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Fifth Summit Foiled at Bridge of Orchy

Fifth Summit Foiled at Bridge of Orchy

Postby nimblefingers » Fri Jun 18, 2021 10:48 pm

Munros included on this walk: Beinn a' Chreachain, Beinn Achaladair, Beinn Dòrain, Beinn Mhanach

Date walked: 12/06/2021

Time taken: 12 hours

Distance: 31 km

Ascent: 2200m

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Having recently done my first 20mile+ hike in Dalrigh I fancied pushing my ascent capabilities next. I settled on the Bridge of Orchy 5 which looked like a nice loop on my shiny new OS map.
I'd planned on the anticlockwise route, with the pathless slog from Beinn Dòrain to Beinn Mhanach early on, then rewarding myself with the ridge walk from Beinn a' Chreachain to Beinn an Dòthaidh on the way back. Professional number-cruncher that I am, I jotted down the percentage of total distance, height and estimated time for each leg in the hope it would keep me motivated (80% of all height was gained by summit 3!) and safely on schedule.

I woke up before my alarm (good start) and the drive up from Glasgow was relatively quiet. Coming into Bridge of Orchy Beinn Dòrain looked magnificent in the morning light and I was half relieved, half disappointed that I wouldn't be climbing it up that slope.

I tried to take it easy on the first leg up to the bealach and over to Beinn Dòrain, aware of the miles ahead, but I arrived at the summit ahead of schedule. It was a bit cloudy and windy up there but there were great views out to Beinn a' Chaisteal and beyond.

My customary summit dram.

Quick tea and biscuits behind the cairn and I headed back past the false but convincing "English summit" and down Meall Garbh. I veered off to the left in the hopes that I could cross the river without losing too much height. For the first time I caught a good view of the planned hills ahead. It didn't look too far... :lol:

The next hour or so was spent walking sideways along the flanks of Beinn an Dòthaidh and my ankles were starting to glare at me for my height-saving efforts. For the first of what was to be several times that day, I felt a rush of joy at coming across a path around Beinn a' Chuirn. I snapped this postcard-worthy thistle.

The view back to the Corbetts.

And an extremely flamboyant beetle.

Now began the real pathless slog. In my head I had shifted Beinn Mhanach so it was more conveniently due north of Beinn a' Chuirn, and as such, I expected to see it as I came around the corner. Millions of years of geology disagreed with me. After what felt like a long time walking up a mushy, grassy incline I eventually saw its slope bending round from the bealach. I have to say, the summit was a little too reminiscent of a bowling green to feel like the steps had paid off, but there were fantastic views back to Beinn Dòrain, down onto Allt Kinglas, and beyond to Beinn a' Chreachain.

I stopped for lunch and contemplated the next 600m upwards. It was steep-going on the way down but I was grateful to reach the river, replenish my water supplies, and say hello to the sheep guarding its north side. I opted for the sharpest ascent route I could find and used my hands and feet. It was a nice break for the thighs. There was a (later to be identified as) buzzard circling above, and a herd of deer on the ridge the other side of the stream from me. I noticed I was heading into cloud as I followed the stream uphill but I took this as a sign that I was gaining height and assumed/hoped it would pass by in time.

I reached the ridge and my second path-based serotonin release of the day. The visibility had reduced to about 20m now.

I was a little disappointed to be missing the majestic ridge views I had hoped for, but I was reassured by knowing most of the climbing had been done, and all I had to do was follow the route for 8km round to Beinn an Dòthaidh.
Summit 3.

All I had to do, that is, if the path hadn't filtered out. I made the double error of thinking I would be able to walk in a straight line until it picked up again. After some time faffing around at Garbh Mheall I managed to get myself back onto the ridge with the help of GPS. Right, map and compass from now on. Not making that mistake again. I figured even without a path it would be OK getting to Beinn Achaladair from where I was. I was less confident about being able to navigate around the curve between Achaladair and Dòthaidh. I put that thought to the back of my mind and headed onwards. When I got to Bealach an Aoghlain it was just below the cloud base and I was treated to a spectacularly bizarre view of Rannoch Moor.

