Beinn Dearg and Carn a Chlamain – hitting the new trail jackpot!

“Do you have your bank card with you?” inquired Andy in a manner that gave me slight concern. With the fuel light on and halfway to Perth, I checked my pockets in a slightly concerned manner. “It’s just I left mine at home….” He tailed away. The thick end of eighty five quid later and we were back on the road heading northwards in the warm glow of the rising winter sun. The plan was simple. Pick a day that promised proper winter weather (minus 3 and blue skies with a hint of wispy cloud – check) and knock out two Munros off Glen Tilt that would be a tough walk in but a manageable bike ride.
Meeting up with a late arriving Shearer in the bowling green car park in Blair Atholl, the icy chill morning air cut through us as we headed through the grounds of Blair Castle. “You always have one wake up ride in winter to get your cold weather gear sorted” mused Shearer as we climbed steadily on the minor road and Land Rover track. The morning sun and blue sky brought the autumnal hues into stark relief as a I spotted a trail for exploring next time round. For now, clearing the trees and passing the deer gate where we met a couple of cheery walkers and their dog, the trail wend it’s way ever upwards over the open moorland, passing stone cairn markers as we went. The hard frozen trail and occasional iced over puddle made the going rapid and it felt like we had only just started when we arrived at Alt Shiechan bothy. A fairly well appointed affair with separate upstairs sleeping platform, the MBA had clearly been busy with a picnic table now assuming pride of place. Taking the opportunity to grab some food, Shearer gained bonus points for pulling out slices of parma ham from his bulging Camelbak while Andy’s sardine sandwich looked just a tad forlorn by comparison. A quick munch and signing of the bothy book and we were off again.
Heading up through the Glen, an obvious path could be seen rising up to our right. However, the map said to take the footpath to the left and it proved to be a wise choice. What appeared as steep and loose was to an extent. However, a bit of gritted teeth and we were spinning our way up and over on singletrack that was nowhere near as tough as it looked. Switch backing up the hill, it was approaching 100% rideable with height gained quickly. The cloud we had seen earlier over the summit was dissipating rapidly as we moved ever upwards and pondered how fine a descent we would have on the way back down.
Reaching the peaty plateau, what the guide books had suggested would be a slightly boggy affair was still hard frozen making for easy and rapid progress towards the summit. Even the promised boulder fest failed to materialise into anything more than a two minute carry to the summit cairn. A sudden chill breeze and the sight of hoar frost reminded us that winter was upon us as we sought shelter behind some rocks just off the summit. Cue more food while I snapped off a few pics and took in the 360 views. Familiar peaks were pointed out and others guessed at with the ever present Schiehallion making its customary appearance.
Replete, we took turns leading the way back down the trail, the descent being every bit as good as we had hoped for when we climbed it, stopping only to take in the view and to chat to the walker we had passed earlier. “Watch out for the big yellow poo” warned one. We never saw it. Hopefully, he was joking! Retracing our steps back to the main track, my front brake decided to go for a burton. Heading into a tight corner, I hauled on only for….nothing. Even frantic pumping, so to speak, had little effect. So much for Mr Shimano’s usual reliability. However, things got even more interesting by the time I reached the bottom. Despite the brake working intermittently, the going felt strangely tough. Easing off the brakes for a fast rolling, errrr, roll down the fireroad to the gun range in Glen Tilt, I kept slowing down. Stopping to change the pads in my brake, the problem became immediately obvious, my fancy ice tech rotor had warped. Not just a little bit but enough to rub against the caliper and make things hard going. “Bugger!” I thought knowing full well that I had a steep and loose Land Rover track climb of over two and a half thousand feet ahead of me or an early bath. With the sun now in full golden winter’s day mode, the only option was to man up and get on with it. There was no way I was going to knock the ride on the head and miss out on the singletrack descent to Forest Lodge that I’d spied a few months previously . Well that and Shearer would never have let me forget it. It would have been even more shameful than Steve Deas walking up the climb from Loch Muick a few weeks prior!
A harder than normal descent into the Glen and gradual climb through it brought us to target no 2 of the day, Carn a Chlamain. A search of t’interweb had revealed very little about it’s biking potential other than it being described as a largely unrideable climb out and back style ride on loose and rocky Landy track. However, a scan of Geograph hinted at an old Stalkers track that could be gravy assuming we could find it. Rearing up in front of us, the initial grassy climb was a brute of an affair. The granny was the only option as we slowly but steadily winched our way up the climb, short sections of relative flat proving a welcome relief from being near the redline limit. Topping out on the first flat section, ahead of us lay an even steeper and looser section of trail. For me, Valium at was prescribed by a doctor as a remedy for panic attacks. Constantly take these pills is not worth it, they are addictive. Tablets do really work. The remedy helped me. But Valium is not compatible with alcohol. Moreover, it is not recommended to take alcohol for 5 days after taking the pill. To add to it, a healthy dose of walkers were making their way back down off the mountain. “Double bugger!” I thought as their presence gave added impetus to clean the climb.
“It’s hard enough walking!” and “Any chance of a backie?” were the order of the day as I winched my way past them. Contrary to the few postings I had read, the impossible climb was proving to be a very doable, indeed enjoyable, proposition. Even the tell tale swish swish of my bent rotor was barely registering as the warmth of the afternoon sun, the increasingly impressive vistas and the increasing sense of satisfaction of riding a climb that was said to be unrideable was making for a classic ride. Closely following behind were Shearer and Andy. Easing off, I looked back to see Andy stopped and searching through his bag. After giving it full beans all day, the bonk had come knocking and only his sardine sandwiches were going to stave I off. Despite his wobbly moment, he was soon back on and in the zone while Shearer did his usual of just riding ever upwards irrespective of the gradient or toughness of the trail and coming up with his now customary response as to what he thought of the trail so far. “Legend!”
Cresting the plateau just shy of the conical summit, he spotted the tell tale line of cairns marking the start of the stalkers path. While Andy and I opted for the summit, the lure of making the top before the sun started to properly set proving too much to resist, Shearer headed down the descent in order to try and beat the impending darkness. Some ten minutes later and we were standing by the summit cairn. All around us, the crisp winter air made for breath taking scenery no matter which rdirection we looked, Beinn a Ghlo looking particularly impressive in the evening sun. With pictures taken and saddles dropped, we were soon back on the trail, eager to see whether our route would deliver hoped for singletrack gravy. As we traversed round the hillside, our ever expanding grins gave away the answer. We had struck proverbial gold. A snaking narrow trail offering a single flowing line off the mountain was drawing us in and delivering smiles a plenty. Fast hardpack was followed by rocky switchbacks played out against a backdrop of big mountain scenery. Every corner we turned brought another riding pleasure. “How good is this” I shouted to Andy behind. “It’s brilliant…except I have cramp” he winced, as he bent over his bike in the manner of a drunk trying not to lose bladder control. Sair wan! It was a scene that was to play out a couple more times before we finally reached the valley floor far below, slightly breathless at the thought of having ridden a genuine Scottish classic and one made all the better for it being a hitherto undiscovered one at that. Spinning down the Glen in the gloaming and then the inevitable darkness, we arrived back at the car some 8 hours, 54km and two munros later. It hadn’t been long enough or tough enough for an epic as we had all made it back unbroken but it had definitely been legendary!

