After yet another week of un-Scottish summer, I formed a plan to get as far away from Donald Trump, who was forecast to arrive in Scotland, like an unwanted storm, on Friday to play golf. A quick look at the map, and a battle with the Citylink website suggested that heading up to the munros near Bridge of Orchy was a real possibility. Armed with this knowledge, and aided by the University closing at 3pm for Glasgow Fair I caught the bus, and headed North, away from the US President.
My plan was to climb to the summit of Beinn Dórain on Friday evening, and camp there. The climb up to the bealach was fairly straight-forward, if perhaps not the most exciting of climbs, and after around an hour I’d reached the cairn marking the fork in the path; on the right Beinn Dórain, and on the left Beinn an Dothaidh. The evening was clear and sunny still, but after another 100m of climbing things started to change, quite fast. Around half way from the bealach to the summit the cloud closed in, and the visibility was reduced to a few metres. I managed to wander along the path, starting to become a little worried that I’d stopped climbing, and seemed to be on a path which was contouring. A quick check with the GPS confirmed my suspicions, and I was left with the option of either scrambling up to the summit, or retracing my steps. I chose the former, and after a couple of minutes of straight-forward scrambling reached a cairn. From there I could just-about make out a second, much larger cairn. That was the (no-doubt affectionately-named!) Sassenach’s Cairn, which was a short distance from the true summit. I’d planned to make camp here, as it looked like it had more flat ground than the true peak. Since the clag had well-and-truly closed-in, I went ahead and pitched the tent, in the hope things would clear up enough to see my path to the true summit, and more crucially, a decent decent path towards Beinn Mhanach for the morning. After a couple of hours, I’d given up, and had retreated to the comfort of my sleeping bag, and the dulcet tones of Roy Dotrice reading A Clash of Kings. Just as I was nodding off I noticed a bright light coming through the tent from the West. The cloud had cleared, and for 15 minutes I was treated to one of the most dramatic sunsets I’ve ever experienced, looking over an inversion in the valley below me.
The rest of the night was to be cold and windy, however, and when I woke up at 6, planning to make a 7am start on the remainder of the Orchy munros the cloud was still thick, and the wind strong and cold. I decided to wait another hour, in the hope conditions would improve.
I eventually decided that I wasn’t overly keen on trying to pick a decent route towards Mhanach with the poor visibility. However, after breaking camp, I picked my way along the path to the summit, and bagged Beinn Dórain (1074m). The strength of the wind had made my mind up. I wasn’t keen on trying to manage all five munros in the time I had (since I needed to catch the last bus back to Glasgow that night), carrying the full weight of my camping gear, so I descended back to the bealach, where I met a group of three walkers who had camped below the bealach, and had probably had a more restful night than I’d managed (they’d not lost enthusiasm for completing the round, anyway!). I think they may have been slightly alarmed to have been beaten up the hill in the morning before I confessed that I’d cheated by sleeping on it.
Feeling slightly buoyed by the improved visibility at the bealach I decided to climb Dothaidh, and I’d make my mind up about the other three once I got to the top. The visibility stayed pretty good as I ascended. The climb was easy, although I ended up taking a slightly boggier-than-optimal route, and it only took half an hour form the bealach to the summit. However, visibility here was even poorer than it had been at the summit of Dórain. I’d been looking forward to the views from the summit over Rannoch Moor, and, faced with a head wind for the next few kilometres I gave into temptation, and turned back down to the bealach, drawn by the thought of a hot lunch at the Bridge of Orchy Hotel.
I met up with the three early-risers I’d bumped into earlier again at the bealach, exchanged notes about the visibility, and then headed back down towards the A82, defeated. I passed plenty of people who were on their way up, most of whom asked if was windy at the top (once I reached a mirror I discovered that the combination of wild-camping and windy summits had restyled my hair, and I had that highly-desirable wind-battered look). I reached the railway underpass, with mixed emotions, around 1 o’clock, and headed straight to the hotel to get a cup of tea to warm up. Suitably re-tea-ed and re-fish-and-chipped I found myself with almost six hours to kill before the bus I was booked on. It turns out the river by the Bridge of Orchy makes a suitable place for a nap to make up for a poor night’s summit sleep.
Just before I caught my bus back I ran into the early-rising group of walkers once again. They’d done all five munros; apparently the weather on the far three had been great. Ahh, regret. I’ll have to come back again soon and finish the round.