It looked like an oil painting, or a landscape in a video game.

Just beyond this I met a guy following the ridge in the opposite direction. It was encouraging to know there was somebody else out here in the fog. We swapped weather and path reports from where we'd been and compared onwards plans: there was no good path around the Beinn Dòthaidh summit and he'd opted to head straight up from the valley. He continued along to Beinn a' Chreachain and me towards the climb to Beinn Achaladair. The rocks were a nice change from wet grass and it wasn't too long before I reached the fourth summit of the day.

Now I had to start thinking. Knowing there was not a path I could follow to Beinn an Dòthaidh, and not being confident I could navigate the ridge curve, I decided to bail on the fifth summit and looked at my routes down to Coire a' Ghabhalach. I had about 3 hours of daylight left which should be plenty. I decided to follow the line I was on and keep heading south, avoiding the crags further west, and then I could follow the river up to the bealach between Beinn Dòrain and Beinn an Dòthaidh and eventually out back towards the train station.

This was the first time I'd had to rely solely on map and compass to get me off a hill and back to my car and, with it looking like the cloud was only getting lower and thicker, it began to feel daunting. The cloud base must have dropped to about 600m because it took me a lot longer than I'd anticipated to see Allt Coire a' Ghabhalach. Still, it was a welcome, if another weird sight. The sunlight hitting the edge of the cloud and the contrast of light was otherworldly.

I turned right and followed it upwards. This was hard going. I didn't have the landscape around me to mark progress and ascending further into denser cloud was not a good feeling. When the river swung round to the south I followed on westward. Almost two hours since I'd left the ridge I was really hoping I would soon see the cairn which marks the bealach at the end of the valley. I reckon I'd been walking for long enough...but nothing. I stopped, mentally paused a near-panic moment and looked at the streams I was next to. It seemed I had veered slightly south of intended, my tired legs favouring the downhill direction. I pivoted and faced where I thought the cairn should be. Blank greyness. Was that a slight shadow of the ridge shoulder? I decided to take a few steps towards it, not wanting to further muddy my positioning. Yes! There was a cairn. I moved more heartily onwards and within a minute I was there. I am not ashamed to say I kissed the cairn when I reached it and saw the walk-in path continuing downwards. Another few kms down the lovely, solid path and I was back at Bridge of Orchy station. My car was pleased to see me after 12 hours, and the feeling was mutual.

I'll be back for the ridge views and the summit of Beinn an Dòthaidh another day...

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Re: Fifth Summit Foiled at Bridge of Orchy

Postby iangpark » Sat Jun 19, 2021 1:19 pm

Great report! Your beetle is Carabus nitens, a lover of bare uplands :)
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Re: Fifth Summit Foiled at Bridge of Orchy

Postby nimblefingers » Sat Jun 19, 2021 11:45 pm

iangpark wrote:Great report! Your beetle is Carabus nitens, a lover of bare uplands :)

Oh, neat, thanks!! :clap:
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Re: Fifth Summit Foiled at Bridge of Orchy

Postby Dunblane Bagger » Mon Jun 21, 2021 1:36 pm

Good effort in getting the 4 done, especially Mhanach as it is it defo the big prize in that area. :clap:

I managed the 5 the week before you and my route looks like it was te opposite direction to yours.

I did Dorain first, then on to Mhanach to get the outlier done whilst I was still fresh.

Then crossed over to the ridge and worked my way back to Doathaidh.

Was completely done in but was a cracking day..
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Re: Fifth Summit Foiled at Bridge of Orchy

Postby Alteknacker » Mon Jun 21, 2021 10:20 pm

A real pity you only got a brief glimpse of those views out to Rannoch Moor. When I visited this group in April 2017, after a cloudy and rather inauspicious start I was blessed with a wonderful latter part to the day, with some of the best views I have had in the Highlands, and that all the way along the ridge from Creachan to Dorain. If you can dial up some good weather you really won't regret another visit to this lot!
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