As you zip up & down from the Highlands, the hills on either side of the A9 are easily seen from the car windows and snow conditions at Drumochter are often used to decide where to head at the weekend. However, in your haste to get to your destination how often have you skied the numerous lines, corries & summits at this the most accessible of all the Sottish touring venues?

Read on for some tips on the options available:

The track west from the railway line

On the summit ridge of Sgairneach Mhor

  1. The classic round of Sgairneach Mhor, Beinn Udlamain & A’ Mharconaich

Deservedly the most popular tour at Drumochter starting & ending at the summit layby. Head south from the layby to join the old A9 which is followed for a short distance before a bridge allows access underneath the railway. Turn back north following the obvious track into Coire Dhomhain which is often skinnable & after 2km leads to an obvious modern bridge over the river. From the bridge take a SSW line crossing a subsidiary burn line (great for snowholes) to reach the broad ridge heading towards the summit of Sgairneach Mhor.

The summit views are superb with the cliffs & corries of a distant Ben Alder beckoning the eye to the west whilst to the south Schiehallion & Ben Lawers stand out from the crowd.  However, with time pressing & the summit of Beinn Udlamain looking rather remote, the need to keep going means skins are soon off for the easy 2km descent to the col (gr ref NN5823 7283)

Ben Alder appears much closer now however the big gash occupied by Loch Ericht acts as a natural barrier between the two ranges and soon the skis are forced towards the north & another wide & easily ascended ridge leads easily to the top of Beinn Udlamain. From here you are now more than half way round & it feels like the next summit is closer than it is. Skins off & skis running nicely again mean a rapid descent to the next col before the final climb to A’ Mharconaich. Although the lowest hill of the day & closest to the road it feels remote with the Boar of Badenoch preventing views to the A9 and some serious ground on several aspects nearby. The best descent of the day awaits but first the skin tracks need retraced to the subsidiary top of Bruaich nan Lomnairean from where pick the line of best snow which brings you back to the trac. The track has a good subtle angle on it which can easily be skied back to the railway line. 4-5 hours

The day can be extended to include Geal Charn to the north, however the 4km skin or ski carry by the side of the A9 back to the car means leaving Geal Charn to another day is a better option.

2. Geal Charn

Starting from the large car park at Balsporran cottages this is a hill for a short easy day.

Cross the railway line, follow the hill track before continuing up the broad shoulder following the shallow depressions which are great snow holding features. The summit area is rocky and exposed to the wind so often has insufficient snow to reach the cairn on ski. A choice of descents can be chosen with the most popular being down Coire Beul an Sporain which is a magnificent snow holding bowl. Alternatively, far steeper lines run to the south of the summit, whilst the quickest descent is to retrace the line of ascent. 2-3 hours

Sub optimal on Geal Charn

Perfect conditions on the broad shoulder of Geal Charn

3. A’ Bhuidheanach Bheag

This greatly underrated Munro to the east of Drumochter summit provides another wonderful short day with some superb snow sure lines leading back to the A9.

Starting at the summit layby (east side) take a slanting line up immediately north of the Allt a’ Chaorainn which quickly leads to the broad open slopes above where an old fence line helpfully leads to the broad flat plateau. In good visibility & provided the snow depth isn’t too great the line of old fence posts can be seen to lead all the way to the summit across an extended area of flat feature less ground.

In the burn line of Allt an Creagach

The plateau is a wild open place with the view east looking over the huge area of wild uninhabited high ground above the headwaters of the Feshie, Tarff & Geldie waters. An area rarely accessed & particularly remote, but to the right party offering fantastic scope for a multi-day self- contained ski tour.

The descent awaits with two main alternatives lines to take, both following burn courses back SW towards the road. Of the two, the line to the north (Allt an Creagach) invariably fills with snow early in the season & takes a wonderfully mellow line to the edge of the final steepening where the A9 can once again be seen below. Avoid the steepening line of the watercourse at this point which terminates in a large waterfall and instead take a diagonal descending line with the final schuss often allowing you to run right to the road.  3 hours

4. Carn Na Caim

Another easily ascended hill from the A9 with a snow sure ascent via a deeply indented land rover track which fills with snow in all but the leanest winters.

Park in the layby ½ km south of the Dalwhinnie turn off and cross the road to the break in the forest where the landrover track starts (gr: NN6399 8215). From there the ascent line follows the track to the summit plateau terminating at an old quarry. Heading in a NE direction an old fence points the way to the summit which lies 3km across the plateau.

The descent back down the landrover track is non-technical at a shallow angle & can be highly entertaining. Alternatively pick one of the lines down one of the 5 NW facing gullies before traversing round to pick up the track back to the car. 4 hours

The last two tours can be combined to give a relatively straightforward day of approx. 5 hours.

Leaving the plateau

Heading up the landrover track

5. The Fara

Often overlooked in favour of its bigger neighbours this is a wonderful hill, particularly worth heading for on those days when the Drumochter car parks are full of other tourers.

The best start lies to the north of Dalwhinnie, past the distillery & over the railway line to park at an obvious opening to a hill track. (Gr: NN6365 8583) The route up alongside the forestry is fairly obvious with the trees often forming a good snow break with snow lying deeply alongside.

Once past the woods pick up the old landrover track until it eventually peters out on the NE flanks of the hill.  The way up remains fairly obvious heading towards the easiest break in the long south trending ridge which is easily followed to the summit.

Some of the best views of any of the hills in the area await with the wild hills of the Ardverikie forest stretching away westwards towards the Gey Corries & Ben Nevis. Further north the eyes are drawn to the complex corries, cliffs & ridges of Creag Meagaidh whilst east the Monadhliath appear as an immense barrier of rolling summits hiding behind the open reaches of the Spey valley. Further over the high summits of the Cairngorms are prominent with Braeriach particularly obvious whilst near at hand the long trench occupied by Loch Ericht stretches away to the SW.

The descent is best taken by following the line of ascent taking great care not to head over the edge of the ridge until much further north. The area is well known for avalanches especially after a period of strong westerly winds where huge deposits of unstable snow at over 30 deg have caught the unwary.

So next time you want some relatively mellow touring, with plenty of routes to choose from, consider the obvious & enjoy a day at Drumochter, you won’t be disappointed.