A plan to do all 5 of the Bridge of Orchy Munros was hatched shortly after we (myself and Hill Bill) opened our bagging account for 2015, a relatively gentle day out on the east of the Drumochter Pass bagging A’ Bhuidheanach Bheag and Carn na Caim. Nicely limbered up, we were now eyeing something that would push the boundaries, as well as redress the lopsided red-to-blue balloon ratio that was firmly entrenched in the southern sector of our WH Munro maps.
We departed Deeside around 5am and, courtesy of a large coffee at the Green Welly Stop, were more than wired when we reached the Bridge of Orchy hotel car park a touch after 8am. Already at this stage, we could tell we were going to be in for a cracker. The prevailing sun and blue skies were forecast not only to remain but also, once on the upper slopes, be accompanied by the added bonus of negligible wind.
We went through the station underpass and began the journey up the grassy bowl of Coire an Dothaidh towards the bealach. A bit of a soggy mess and a trudge at times (a feeling that would reacquaint itself with a vengeance towards the end of the walk) but this was more than offset by the glorious views of the Glen Etive hills behind us. We paused several times on the ascent to capture the footage.
We reached the bealach one hour after departure and took advantage of the opportunity to dump the bags prior to the climb up Beinn Dorain. Another 35 minutes and, having skirted round Carn Sasunnaich, we were at the summit - the lighter loads and compacted snow making for quick progress. Stunning views in all directions - even Hill Bill, who seemed to perpetually strike it lucky with the weather in his nascent bagging days, agreed it was up there with the best he had experienced.
The return to the bealach was a very quick one - amazing the ground that can be covered when using a plastic OS map cover as a makeshift sledge! Beinn an Dothaidh was up next. We didn’t emerge onto the western top of Beinn an Dothaidh as WH suggests. Instead, we came up onto its south-eastern top before cutting back slightly west to reach the true summit at 1,004 metres. The pork pies were cracked open and we took more time to savour the sights, even finding a small window to enjoy the clement temperatures and a touch of sunbathing.
Suitably replenished, we descended the eastern slopes of Beinn an Dothaidh, crossing over a small snow field before reaching the bealach at the top of Coire Daingean.
From here, we began the march up and onto the grassy ridge that would take us to summit number 3 for the day, Beinn Achaladair. Yet more glorious scenes in which to bask - the vast, barren and remote landscape of Rannoch Moor set against the Munro mecca that is the Nevis/Mamores ranges being a particular highlight.
It was difficult to prize ourselves away from this but with the legs feeling in fine fettle we pressed on. The descent down Beinn Achaladair was not particularly enjoyable as, for one section, the underlying snow was making it slippery and difficult to pick an innocuous route through the rocks. In fact, at one stage, it looked like things were about to take a serious turn as Hill Bill slipped but thankfully managed to arrest his slide before he careered head first into an offensively large boulder. We were glad to reach more solid footing at the Aoghlain bealach and begin the ascent that would eventually take us to the summit of Beinn a’ Chreachain.
The last Munro of the day, Beinn Mhanach, was to prove an awkward customer. In hindsight, we should have retraced our steps to the Aoghlain bealach in order to keep the height, before then turning south down the slopes into Coire a’Mhath-ghamhna. Instead, we opted for a diagonal beeline straight into Coire a’Mhath-ghamhna, a long and windy route that required careful footwork to cross the numerous (sometimes hidden) streams. We eventually reached the point at which to begin the ascent to the bealach between Beinn a’ Chuirn and Beinn Mhanach. It was a very gruelling climb and the sweltering temperatures and boggy conditions were creating something of an ‘every man for themselves’ scenario.
We pressed on and eventually made it to the summit around 4:30pm. We paused for 20 minutes - partly to rest but mainly (having got good mobile reception) to wait for the full time scores, which came as a welcome boost when we heard Liam McLeod thunder over the airwaves that Aberdeen had secured a 1-0 a win.
With 5 Munros and 3 points in the bank, we hightailed it from the summit of Beinn Mhanach feeling very satisfied. We elected not to cross over the top of Beinn a’ Chuirn (we didn’t fancy the added ascent) and instead went down and around its north-western slopes before picking up a track that ran alongside the Allt an Loin. From here, we did not take the best line to get back to the bealach between Beinn Dorain and Beinn an Dothaidh, coming down the aforementioned path too far south which meant having to add an energy-sapping trudge up into Allt Coire a’ Ghabhalach. This was then followed by a squelchy and monotonous slog to the bealach upon reaching which we proceeded to wolf down whatever sugary snacks we could find lurking in our rucksacks.
With just the final section left to do, we hauled our carcasses from their slumber and walked through the bealach. It was a stunning way to round off the walk - Coire an Dothaidh basking in a golden glow behind us whilst ahead we had the sun settling over Glen Etive. A few final photos and we soon skulked back into the car park, arriving just under 12 hours since departure.
It had been our intention to camp for the night and bag Ben Challum the following day but, with the physical and weather conditions not looking promising, we instead decided to return home – exhausted yet exhilarated in equal measure.
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