. The water was fairly high and fast flowing and after one mishap when Rachel lost her footing and put her boot into the water, we decided to cross in bare feet.

It was a very cold river crossing but it meant we kept our feet as dry as possible.

We had both looked at the map earlier and knew that we needed to avoid a couple gnarly sections of craggy rocks and a corrie. From below, the route look reasonable obvious but because it was snow covered we are cautious with our map reading.

We stopped fairly frequently to check the map and to discuss where we would go. We headed uphill without incident but with confidence and in the knowledge that both of us was happy with the chosen direction.

It’s not a particular steep route, nor that tricky, but with snow cover it was slower that we expected. We muttered about how useful snowshoes would have been, but we also enjoyed the physical workout of wading through snow.

After a while the route turns northwards. We were fortunate with clear views, which meant we could mostly guess the route ahead. We were still aware of the steep drops and potential cornicing of the corrie above Lochan a’ Choire and we were cautious as we approached the top edge but, in reality, it felt fairly safe.

It we had not been able to see so clearly ahead we could have needed to navigate on a bearing to avoid heading too close to the cliffs and crags, but thankfully there was no need.

After a long drag north on a fairly easy-going gradient, we encountered a short, steep pull before the final section towards the large summit cairn.

The views of surrounding mountains were sublime. I love a panorama with snowy peaks and we were treated to fabulous vistas in all directions. I was surprisingly warm-ish for a winter’s day, too.

Lessons learned on the descent

Our plan was to make a circuit of the walk, rather than simply following our footsteps in the snow back to the car. We decided to continue along the wide shoulder above the eastern corrie and then make our return south-easterly to rejoin the track at the start of the walk.

We did this, although I confess we made a false start by heading directly east from the summit instead of north-east. We had only just been discussing the dangers of walking away from the summit in the wrong direction and there we were, doing exactly that.

Fortunately, it wasn’t much more than a short diversion and we quickly realised the error. The snow can make the terrain seem very “samey” and we should have been more careful to check the compass.

In the end, we retraced our steps back towards the summit and then headed off in the right direction. Although it was early in the season, the edges of the corrie already had cornicing and we were careful to keep our distance.

It’s well worth following a similar route because the corrie is beautiful, especially with the lochan at the base. The slope seemed steeper, compared to the ascent route, but walking downhill on snow is easier than climbing up.

We made big strides, although every so often one of us would “lose” a leg in a deep patch of snow. It was tiring fun!

There is reportedly a bridge over the river, further north from where an obvious track leads you to the water. We looked hard for the bridge as we descended the mountain but couldn’t see it.

The day was short and, with the sun was setting, we made the decision simply to cross the river using rocks and boulders rather than walk further upstream in the hope of finding the bridge.

The river crossing was fairly easy, especially compared to earlier in the day. If the river water was higher, I’d suggest trying to find the bridge.

Back on the track we walked at a good pace downhill. The snow had not settled at this level and it was simply a case of following the track to the car.

While the circuit route was not particularly long, it had been more of a challenge than we expected. I will now easily remember the route because of the fine winter conditions, the need to navigate and the great company.

Distance: 13.5km

Total ascent: 742m

See: Strava or OS Maps.

Essential kit

As well as normal walking kit, I took extra items for winter walking. These included heated mittens, cramping, ice axe, extra layers of clothing and an emergency shelter.

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