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Beinns Udlaidh & Bhreac-liath: endless bog & sensory assault
by Graeme D » Tue Oct 02, 2012 2:08 pm
Route description: Beinn Udlaidh and Beinn Bhreac-liath, Glen Orchy
Corbetts included on this walk: Beinn Bhreac-liath, Beinn Udlaidh
Date walked: 29/09/2012
Time taken: 5.9 hours
Distance: 11.7 km
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I gave brief consideration to the idea of heading off on the Friday night but really couldn't be bothered with the whole idea of carrying a tent and found myself at a bit of a loss when it came to locating a suitable bothy other than the new Hutchison Hut with an ascent of Beinn Mheadhoin on the Saturday morning. Heaven knows, that bugger owes me!
Ultimately I decided to make an early start on the Saturday and head further west, even although the forecast was better towards the east. I had a few options but the preferred ones were either the two eastern Glen Orchy Corbetts or Beinn Mhanach and my two remaining Auch Corbetts, Beinn a' Chaisteil and Beinn nam Fuaran, on the other side of the A82.
I had the alarm set for 4.30 aiming to be away by 5 or shortly thereafter. In the event, I found myself wide eyed and lying in the dark some time before 4.30, wondering exactly what time it was. I reached for my phone on the bedside table - switched off. Damn, don't want to switch it on and wake Debbie. Watch wasn't there either. Hmm. Wonder what time it is. Oh sod it man, it's pitch dark and clearly the middle of the night. Go back to sleep. But that wasn't going to happen and after 10 minutes of staring into the darkness above my head, I got up and crept downstairs. The clock on the cooker told me it was just after 3! OK, at least it means I've got time to walk the dog before I leave and not leave Debbie with that to do as well as getting herself and Ailsa organised for their various morning routines and activities. If Lucy thought it was a bit weird going for a walk at this hour on a Saturday morning, she didn't let on.
Back home after a brief stroll down the lane and around the block, and I had time for porridge and coffee before hitting the road shortly after 4 o'clock. I love these early Saturday morning drives out of Perth and towards the hills and this morning was no exception. The streets were deserted and with every traffic light, on red, obligingly switching to green as I approached, I didn't once have to pull up and stop. The A85 to Crieff was equally deserted, the full moon illuminating the ragged edges of the cloud banks overhead and bathing the road and verges in bright light, almost making my headlights redundant. And my music was blaring out at borderline dangerous decibel levels. I was in my element, or heading there at least.
The road was thankfully free of the lorries that I've often found plaguing it at this sort of hour on a Saturday morning and I made excellent progress, so much so that I found myself pulling onto the verge by the access road to Auch still in pitch darkness. I had anticipated the potential for starting walking in darkness and thrown the headtorch in, but I must be going soft in my old age as I didn't fancy that either so I switched the lights and the engine off and sat for a few moments to let my eyes become accustomed to the darkness. After a moment or two, I could make out the outlines of Beinn a' Chaisteil and Beinn Odhar and could make out the tell tale signs of cloud clinging to their summits and upper slopes. And the persistent drizzle that had come on in Glen Ogle was still smearing the windscreen. Hmm, choices, choices!
I flicked the reading light on and checked out Plan B - the Glen Orchy Corbetts. Not far to the start point at Invergaunan at all, and as I'd never been down that road before, I decided to drive along there. Even if I returned to do the Auch route, I'd not lose much time and I'd get to recce the start point for the Corbetts for future reference.
It was still dark when I got to the parking area by the bridge over the Allt Ghamhnain but after a couple of doughnuts I could detect a bit of colour creeping into the sky. I decided to go for the two Corbetts and got myself gathered together. By the time I had wandered down to check out the state of the River Orchy, it was pretty much daylight and I was on my way at just before 7.15am.
Start at the bridge over the Allt Ghamhnain
A couple of factors had swung things against the Auch option, not least being the memory of that final, nerve shredding wade across a rampaging Allt Coralan between the railway viaduct and the West Highland Way in July 2010 as I finally escaped with my life from the Great Tsunami of Loch Lyon and Surrounding Watercourses. With the deluges of the last few days not to mention the entire summer, I had a pretty vivid picture in my mind of what this crossing would be likely to involve today. And then there would be the numerous crossings of the Allt a' Chuirn and Allt Kinglass later in the day ......... Nah! Another time!
