Five Bridge of Orchy Munros:
Beinn Mhanach, Beinn a' Chreachain, Beinn Achaladair, Beinn an Dothaidh & Beinn Dorain

Sunday 11th April 2010

Weather/Conditions: Beautiful weather - no cloud in any direction all day. Not too hot and never too cold, little or no wind. Views approx. 70 miles.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 31km / 2700m / 12h
Accompanying: Alone

The five Bridge of Orchy Munros are a dream come true. The weather this weekend was just fantastic - wall to wall sun - and still only April, not too hot either. The air was warm and the mountains looked fantastic. A spectacular thaw had taken place, finally releasing the mountains from the long and cold winter. That's not to say we won't get another dump of snow but at least for the while, things were looking and feeling like summer.

My first plan was to climb on Saturday, camp and then walk Sunday. There were a couple of problems with this though - first, my cheap sleeping bag wouldn't cope with the frigid night time temperatures, and second, I really didn't want to leave earlier on Saturday morning. I couldn't and didn't want to ge out of bed so I slept in and spent the morning pushing the blue skies outside to the back of my mind. If I didn't leave now, there would be no trip.

Then I realised I could take a late train up, spend Saturday preparing myself and book into the Bridge of Orchy bunkhouse on my arrival. Then I'd get a few hours sleep at the foot of the hills and head for the summits.

So that's what I did.

Once the pressure of having to leave on Saturday morning was released, my mood went through the roof and I couldn't wait to go. I took the train to Bridge of Orchy as the sun set the Loch Lomond hillsides on fire and arrived as it got dark. Various problems meant I had to move room twice, but I got settled into a room myself with the alarm set for 6ish. Having spent an hour outside doing some astrophotography on this beautifully clear night, I went to bed at midnight but didn't sleep until 1am.Before nodding off, I changed my alarm to 5am. I was going to get out early.

Munro #1 - Beinn Mhanach

Morning came. I was straight out of bed - it wasn't that comfy anyway - organised the few things needing organised, and then I was out the door. Light was spilling over the horizon when I began but it was otherwise almost dark. I started up the slopes the Beinn Dorain as it became light, reaching the 744m bealach in good time. But of course I wasn't heading for Dorain, but Beinn Mhanach instead. My plan was to climb the three Munros I hadn't been to yet, then do Dothaidh and Dorain (already climbed) if I was up to it.

So crossing the bealach, I headed down Coire a' Ghabhalaich, the valley that heads eastwards from Dorain. Although easy at first, it would become quite tedious to traverse the northern grassy slopes of the corrie. I was glad to be making good progress, although I knew my day had only just began. Beinn a' Chuirn's slopes became very steep, and were a real pain to traverse (it makes your feet fall at all kinds of angles) but above the angle eased, grasses thinned out, and a long slog took me to the summit cairn. What helped enormously was music, and Dream Theater's 'Falling Into Infinity' took me to the top. (I don't usually listen to music...)

The sun was rising. The day was awakening, the silence astounding. It was easy to get caught up in the volume of the music, but when I turned it off I was witness to some of the most profound sensations of silence and wide open Highland space I've ever experienced. I crossed the mile from Beinn a' Chuirn to Beinn Mhanach, the day's Munro #1, and 71 on the Munro count. I took a panorama, called home to touch base then went on my way to Beinn a' Chreachain.

Munro #2 - Beinn a' Chreachain

Having spent three hours gaining the first Munro summit, it wasn't nice to know a 600m climb came between me and Munro #2. I descended quickly to the river between Mhanach and Chreachain and spent 15 or 20 relaxing minutes on the bedrock, fuelled my body and saw to developing blisters. The sun was out, Achaladair's gentle slopes inviting. I lapped up sunshine and peace and happy I'd worked quite hard, though more was to come. I thought to myself there's no mobile signal here and no easy way out, but I was optimistic. I felt damn good.

I listened to Martyn Bennett's "Grit" on the way up to Chreachain. The slog turned out to be easier than I'd anticipated, although the coire was a little hot. Then I emerged on the ridge between Chreachain and Meall Buidhe and views opened up to the north - whoa! The spectacular views were refreshing and I climbed the remaining distance to the prominent summit of Beinn a' Chreachain, shorter than I'd anticipated it to be. The views were also breathtaking and expansive - I took a detailed panorama which at the bottom of the page is split into four 90˚ sections.

This summit cairn was the highest elevation on my route and also furthest from Bridge of Orchy. It was all a return journey from here, along the winding ridge over the Munros. The hard work was done I thought, the tedious coire's now finished with. I'm ridge walking now!

Munro #3 - Beinn Achaladair

So I headed down over Meall Buidhe, now enjoying the day, listening to my music and feeling completely inspired and invigorated. I wasn't even feeling that tired. I knew I was clocking up big mileage but I still felt good, if a little drained in the legs.