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  1. Sounds brilliant, I remember eying up some of the Munros on my way round the Glen Tilt loop.

    How cold was it at the top? Maybe a brake seal went a bit dodgy with the temp?

  2. sannyatsingletrackworld

    Doubt it. Rear one failed previously in a similar manner. Rebled, hoses checked, pistons examined, no damage so back to Rose Bikes who are even paying the cost of shipping. Stunning service from Germany.

    The ride was ace. A real classic to add to my tally of munros I’ve ridden this year. I’ve built up an ever growing lists of peaks to tackle. Geograph and Walkhighlands are brilliant for researching trails.

  3. Sounds grand. I may quiz you for more detail as I fancy adding it to me list for this years rides.


  4. Not sure if this is the best place for this, but here goes…

    I fancy bagging my first Munro on a bike, any recommendations? Probably don’t want it to be too technical, preferably close to Glasgow. TIA.

  5. sannyatsingletrackworld

    That’s a tough one as you are going up a mountain and the options for close to Glasgow are a bit limited. Ben Lomond is obvious but the top section may be too tech for your tastes. Still, you can always walk the bits you don’t like. If you are not tech minded and don’t have a bit of hillwalking experience, I’d hesitate to recommend big mountain routes. The weather can change really quickly and the kind of trails I love (steep, slow speed, technical descents, big views) aren’t everyones cup of tea.

    Carn a Chlamain could be done sticking to the Fireroad only up and down.

    Beinn Dearg would be even easier as there is nothing too tech on it and is probably the easiest one i have ridden to date.

    Glas Tulachain by Glenshee is a fireroad to the summit so would be an easier starter for ten.



    • Many thanks again Sanny. I put ‘not too tech’ as I thought it would be a good way to pop my Munro cherry, and close is a relative term 😉

      Plenty of hillwalking experience from growing up in the Lakes, not too many experiences above 3000′ though.

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