Our blog - Orchy Munros, 17-19 Mar'18

A blog of our mountain adventures in Scotland, hiking, biking, rock-scrambling and more !

Munros above Bridge of Orchy

17-19 March 2018
Guided weekend in full winter conditions on the Munros above Bridge of Orchy. John King and Steven Fallon were leading....

Day 1 - Beinn Mhanach

With the "Beast from the East 2.0" set to strike over the weekend a change of plan was in order. We re-arranged our itinerary for the weekend and started our visit to the Bridge of Orchy hills with Beinn Mhanach. The forecast predicted strong to gale force easterly winds accompanied by frequent snow showers, so this rounded Munro at the end of Auch Glen offered a low-level approach which we hoped would keep us sheltered for most of the way. We could then make an ascent that avoided any avalanche hazard before briefly sticking our head above the parapet on the broad summit dome to reach the top before beating a hasty retreat back to the glen.

I met Abigail, Alex and Lee in Bridge of Orchy early on a bitterly cold Saturday morning and after a brief chat through the plan and fitting of some crampons we made our way along to the somewhat limited parking at Auch Farm. From here we set off on the long but fairly straight-forward walk up the glen but with the wind in our face and showers coming through we were well wrapped up and had to put our snow goggles on in the glen! Despite the conditions we made good progress and the frequent river crossings in the glen were overcome with little difficulty. We reached the farm buildings at Aisan t-Sithean, former home of the 18th century gaelic poet Duncan Ban MacIntyre, after an hour and a half's walk and we ducked in under the cover for some shelter and a quick snack before we tackled the mountain proper.

From the farm we made our way to the head of the glen and curved round into Strath Tarabhan where we then branched off the track and followed the west flank of the Allt a' Chuirn uphill. The east side of the burn was banked out with large drifts of snow, but the west side was scoured and icy, making easier walking conditions. The visibility had improved a little by this point and we were able to handrail the stream without issue. Above 600m we started to encounter hard neve so we cramponed up and continued to the bealach between the main summit of BeinnMhanach and it's subsidiary top, Beinn a' Chuirn.

Once at the bealach, the visibility unhelpfully dropped once again. Map and compass out, we navigated to the summit in full white-out conditions with almost no features to guide the way. It was hard work making our way up with the biting easterly wind stinging our faces and bombarding us with spindrift, but after just under half an hour's ascent the summit cairn came into view. It was a welcome sight! After a few quick summit selfies, we headed back from where we had come. Now with the wind at our backs we made quick progress to the bealach and off down the bank of the stream again. We stopped only briefly to take our crampons off as a prolonged snow shower passed through and made our way back to the farm buildings for a well-earned late lunch.

Back down in the glen, in typical fashion, the sun came out and the tops cleared! Although this was briefly a little disappointing, it made for a pleasant walk back to the cars and some dramatic views with the sunlight catching the large plumes of spindrift still blowing around the upper slopes. Just as we were getting back to the A82 the snow came through again and we were glad to dive back into the cars after a wild but successful day in the hills. We had certainly made the most it!

Day 2 - Beinn Dorain and Beinn an Dothaidh

John was with another group on Ben Nevis on the Sunday, so I was leading today's hike up some of my favourite mountains in the Southern Highlands.

With a good forecast predicted for today, I met Abigail, Lee, Alex and Nick in the large car-park by the Bridge of Orchy Hotel - some had driven a fair distance, and others just needed to roll out of bed having stayed in the comfort of the hotel (a birthday treat for one). It was cold - the "wee Beast of the East" was reluctant to leave - so we were al prepared for the conditions with full winter kit. Beinn Dorainn and Beinn an Dothaidh were our targets for the day (originally planned for yesterday, but we felt it would be safer for today) and looking uphill, we were hoping the mist currently enveloping the tops would clear.

Over the road (probably the most dangerous part of this outing) and up to the railway station, we headed under the railway and crossed the West Highland Way to begin our hike. Ground was very firm with ice as we started on the path which is normally pretty boggy. As we progressed, we were gradually caught up by two other folk - a couple of guys going ice-climbing on Beinn an Dothaidh's crags. As they passed, we decided it was time to get the crampons on - good choice and we made good progress. Up to the climb before the 744 col, we looked for 'islands of safey' in the snow and ice and in bits, dug our way up to the col. Wind was forecasted to be around 20-25mph - it ceratinly wasn't like that at the col, but we hoped that it was being funnelled through this gap and higher up the winds would get lighter.

