Pronounced – Yeel-carn
Meaning – White hill/peak/cairn
Summit height - 917 m (3,005 ft)
*(There are a number of mountains in Scotland called “Geal charn” hence the reference to the Drumochter pass to show where this one is situated.)
(Scottish Gaelic: Druim Uachdair = High ridge.
The Drumochter pass is a pass between the mountains of the northern and southern central Scottish Highlands. The A9 road is routed through here, as is the Highland Main Line, the railway link between Inverness and the south of Scotland.
The pass is the only gap in the main Grampian mountains suitable for road traffic routes for almost 100 km, between the pass of Glen Coe in the west and the Cairnwell further east. The West Highland Railway has only one other crossing of these mountains, at Corrour.
The gap has been shaped into a U-shaped valley by glacial action over successive ice ages. From the top of the pass, we have the River Garry flowing south, and the River Truim flowing north.
A track through the pass has been used since prehistoric times and was the main route for drovers moving their flocks north to south.
A network of military roads, commonly referred to as General Wade’s Military Roads, were constructed in the Scottish Highlands during the middle part of the 18th century by the British Government after the Jacobite rebellion of 1715.
Under General Wade, a road through the pass was constructed to help with troop movements between the fortified barracks already in existence in the highlands. Although the road itself was upgraded over the years, the route remained largely the same until the 1970s when the whole road was modernized.
It is the high point on the A9, at 460 m (1508 ft) making it a good starting point to climb the mountains. The summit of the railway line is 452 m (1480 ft), making it the highest railway in the UK. As this is a high pass, it often attracts poor weather and this should be borne in mind when planning any undertaking.
This is one of the many mountains in Scotland with the name Geal-charn. It is one of the many Munros in the area and is usually categorized with its three other neighbours of qualifying height on the western side of the A9 at the Drumochter pass. These neighbours being Sgairneach Mhor, Beinn Udlamain and A’Mharconaich. The mountains can all be climbed singularly but more often, are climbed in combinations of two, three or all four together, weather permitting. On a clear day, the views in all directions are often spectacular.
These mountains are on the southwestern edge of the Cairngorms National Park. However, they are not usually considered to be part of the Cairngorms mountain range.
From the road, Geal-charn appears as a rounded hill coloured green and grey with no distinguishing crags or spires. The quartzite base rock has been broken up over millions of years and eroded down to form its present-day curved lines. Only tough grasses, mosses and a few heathers are able to survive amongst the scattered rocks on its higher slopes, whilst a few trees grow near to rivers or roads where they may have been planted. That said, these lower parts of the mountain are, for the most part, set above 400m in height and very bleak.
This high mountain tundra is a good place to see Dotterel from May to October. This ground nesting bird is relatively rare in the UK and has been described as “trusting” which means it will happily walk around in front of you.
Other, more common, ground nesting residents are the Golden Plover and ringed Plover. Please keep dogs on a lead!
In the winter, snow is a regular feature of the landscape and the A9 is sometimes closed to traffic if it is particularly bad. For the walker, the presence of the A9 is both a blessing and a curse offering ease of access to the mountain but also, its existence being something of a “blot” on the landscape. The high starting point within the pass is another positive for anyone wanting to climb this peak.
From either the south or north, the main A9 road links Glasgow with Inverness and runs via the Drumochter pass and past the foot of the mountain.
From Glasgow, head north on the M80, then M9 to Stirling and on to Dunblane where this becomes the A9
From Edinburgh, head west on the M8, join the M9 and head northwest to Stirling and onwards to the A9.
From Inverness, head south on the A9.
It’s possible to start the route from a free car park at the Balsporran cottages on the west side of the A9. Otherwise, there are numbered laybys on the A9 where parking is allowed.
There is a railway station in the small town of Dalwhinnie, just to the north of the Drumochter pass. Most trains will either start or pass through Edinburgh and Glasgow from the south and Inverness from the north. These are relatively infrequent and the local timetable should be referred to.
For an ascent of Geal-charn on its own or along with its neighbour, A’Mharconaich, it is a good idea to start from the car park at the Balsporran cottages on the west side of the A9.
Balsporran cottages car park (free). – Map reference 627792
Red Route for the ascent of Geal-charn
Leave the car park and cross the bridge over the River Truim heading towards the cottages. Pass in front of them and cross the railway line on the level crossing.
Continue ahead on the track running parallel to the Allt Coire Fhar and cross a tributary. Ignore a track to the right and continue to cross a small bridge. Soon after this, take the track heading uphill to your right.
Follow the track up the wide ridge, it gradually becomes a path and starts to fade in the boggy ground. Continue in a southwest direction towards a large cairn with a drystone wall nearby.
(A number of sources say there are several cairns but I only saw one.) This is not the summit. Head further southwest towards a cairn visible on the grassy hill, the actual summit is a little further on after this at a rather sprawling cairn amongst a field of rocks.
At the summit of Geal-charn (917m) If it’s clear, you will start to see fantastic views of Loch Ericht further west and the Ben Alder wilderness beyond this.
From the summit, head southwest on a broad ridge that turns gradually further southwards. Descend towards the bealach at 739m on the map, where the track rises from the valley on your left (east).
Blue route for the descent to the Balsporran cottages.
Follow the Red route to the bealach at 739m.
To return to the start at this point, take the track heading eastwards down the valley into Coire Fhar. It is the track that leads back to the railway crossing at the Balsporran cottages and the car park.
It is possible to traverse the four Munros in the area in one go although, this is obviously a much longer undertaking.
For the description of the traverse of all four Munros see the West Drumochter pass Munros route page.
Scotland has an Outdoor Access code, see link:
The area is popular for Deer stalking and Grouse shooting. These activities may impact on any plans for hiking. However, it is still possible to hike during these events with a little extra effort at the planning stage.
This is a useful page on the Outdoor access – Scotland website
When to climb
Spring, Summer or Autumn (Fall) depending on conditions.
Warning: The above descriptions are for use in reasonable summer conditions. Winter conditions can occur at almost any time of the year. In winter condition, these mountains are a much more serious proposition. Any paths may be covered by snow and ice and gale force winds are common. Ice axe, Crampons, the knowledge of how to use them allied with excellent map reading and compass skills are essential.
A limited number of Hotels and self-catering accommodation around Dalwhinnie and Newtonmore are the closest, followed by Blair Atholl and Pitllochry. Aviemore is approximately one hour’s drive away.
There are some campsites or caravan parks in Dalwhinnie and Kingussie.
It is possible to wild camp in Scotland. See the Outdoor access code for more details.
Walk highlands - https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/
SMC - https://www.smc.org.uk/
Cairngorms National Park - https://cairngorms.co.uk/
The Central Highlands – Peter Hodgkiss (SMC District guide)
The Munros – (SMC Hillwalkers guidebook)
The High Mountains of Britain and Ireland – I. Butterfield
Birds of Britain and Europe – Nicolai/Singer/Wothe
Ordnance survey map OL50 – Ben Alder, Loch Ericht and Loch Laggan