Meall Buidhe was an easy top, and then Achaladair presented itself in the most impressive of forms, it's east-facing shark tooth dappled in snow, profiled against the blue sky. It was on the ascent to this peak that I met the first person of the day, a guy that had done Dorain and had come across Dothaidh, Achaladair and was heading to Chreachain. He was heading back the way he came too!

Later in the day, I was asked where the "scrambly bit" was, to which I replied on the east ridge of Achaladair. In truth it was very easy and barely scrambling at all. No reason to be worried in any case...

I got to the top, then headed over to the cairn at 1036m (as opposed to the uncairned summit at 1038m further west) before concluding the unmarked 1038m ground was indeed the top. Now on the third summit, I phoned home like on Beinn Mhanach, took a panorama and continued loving the day. I headed across to Achaladair's South Top (a Munro Top) where I met another guy and then on the ridge south, met yet another who I later found out was a member of MunroMagic too.

Munro #4 - Beinn an Dothaidh

Now for #4 - My Munro count was standing at 73, but the remaining Munros were ones I'd done before. Beinn an Dothaidh was a long slog but remarkably easy. It rises 250m from the saddle to summit, although I seemed to get up quickly, following traces of a path here and there and hot on the heels of two guys 100m ahead of me, who came up from Achaladair Farm.

On the summit, now with plenty company to share the day with, I was told that the corries were stiflingly hot and I thought smugly that my plan for an early start had been nothing but a good call. I spent a long time relaxing on top, then got on my way to Dorain, not before taking a short visit to the 1000m west top. With lots of people now about, Beinn Dorain was todays last peak.

Beinn Dorain and Descent

It was a fine peak to finish on, although my legs were gone. I kept a strong pace, running on empty but enjoying doing so. I could give myself this battering because after Beinn Dorain I would return to the ground. I prepared myself for this walk partly by telling myself that if I was done in by the time I reached Beinn an Dothaidh, I would descend with my four Munros. Technically this was true, but I knew that once beneath Beinn Dorain, I wouldn't give it up, however knackered I felt.

And so ten hours after starting out from Bridge of Orchy, I crossed from the north top to the summit and collapsed on the warmth of the summit rocks, comprehending a goal now achieved. There couldn't be a more perfect afternoon to sit up here and drink the views, but Bridge of Orchy was calling. I'd get down in good time to catch my train, so I headed off and down to the bealach, descending into the warmth of the corrie below. Feet were aching, I was tired, but I would be down soon enough.

Going Home

Down at Bridge of Orchy, I headed down the train station access road towards the hotel when I heard the screeching of a car breaking. A car shot past the junction opposite the Hotel, tires smoking and screeching filling the air. Surreal, I thought. But there was no impact and for a while I thought everything was okay. Then people started running in that hurried way that they do when there's an accident scene and it wasn't all okay then.

The timing couldn't have been 'better' - just off the hills after 12 hours, I walked down to see a car half way off the road, lying in someone else's driveway beside the Hotel, but still upright. There were no injuries, but it looked as if they'd taken off the home owners car door and possibly clipped the owner of the car. I was told there was no casualties, just shaken parents and crying boys. And for a while I forgot all about my aching feet.

I got talking to one of the guys working at the Hotel (although I forget his name) who is travelling around the world, taking jobs here and there. I'd seen him the night before behind the bar and up on Beinn Dorain too. I left to get the train and outside the scene was bustling, fire engines and police cars now on the scene, seeing to the accident and managing traffic.

On the train home, never happier, I also got talking to a guy from Kilmarnock who with his sleeping pal had just finished cycling from Land's End to John O'Groats and were taking the train home. I got off the train at Dalmuir, glad to be home after such a successful trip, but enjoying hearing so many stories from people just travelling around the place... it's all really cool.

360° Panoramas

Beinn Mhanach

Beinn a' Chreachain

Beinn a' Chreachain 90° SW

Beinn a' Chreachain 90° NW

Beinn a' Chreachain 90° NE

Beinn a' Chreachain 90° SE

Beinn Achaladair

Beinn an Dothaidh

Beinn Dorain
Times (Time relative to 0.00)
(0.00) 5.30am Bridge of Orchy
(2.40) 8.10am Beinn a' Chuirn
(3.05) 8.35am Beinn Mhanach
(4.55) 10.25am Beinn a' Chreachain
(6.15) 11.45am Beinn Achaladair
(7.55) 1.25pm Beinn an Dothaidh
(8.25) 1.55pm Beinn an Dothaidh (left)
(10.00) 3.30pm Beinn Dorain
(12.00) 5.30pm Bridge of Orchy

Written: 2010-04-14 to 2010-05-11