I had read a few reports on these two just a day or two previously and a comment by Gavin99 about potential difficulties crossing the ford on the Allt Ghamhnain in spate conditions was sticking in the back of my mind. However, this looked to be the only river crossing I would need to get involved in today and had come prepared with a pair of water sandals in my pack. There had been a gate and a track leading into the trees at the back of the parking area and I had wondered about where it headed and whether it would avoid the river crossing but as it wasn't shown on my OS sheet and I was very keen that the Meall na Fearna debacle should remain unmentioned by the end of the day, I stuck to the route that leads through the gate a couple of hundred metres further east and around the other side of the building at Invergaunan.
Dothaidh and Dorain shrouded in low cloud
Gate and track leading to Invergaunan
About halfway between the road and the building I experienced my first sensory assaults of the day, a visual and olfactory abomination in the form of a decomposing sheep lying on the edge of the track. I took a couple of photos of it although the stench was stomach churning and it was all I could do to stand still this close to it for any more than a split second. The uppermost hind leg was missing and a festering pool of brownish fluid was pooling around the rear quarters. Although clearly on the way towards advanced decomposition, the main part of the body was still, on the face of it, largely intact and resembling of a sheep. The head was especially disturbing, turned upwards in a grimace with the flesh almost entirely gone and teeth bared . After looking at the photos back home on the computer, I thought they were just a little on the wrong side of the line as far as being appropriate for posting on this site is concerned. I quickly moved on through the considerably sweeter smelling and less horrific looking group of Aberdeen Angus and past Invergaunan into the Great Swamp of Lower Coire Ghamhnain which would be a defining and almost permanent feature of the next 6 hours.
Beinn Udlaidh beyond the bog
Beinn Bhreac-liath and a somewhat damp track
Blue skies developing above Bhreac-liath
Northwards towards Rannoch Moor
An autumnal look to Ben Inverveigh
When I reached the ford it became clear that Gavin had called it quite right when he suggested it could be a tricky undertaking in spate conditions. I assessed the situation both upstream and down and could see no obvious good crossing place. I thought back to the final day of my WGL assessment back in April when we were presented with a river and each asked to identify where we would take a group across within a couple of hundred metres either side and justify our choice.
Arriving at the ford
I walked upstream, being the direction I was headed anyway, and eventually settled on a spot down a grassy banking below a couple of sturdy looking overhanging trees. I probably lost a good 20 minutes in total by the time I had done the footwear changes and stowed the walking boots before gingerly picking my way across. It was fairly fast flowing and deceptively deep in the first half of the crossing. I had to move quite deliberately and carefully, feeling with my poles before planting my feet down. There would have been little chance of storming across quickly enough to avoid serious inundation of my boots so I was glad to have had the foresight to bring some sandals.
My chosen crossing spot
Safely across, I had a well deserved pie - my next sensory assault, this time on my taste buds. Rank would be a suitable and not unjustified assessment. And I had a couple more to get through today - mmmmmm. Great! The bogfest continued on the narrow strip between the allt and the new looking fence all the way up to the gate at the end of the forestry. Here I hit the hillside, despite the real temptation to stick on the dry track, although that was only going to lead me further into the Coire Ghamnhain.
This terrain sucks!
Allt Ghamhnain - downstream
Allt Ghamhnain - upstream
To the headwall of Coire Ghamhnain
Now, normally at this stage in a walk, I would expect the worst of the bogfest to be left below, but not today. The hillside was swimming and every step resulted in water being displaced up and onto my boots. Still, the trusty Brashers were coping admirably with the ridiculous conditions underfoot. Still great value for a £20 layout 18 months ago!
I soon hit the distinctive band of white quartz that forms a spine up the north ridge of Udlaidh and the views opened up north along the River Orchy towards Loch Tulla and Rannoch Moor beyond.
Up the rocky spine.....
..... and back down over Bridge of Orchy to Loch Tulla
Closing in a little above the riven flanks of Beinn Bhreac-liath
The quartz band becomes less defined and then breaks up about a kilometre or so from the summit. Passing behind a small lochan on a flat shoulder, I had views across to the cliffs of Coire Daimh, a continuation of the quartz spine, and was treated to the sight of spray being blown up the cliffs onto the summit plateau. At the same time, I was treated to the experience of almost being hurled bodily into Coire Daimh by the first real blasts of the day.
