Last winter, three of us (Richard, Alex and I, meeting up with Iain from Ullapool) left Edinburgh on a Friday night. After stopping for amazing chips in Pitlochry we arrived at Dalwhinnie station car park around 8.00pm. All that stood between us and bed was a 15km bike ride.
I borrowed a bike for the weekend, which a friend had kindly went out his way to prepare for me. But I hadn't cycled since a winter camp two years previously, and before that two years hence. Alex was similiar. We decided Richard was the expert biker between us with recent miles under his belt and because he had a helmet. It seemed fair then to let him go first, hailing him as we did the 'pot-hole poodle', as we sped alongside Loch Ericht.
It's a very easy cycle to Ben Alder Lodge but after this you leave the road behind and continue, slightly uphill, on a good, if somewhat bumpy landrover track towards Loch Pattack. It was early on here I snapped the chain on Andy's bike whilst standing up and pushing down with my obviously too powerful leg muscles. (*Ping* went the pin that held the chain link together. *Ching* went my teeth as they - most unexpectedly - said hello to the handlebars). We couldn't find the pin or fix the chain in the cold so we decided to leave it until in the bothy. The last time I was in at Culra I got a puncture with no repair kit and had to push. History repeated itself, with this time Alex and Richard kindly offering to join me. I don't think they grumped once which was nice. (Perhaps because it was icy so we would have done much of this on foot anyway). At the bothy, we met Iain and, after listening to tales of his derring-do in a whiteout on the plateau across to Geal Charn ("It was scary - I couldn't tell if it was a cornice or a snow slope") we were in bed asleep by 11.30pm. Half an hour later some folk from Glasgow appeared with a small dog called Holly and we had a full house.
In the morning we headed for Ben Alder and the Long Leachas ridge. Graded in Dan Bailey's 'Scottish Ridges' book as a G1 winter climb but 'barely a technical challenge' it looked to be good fun and had a fair covering of snow. Foregoing wet feet, we crossed the river by using the bridge back downstream then headed up towards Ben Alder. The Long Leachas is the right-hand ridge of a scalloped corrie (it looks much shorter than the Short Leachas, until you see it side on). It's a mixture of interesting walking interspersed with steep grass and small buttresses and provided us with lots of entertainment (and concern sometimes, in small doses) as we whacked ice axes into the turf and up and around rock pillars.
At the top of the ridge the visibility was poor but it soon cleared up. As we walked up the plateau to the top of Ben Alder the cloud gradually rose and we found ourselves in blue skies. Which is always nice. We even saw a white rainbow, which caused a bit of Googling about on Sunday night (I'm still not too sure what causes it - there's not too much on the web about it).
After Ben Alder we descended to the bealach, crossing old avalanche tracks, and then went up Beinn Bheoil before descending back to the bothy. You can really appreciate how large Ben Alder is from this summit - it's huge.
We were joined on Saturday night again by the folk from Glasgow. They had followed us up the ridge (dog included). They had fuel for the fire, which was nice, but also a nephew who spoiled his sleeping bag after drinking too much. On the platform underneath, Iain soon switched sleeping platforms when there was talk of seepage!
On Sunday we left early so Alex could catch his daughter's birthday party. With a healthy chain again, it took us 60 minutes bothy to car.