After a failed attempt to climb Ben Chonzie over the Christmas break, I was eager to get my first winter Munros done as early as possible. After a lot of studying which hills would be viable options, bearing in mind that I’d need to be able to get to and from them via train or bus, I decided to punt for 2 of the Bridge of Orchy 5.
I caught the train from York just after 0730 on the Friday morning; travelling up to Edinburgh, across to Glasgow and them onto the train, bound for Fort William, just before 1230. I slept most of the way from York to Glasgow but kept myself awake on the trip from Glasgow to Bridge of Orchy. The weather was near perfect; cold, frosty, and clear blue skies. I was hoping it would continue through Saturday for my day on the hills.
As the train approached Arrochar, I was spoiled with picture perfect views of the Arrochar Alps, with The Cobbler standing proudly in the middle, unashamed of its non-Munro status; it certainly made a difference to the last time I was up there in September, climbing it in the mist.
As the train headed northwards, the views of the surrounding hills just got better and better. I really wished my geography was better than it is, so that I would have been able to identify the surrounding Munros by name.
After a very relaxing and enjoyable "2 Hour trundle", the train pulled into Bridge of Orchy Station. I was the only one to alight the train, and 2 minutes after the train continued on it's way, I was left standing on an empty platform in glorious afternoon sunshine looking up to my 2 intended targets for tomorrow.
I made my way down to the Bridge of Orchy Hotel, where I was booked in for two nights in their bunkhouse. The bunkhouse was pretty basic but what else would you expect. The hotel bar offered evening meals and breakfast but beans-on-toast did not make it onto the menu.
After an early meal in the bar and an early night, I was awake at 0730 and ready to start my day on the hills.
I set off from the foot of the hill (accessed via the subway at the train station entrance) at 0830, and with clear skies and no wind at all, it looked like I was in for a good day.
As I made my way up the hillside towards The Col, the snow on the hills was scattered and reasonably easy to walk on. The well documented mud path was well frozen and probably made for an easier accent than many summer walkers have reported. Apart from the occasional icy patch, under the surface power, the route to the foot of The Col was pretty steady, if a bit stop-start as I picked the best route upwards. Plenty of sheep roaming around and one small group of deer was the only disturbance to an otherwise silent landscape. It was cold, very cold, but the air was clean, the wind was somewhere else and the sun was promising to make an appearance at any moment.
Reaching about 600ft; the gradient increased considerable, so it was time to take a break, put on the crampons and switch the walking poles for the ice axe. Now the proper fun begins!
I reached The Col just before 1000, and was greeted by amazing view to the east, as well as a perfect view up to the North Ridge of Dorain to the south.
I started off up the route to the North Ridge, thinking that if I could reach the summit within 2 hours, I'd be a happy bunny. This was my first serious walk in the snow with my crampons, so as long as I got there safely, the time didn't matter. As I reached the first top on the ridge, my legs were starting to ache a bit. I think this was due to the temperature dropping from time to time when the very sparse cloud cover drifted over the tops, more than anything else. "Keep Moving" my head was telling my legs. "Stop Talking", my legs were thinking. I tried to concentrate on the spectacular views and ignore the burning in my legs. Stopping to take some pictures was the perfect excuse to give my legs some respite.
By the time I had crossed the last top before the true Summit, my legs were back to normal and I was simply enjoying the perfect conditions for winter walking. I was now enjoying the crisp powder beneath my feet and the crampons were working well. I reached the summit about 1145 and was pretty pleased with my timing.
Out with the flask for a hot cup of tea. A cheese roll, as well, to keep me going. (I decided to save my stove, sausages and beans for the next hill)
I set off, back along the ridge, about 1215 and was back at the descent down to The Col in just over an hour. I stopped just before making my way back down to take a few more pictures and to have a good look at Dothaidh to decide which route I would use to get to the Summit.
I even took the time to make a snow angel in the snow with the message "Hi Chase" next to it, for little boy, but I over-estimated my cameras capabilities so all I captured was the angel and "Hi"
Who doesn't like making snow angels?
After watching the majority of those tackling Dothaidh take the path towards the west top as their route to the Summit, returning via the east top, I decided that I’d be using the same route.
I started up the walk to the west top about 1300 and it was pretty steady going all the way. You don't, however, get to see your intended destination until you are within about 50ft of it. About half way up, I took the opportunity to take a picture of my route across the north ridge of Dorain, which was now sitting majestically in some low cloud.
I reached the west top just after 1400 and decided that it was now time for some well-deserved rolls and sausage with beans. The views north to the Mamores, Nevis & Rannoch Moor were superb but I was too busy making lunch to take any pictures. I make no apologies for that. Rested and re-fuelled, I set off for Dothaidh's Summit shortly before 1430.
After a 20 minute meander I reached my 2nd, and last, target of the day (1445).
A quick chat with the other walkers at the summit and it was time to head off down the hill, taking in the east top on the way.
The weather had been perfect all day long. Very cold in the morning (-10 was recorded by some of the climbers staying in the bunkhouse), but it didn't feel that bad, probably due to the glorious sunshine and there being almost no wind throughout the entire day.
The walk down from the East Top was in low cloud, and the views were non-existent for a while, but visibility was never really a problem.
I was back at The Col around 1530 and couldn't resist one last picture.
A classic TV advert, for an Australian lager, popped into my head as I looked down at the hotel.
"SNOWY. I CAN SEE THE PUB FROM HERE!"
I was back at the hotel shortly after 1600 and was very happy with my days achievements.
A great days walking in perfect winter conditions.
Standing in the bar, waiting for the staff to get my room key from reception, I hear…
"Hello, Big Brother".
Typical, I travel 300 miles to get away from everything and walk off the hill and into the bar where my little brother just happens to have stopped off at for a drink. A small world indeed.
Quick chat with Stuart - Shower and Nap - Meal in the bar - Bed.
Caught the coach back to Glasgow early Sunday morning,
Train out of Glasgow at 1230,
Home to Jess & Chase by 1500.
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Warning Please note that hillwalking when there is snow lying requires an ice-axe, crampons and the knowledge, experience and skill to use them correctly. Summer routes may not be viable or appropriate in winter. See winter information on our skills and safety pages for more information.