Ben Inverveigh across the little lochan
Spray blown up the cliffs
Spray shot - zoomed
With my head down and braced against the gale, I picked my way across the grassy slopes and boulder patches to the summit which is adorned with a well built cairn and another visual assault in the form of mast debris strewn around the shop. Still, never mind, I got a bit of shelter behind the cairn and had some wine gums and my special hot summer fruits cordial with a wee dash of Bacardi to keep the chill at bay. Lovely.
What a mess!
The views were non existent - low cloud and clag in all directions. The general direction towards the bealach below Beinn Bhreac-liath was pretty obvious but I took a bearing to take me well away from the cliffs and set off, fortified by my wine gums and juice.
The bogfest had abated, marginally, across the summit of Udlaidh, but now it was back with a vengeance as I descended down to the wide saddle. I kept right to avoid the cliffs and benefit from the views down into Glen Lochy afforded by the lifting of the clag. The views south across Glen Lochy to Meall Odhar, Beinn Chuirn and the Ben Lui group of Munros were probably the best I got all day.
Meall Odhar clear, Beinn Chuirn with cloud cover
Sron nan Colan and Meall Odhar with Tyndrum beyond Lochan na Bi
Beinn Bhreac-liath and Beinn Odhar across the bealach
Udlaidh and bealach lochan
Beinn Chuirn now clearing and the outline of Ben Oss appearing in the background
Oss now clear and Dubhcraig clearing
Crianlarich Munros through shafts of autumn sunlight
From here it was a fairly short and straightforward ascent up onto the southern end of the long, broad whaleback ridge that is Bheinn Bhreac-liath, where the final full scale sensory assault was unleashed against me as I walked into the teeth of an absolute howler.
Udlaidh from the ascent of Bhreac-liath
Beinn Odhar, Beinn Chaorach and Beinn Challum
I barely stopped at the summit cairn to take a barely worthwhile shot northeast between Beinn Dorain and Beinn a' Chasteil. Any attempt to place my camera on the little tripod, set it down on the ground and walk away from it would have been downright foolish and would have been the last I'd ever have seen of that piece of hardware.
Beinn Dorain and Beinn a' Chasteil from the summit of Bhreac-liath - the railway viaduct barely visible just to the right of the white rock on the cairn
As I stumbled blindly northwards along the broad ridge, my eyes were gouged by the rasping wind and stinging rain and my ears were all but ripped from the side of my head, my hat offering scant protection from the assault being carried out against me. I defiantly took a few more photos, but most of them were unsurprisingly of pretty dubious quality. A few looking back across Coire Ghamhnain to the hills beyond Glen Lochy turned out not too badly though.
Big Ben Lui now putting in an appearance
Beinn Udlaidh and Beinn Mhic Mhonaidh
Udlaidh closer up
It was a blessed relief to drop down back into the worst of the bog for the wade back past Invergaunan and the festering sheep carcass to the road.
Oh well, not quite the day I had envisaged but I was well within my deadline and had gotten to within a couple of Corbetts of the magical 50 mark. And as I have said before, sometimes it is days like this that leave you with the greatest sense of satisfaction and achievement when you get back to the car.
by robertphillips » Tue Oct 02, 2012 2:38 pm
by LeithySuburbs » Tue Oct 02, 2012 3:22 pm
Sandals - very well prepared .
by SMRussell » Tue Oct 02, 2012 4:11 pm
robertphillips wrote:Well done graeme another good walk and report, done these 2 last winter in the snow.
Think RP has the right idea - definitely sound like hills to mark for the snowy season.
Good report as always
by Sabbathstevie » Tue Oct 02, 2012 4:19 pm
by pigeon » Tue Oct 02, 2012 4:38 pm
by Graeme D » Tue Oct 02, 2012 8:13 pm
Dunno about them being winter hills as such, just that the 6th wettest summer on record has taken its toll on them. I'd hate to have walked this route in the 5 recorded wetter summers!
by Frigate » Tue Oct 02, 2012 8:21 pm
by ChrisW » Wed Oct 03, 2012 7:21 am
by Mountainlove » Wed Oct 03, 2012 8:35 am
Really enjoyed the read...loud music in the car...best way to wake up!! (and stay awake)
by basscadet » Wed Oct 03, 2012 9:21 am
I was looking at these when I did my Tigh nam bodach trip (in which I also suffered the tsunami effect of the local waterways ), they look good from that side, but I wasn't aware of the bog fest..
by rockhopper » Wed Oct 03, 2012 10:01 pm
by past my sell by date » Sun Dec 01, 2013 6:55 pm
by kevsbald » Mon Dec 02, 2013 6:11 pm