They didn't ! Beinn Dorain first - we got to within 250m of the 'sassenach's cairn', in partial white-out with winds around 50mph. Through our hoods and goggles we tried to communicate and had to make a decision - we might make it to the first cairn, but with the twisting ridge beyond this, the likely build up of snow and ice on it and the near gale-force winds blowing across it, could we make it to the summit ? The decision was made to about turn :(

Not long before reaching back to the col, we found a neat little hollow and sheltered out of the winds for some food - cosy ! Some of the group were feeling cold and debate about Beinn an Dothaidh was had whilst munching jelly-babies. I suggested continuing to the cairn at the col and make a decision there - the 'hills will be there another time' attitude was opted for and we binned Beinn an Dothaidh for another time.

We had a bit of fun coming down from the col and met up with the two climbers again - they'd also been thwarted by the conditions, reaffirming our decision !

Day 3 - Beinn a'Chreachain and Beinn achaladair

The forecast for Monday was the kind that all mountaineers dream about. No wind, plentiful sunshine, extensive snow cover and sub-zero summit temperatures. Driving across Rannoch Moor early in the morning the views were outstanding. You could tell it was going to be a very good day!

Abigail, Lee and myself were joined by Chris for the day. We were all early meeting at the car park near Achaladair Farm so we set off promptly at 8.30am and made our way along past the farm through a myriad of gates, the plan being to tackle the hills in a clockwise direction. Soon we joined the track that leads to the remote bothy at Gorton and followed this until the bridge where it crosses the Water of Tulla. I decided that it would be best if we stuck to the south side of the river from here on rather than stay with the track and risk trying the ford the river upstream to get back onto the right side for our hills.

The walk on the south side of the river passes through scenic native woodland, a remnant of the ancient Black Wood of Rannoch. There were quite a few deer around and tantalizing glimpses of the mountains but it was rough going with various sections overgrown or blocked by fallen trees. Some form of saw would have been helpful to clear our path!

It was a relief when we made it to the other side of the woods and emerged onto open hillsides. After a well earned break we turned up hill and made our way up to join the ridge to the summit of Beinn a' Chreachain at about 950m on the east side of the impressive Coire an Lochain. There were a few patches of fresh windslab about but for the most part we were ascending on hard neve and crampons were on from around 550m. There were also clear signs of quite a few avalanches visible on steeper areas. None of them looked recent but there was a particularly impressive crown wall below the summit on the northeast face of the mountain.

It had been hard, warm work to get up high, but joining the ridge gave us a pleasant high-level walk to the summit with almost endless snow covered peaks stretchingaway in all directions. We reached the summit around 1.30pm and enjoyed lunch with views out over the expanse of Rannoch Moor to Lochaber with the peaks of Glen Affric and Glen Strathfarrar in the distance. The Cairngorms were visible to the east, the Lomonds of Fife to the south and the Paps of Jura to the west. It all had a very alpine feel to it.

After the obligatory summit group photo we headed off west and followed the undulating and broad ridge westwards over the Munro Top, Meall Buidhe and onto Beinn Achaladair. The walking was a breeze along the tops with perfect snow conditions and we had quite a few stops for photo opportunities. The final climb to the summit of Achaladair was steep but the neve allowed us to get into a rhythm such that it was quickly overcome and we made another stop at the summit to enjoy the panorama once more that now included a view down over Loch Tulla and west to the peaks of the Black Mount.

Leaving the summit shortly before 4pm we headed down over the South Top and descended to the bealach with Beinn an Dothaidh. Entering the shade it got notably colder and sunglasses went in the rucksack for the first time all day. We didn't hang around and marched on down the coire linking patches of hard snow together to keep our crampons on as long as we could. As the sun started to set in the west the hills we had climbed were lit an amazing amber colour while the Black Mount were set in a perfect silhouette against a clear sky with a small sliver of a crescent moon rising above the horizon. We made it back just before headtorches were required, tired but satisfied after a perfect day that more than made up for the conditions of the previous two days !

More photos by John, Steven and some of the group are here on Flickr.

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