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A new twist on Sasunnaichs in the mist

A new twist on Sasunnaichs in the mist

Postby Driftwood » Sun Jul 10, 2016 5:40 pm

Route description: Beinn Dòrain & Beinn an Dòthaidh, Bridge of Orchy

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

Date walked: 21/06/2016

Time taken: 10.66 hours

Distance: 32 km

Ascent: 2700m

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Or "I never saw any frogs one day on Beinn Dorain".

It looked like Glencoe was due for cloud and rain on this Tuesday, improving on Wednesday, so I decided to head inland across Rannoch Moor. Not too far, as I was staying in the Glencoe Independent Hostel for several nights, but hopefully enough to get fewer showers and more chance of views.

I had the Bridge of Orchy hills figured as a big, but feasible, round: nearly 20 miles and about 2500 metres, whether approached from the south or west. As I was already driving across Rannoch Moor, it seemed sensible (at least, sensible within the context of walking up and down wet and cloudy hills all day) to take the western route. That would also avoid a series of river crossings and also spare me the challenge of taking Beinn Dorain's south side directly.

Some fairly-leisurely preparations brought me to Bridge of Orchy to set out around 9:20 in the morning, finding space to park close to the station. I used the platform access underpass, which was signed for the West Highland Way and the hills. With hindsight, it may have made sense to save these hills for the future in case I ever travel north by train, as they're perfectly suited for that. But the decision had been made, so I left the West Highland Way after hardly a minute and turned left, then set off uphill.
Mast with Beinn Dorain beyond

The path is well trodden (and gets quite erroded further up), with enough boggy patches to make me glad of my gaiters. It was a cool, cloudy morning, but there were small tatters of blue sky peeking through and cloud cover on the hills ahead was high and incomplete, offering the hope of views, maybe even from the tops.
Low cloud and blue patches over the Black Mount

I made fair progress, meeting just one family group on their way down the path. Crags loomed to each side ahead, but the ascent route eases between them without any technical difficulties. Reaching the bealach, marked by a cairn, I knew that this first hour had only been the warm-up. The following stages involved a long traverse to even reach my first Munro of the day, then each of the hopefully-five hills would involve a substantial (re)ascent, varying from over 220 metres to well over 300.
Eroded ascent path

This route is made feasible (it'd be going too far to say easy) by the nature of the ground. They're green, grassy hills, made from the same rock that forms the Loch Tay hills and their neighbours. So there are crags and rugged sections, but there's also a lot of grassy turf kept walkable by the grazing sheep. That's quite a contrast to the Cairngorms, or the steeper western hills, but reminded me of my earliest Munros in the areas around Killin.

I soon realised that the day would involve more ascent than planned on paper. Keeping to the grass and easier ground meant losing more height while traversing east around the northern side of Coire a' Ghabhalach. I persisted, with a break for late-morning refreshment, and the day's first target came into view. Though only a Top; the first Munro lay hidden further to the east.
Approaching Beinn a' Chuirn

I could now see the track ascending Allt an Loin, though even without paths the grassy ground I crossed was fair walking. Some cloud did drift around the brows of Beinn a' Chuirn as I cut across an open bealach, then briefly followed a fence-line uphill.
The fence soon turned left, but I'd obviously not had enough rough walking yet. I chose to tackle the rough northwestern face, which isn't craggy but has some bare rock, loose stones and steep mossy grass that proved very wet in parts. Another walker appeared below, possibly from the track, as I half-scrambled uphill and so into the mist-cloud.
Leaving the fence for a steep ascent

The slope eased off again and I found my way to the cairn through thin cloud. This had taken about 2 hours 40 minutes, but I pressed on as the cool conditions gave comfortable walking and I aimed to make progress in case the weather worsened.
Beinn a' Chuirn amid the mist

A gentle descent, then I crossed the fence-line at a slightly boggy bealach. The west side of Beinn Mhanach proved drier going, with stones scattered in the thin grassy ground. I reached the top in a further 20 minutes as the cloud thinned and rose just overhead, giving some views - albeit with a fluffy grey-white ceiling drifting by. This is an interesting hill from some angles - there's a north-facing "corrie of the snows" - though most of those are hidden away even from the already-remote approach path.
Beinn Mhanach and Beinn a' Chuirn, with snow in Coir an t-Sneachda

I met up with the other walker soon after leaving the cairn. This was his one hill for the day, though he had walked the others before. He turned out to be my only company, excepting the sheep and fairly-sparse wildlife, for the rest of the day. But it's always reassuring to find that at least one other person has decided that the weather should be good enough to be out and walking. (Or hasn't checked the reports, or is also determined to reach some hills come-what-may ...)
Beinn Mhanach towards Beinn a' Chreachain

Instead of retracing my steps, I struck out downhill quite early, probably a bit too soon. This meant traversing down and around some damp ground, but it wasn't bad going and I could soon make a better line to rejoin the fence. That brought me to the bealach, Lon na Cailliche, from where I turned north to rise gradually around the flank of Beinn Achaladair.
Boggy patch across Lon na Cailliche

As I'd discussed with the other walker, it looked easier to aim for and cross Meall Buidhe (a grassy Top of Beinn a'Chreachain) than a fiddly traverse of Garbh Meall and ascent through the corrie beyond. I topped up with water from one of the burns en route, since I anticipated being on the ridges for the next few hours.
Burn from Coire nan Clach

The climb steepened briefly onto Meall Buidhe, then eased as I joined a path (really just the track of passing boots).
Meall Buidhe towards Beinn a' Chreachain

I enjoyed some of the best weather for this part of the walk, from 2pm. The cloud was well above the nearest hills, with a few blue patches and glints of sunshine reaching Rannoch Moor to enliven the views. It was cool enough to walk in comfort without feeling too hot on the ascents or getting chilly during my brief stops. But I could see that showers were falling in areas nearby, so kept trying to make progress and take advantage of the easy terrain.

