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A Corbett Pair For Steely Dan: Beinns Udlaidh & Bhreac-liath

PostPosted: Tue Nov 29, 2016 12:29 pm
by old danensian
For those of us whose musical tastes matured to the strains of Steely Dan during the 1970s there was only one place to be on the last Friday of November. As e-retail mayhem saw £15,000 a second being spent somewhere in cyberspace, a distantly remembered ear-worm lodged itself in my head. A set of lyrics persisted from long before the internet was invented, never mind the commercial scrum that we've imported from America.

"When Black Friday comes I'll be on that hill
You know I will

So, as Argos was reporting on the Today programme that they had half a million visits to their website in the first hour past midnight, I was heading north.

"Gonna do just what I please"

Simply getting out would please me: it had been over six weeks since I'd managed to set foot on anything remotely resembling a hill. With ever-shortening days, I'd already decided that Corbetts were going to be my winter focus and, like many of us I guess, there are plenty of them that we rush past in a slavish Munro dash. From the clutch around Glen Orchy, Beinn Bhreac-liath and Beinn Udlaidh were going to be my targets for the day. They would be my Black Friday bargains.

"Gonna wear no socks and shoes"

A chilly sub-zero start to Beinn Bhreac-liath along the Allt Ghamhnain

OK, you can stretch lyrical links a line or three too far and, as the temperature was minus 6 when I climbed out of the car there was no way the dress code was going to be that Spartan.

North over Bridge of Orchy and to Rannoch Moor

At home the night before, the pencil-straight broad ridge heading north to the summit of Beinn Bhreac-liath seemed to be the most attractive approach to the day's walk. An early strenuous pull up from the icy shade of the glen would keep the morning chill at bay, then the remainder of the route could be enjoyed in the sun with the height already gained.

Oh, it's just great when those sofa-bound plans work out.

Well it would have been. Instead, a thin skein of mist choose just that time to cling to the crest for the half hour or so it took me to walk from one end to the other. With only the occasional diaphanous view of Beinn Dorain seen through the mist, I walked in ethereal light towards the sun that hung just above the horizon. Every now and again a cluster of stones a few metres ahead masqueraded as the summit cairn. And, as with all those bargains you think you've bagged on the Internet, they each proved too good to be true.

Beinn Dorain from Beinn Bhreac-liath - one of the occasional glimpses

A mystical approach along the Lethchearcal to Beinn Bhreac-liath

When I finally reached the top, I waited. Well, they say the best comes to those who wait. Don't believe a word of it. The majority of times I've waited in the cold and clag "the best" has resolutely refused to appear. And Black Friday, for all its hope and promise, was no different.

And then the batteries on my GPS ran out.

With Boy Scout preparedness I grabbed the trusty Silva and postponed the electrical changeover until later. Marching on a south westerly bearing to begin the descent to the bealach, was like going back to those traditional days when you dashed out and bought all your presents in your lunch hour on Christmas Eve, not at three in the morning a whole month earlier.

Once below the cloud, Beinn Udlaidh lay before me, in all it's winter glory. Wending a way to the bealach, through patches of alternately soft and firm snow, was an almost effortless slalom plough downwards to the deer fence and the next clamber. There might have been a path somewhere beneath the snow but it didn't really matter.

Across to Beinn Udlaidh when the lists drifted away

Stob Ghabar, Creise and Meall a Bhuiridh in the north west

East face of Beinn Bhreac-liath - pick a route down, any route, and just slither

Unstable snow and unreliable crusts made the next hour interesting above the bealach, if a little hard work. A steep bit of step-kicking overcame one of the bands of outcropping rock, and a teeter along the top of the part-submerged wall meant that some of the knee-deep plunges were avoided. As the top of Beinn Udlaidh flattened out the going became easier and the summit cairn came into view. A few more despairing plunges and the second Corbett was reached. My Black Friday bag wasn't quite a "buy one: get one free" but it was nearly enough a two for the price of one day's effort. Who needs super fast broadband, but it was a good daily deal.

Ben More and Stob Binnein in the north east

Beinn Dorain

Now my wife keeps telling me that Scotland is just a village, and it never ceases to amaze me the number of times this observation is reinforced, especially on a hill. Having spent ten minutes sitting by the cairn on Beinn Udlaidh, munching on a pork pie, I was joined by another walker, suitably grateful for the footsteps in the snow he'd been able to follow: it transpired that we lived four miles from one another back in Ayrshire. I guess we're also generally like-minded souls and, when we chat, we look to make connections: the more we chat the more we make. However, that doesn't explain the geographic proximity that emerges so often.

Flat summit plateau of Beinn Udlaidh

Stob Ghabar from Beinn Udlaidh

Ben Lui and Beinn a Chleibh from Beinn Udlaidh

We went our separate ways from the top. I shunned the direct descent down the northern spur and back to the Allt Ghamhnain in favour of spending more time on the top: Black Friday had a few more hours left in it that could be enjoyed so I continued south west towards Meall Garbh. At the shallow saddle the line of a track could be made out beneath the snow that ran down the spur between Coire Daimh and Coire Seileach and into the woodlands below.

Mists approach from the south west before descending from Beinn Udlaidh

Iced crags of Coire Daimh

With largely firm snow and ground soft underfoot in the upper reaches it was an easy comfortable descent while watching the light playing on the hillsides as the sun set. Lower down, lengthy stretches of ice made for a few precarious and ungainly wobbles, and Glen Orchy Farm was reached unscathed. A clutch of inquisitive pigs greeted me near the farm buildings, sent skittering away with a wave of a walking pole.

Beinn Inverveigh and Glen Orchy

Final descent through the woods to Glen Orchy

For some, a walk back along a lengthy stretch of tarmac can be a dispiriting end to the day. On the other hand, I relished the still silence of the glen as the light faded. Spectacular rime-encrusted vegetation lined the road alongside the River Orchy and made for a peaceful amble back to the car.

A winter wonderland of rime

It's always satisfying to end the day in the dying light, knowing you've used the day to the full. All that remained was to grab a mug of tea in Tyndrum and head home with another set of lyrics infiltrating my mind.

By now, Black Friday lyrics had faded, but Steely Dan persisted. Hanging around in my mind since the early 1970s, it could only be:

"Do It Again"

Of course, all I've got to do now is get my Christmas shopping done. What's this Cyber Monday, or have I missed it?

Re: A Corbett Pair For Steely Dan: Beinns Udlaidh & Bhreac-l

PostPosted: Wed Nov 30, 2016 11:17 pm
by Graeme D
I always said Steely Dan knew the score! You just let these poor suckers stay glued to their tablets or queued outside Argos. They know not the value of things. You on the other hand my friend.......... 8) 8) 8) 8)

Re: A Corbett Pair For Steely Dan: Beinns Udlaidh & Bhreac-l

PostPosted: Thu Dec 01, 2016 9:22 am
by Mountainlove
Brilliant report and a way better way to spend Black Friday than being glued to the internet or shock horror having to go shopping!

Re: A Corbett Pair For Steely Dan: Beinns Udlaidh & Bhreac-l

PostPosted: Thu Dec 01, 2016 12:05 pm
by PeteR
As always Nigel a superbly written account. I get the impression these two hills get a bit of a bad press, but I certainly enjoyed my day on them. With that covering of snow too they look absolutely awesome :D