Beinn a'Chreachain does involve a stonier ascent, but with more of a path and nothing that I remember needing great effort. Even my highest hill of the route was clear of mist, but I could feel the weather was not set to last. Still, I indulged in a 10-minute break finishing up the remains of lunch before turning back down to the bealach, then trying a faint path that seemed to contour along the southern side of Meall Buidhe.
Beinn Chreachain southwest: the rest of the route

That path faded further as it gained height, so I ended up going most of the way to the 978 metre Top, but might have saved a few minutes. Back onto a path descending to Bealach an Aoghlain, I could see a rougher ascent ahead.
Meall Buidhe across Bealach an Aoghlain

The east ridge of Beinn Achaladair verges on easy scrambling at some points, but the path zigs and zags quite helpfully. Then onto an easier shoulder for the majority of the ascent, bringing me to the cairn shortly before 4pm. The cairn is perched with steep drops to the north, east and west, overlooking lochs, moors and the A82 where traffic went noisily past half a mile below.
Racing the clouds to Beinn Achaladair

I continued southwest, then south, following the steps of others before me. Mist and cloud closed in on the tops, together with a shower. Despite the weather, I realised that the path was contouring a gentle rise of ground, so managed to divert and visit the southern Munro Top (my third and last of the day) with a minimum of extra effort. Then it was time to tighten my hood and endure the wind and rain for 20 minutes' descent along the broad south ridge.
Beinn Achaladair south Top (with Beinn an Dothaidh in the mist)

I re-emerged from the cloud, discovering the bealach ahead to be almost as wet as the outsides of my waterproofs. There was a persistent wind bringing in the weather, but here was some shelter and a good spot to refuel and check on my progress. With spirits undampened, I started up the west ridge of Beinn an Dothaidh, though this was steep enough to be slow going with a brisk breeze sneaking around the southern side.
35 minutes of uphill, with more puffing than usual, brought me to the first of several cairned tops. I visited them all to be thorough, even though the cloud gave only hints of views beneath its dirty cotton-wool puffs.
The tops of Beinn an Dothaidh

Heading south for 20 minutes over a path and some stony ground, becoming steep, returned me to the cairn at 744 metres, still in good time to reach the car not too long after 6pm.
Cairn at the bealach before Beinn Dorain

Except that was not the plan, nor what I wanted yet. There was one hill left of the round, not quite the highest but the best known, Beinn Dorain. The cloud and wind seemed set in by now, with drizzle and light rain, so I ate, drank and prepared for the ascent with another break. I was well-warned about the "false top" of Carn Sasunnaich and ready to face a last steep ascent - though, as it turns out, I'd have done better still if I had re-read the Walk Highlands guide the night before.

Although the bealach had been clear, it didn't take me long to reach the cloud, then encounter increasing wind and showers as I came out onto the ridge. I didn't take any photos during this part of the walk, mostly owing to that rain. It was not torrential, but blown enough to dissuade me from even quick snaps with my back turned to the weather. Luckily I'd refuelled with chocolate during my break at the bealach, which gave me enough energy and persistence as the conditions became more robust.

I followed the eroded path up and around a rocky shoulder, then over an easier damper stretch. This brought the wind and blown rain into my face, as well as reducing visibility of the path ahead. So I don't know at what point I left the broad, worn path and found myself on a narrower bypass path running along the west side of Am Fiaclach. This did look like a made path (though there were also signs that sheep had used it) and was definitely headed in the right direction, slightly East of South and gaining height as it went. So I continued for half a mine or more, with steep ground to my right and higher rock, nearly crags, to the left.

My path climbed more and turned east at last, then turned even further to bring me to a good-sized cairn. This was a puzzle, as only one other path led away, but headed downwards to the north. As I later confirmed (and is said clearly in the WH guide), there are two paths, the one that I'd been using and a wider, more eroded route that runs up the back of Am Fiaclach. This could have been an easier option in the mist and wind, but at least it minimised the amount of retracing steps required.

So, I did reach the bigger cairn at Carn Sasunnaich, but that was about 10 minutes of pacing later. The height loss along the way helped to confirm this and reassure me that my compass was not playing tricks. So I made a relieved descent along the worn path, without spotting quite where I'd separated and turned west on the way up. By now my main concerns were getting out of the weather and back down without incidents.

The slightly-steeper rocky section needed more attention with everything drenched by rain, but I returned to the bealach soon before 7:30 pm. I paused only briefly there before undertaking the remaining descent. Again, the eroded main path required care in the wet, but I was well below the cloud and so away from the worst of the wind and rain. It took less than 40 minutes to get back down to my car near the station, glad to have coped with the toughest hill and conditions of the round.

I nearly stopped by the Clachaig on my way back through Glencoe, but decided instead to postpone that treat and finish up some mussels in sauce that I'd cooked the night before. With a good dinner, a drink and my waterproofs dried out, hopes rose about tomorrow's forecast and getting some more walking done in the last few days of the trip.

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