A fantastic day walk taking in the five Munros to the east of the Bridge of Orchy in the West Highlands with views to Rannoch Moor, Glencoe and beyond.
Date: 14th September 2013
Hills: Beinn Dorain [Munro], Beinn an Dothaid [Munro], Beinn Achaladair [Munro], Beinn a' Chreachain [Munro], Beinn Mhanach [Munro]
Weather: Early cloud inversion clearing to sun and showers throughout the day
Route: Click to view on Social Hiking
Staying over at the Youth Hostel in Crianlarich meant that, on Saturday morning, rather than a 3 hour drive from Aberdeen leaving home at 5am, I had a 15 minute drive leaving the hostel at 7:30am. It was a little misty down in Crianlarich but the sun was shining in Tyndrum when I passed through a few minutes later. By the time I pulled into the scrappy layby near the entrance to Auch Estate a few minutes south of the Bridge of Orchy it was thick mist and very poor visibility.
My original plan for the weekend had been an overnighter with a camp up by Loch Lyon on Saturday night. However, the weather forecast was for the first serious autumn storm system moving in and by Sunday daybreak it was supposed to be extremely windy and rainy. Now, I don’t mind waking up to some drizzle but the thought of walking out wet, and then driving home through bad conditions for three hours didn’t really appeal. So I modified my plans, ditched all the camping gear in the boot of the car, and set off with a light day pack and a plan to see how far around the planned route I would get (given the topography of these hills it would be easy to cut the route short at several points). That route is one of Dan Bailey’s 50 Great Mountain Days in Scotland, a Cicerone book that is fast becoming my favourite route guide for long single days or pleasant overnighters. It involved climbing all five of the Munros east of the Bridge of Orchy which are typically climbed in two groups of two, and a one.
The walk started off gently enough. From the main road the Auch estate road is followed down across the wide, flat strath through which the river Kinglass flows. Everything was shrouded in thick mist and soon I left behind the traffic noise and the barking of dogs at one of the estate buildings. I crossed over the river and a short distance later the curved railway viaduct appeared out of the gloom. Beyond it the hills of the Auch Glen rapidly crowd in and dark walls rear up on either side, their tops craggy and forbidding as cloud thickened and thinned about them.
As I got further down the glen, the gentle bubble of the river Kinglass besides me, the weather started to improve. There were glimpses of blue sky above and in patches a watery sun was making its way down to the glen floor. After crossing the river and passing a small plantation I left the good track and started my ascent of the northern side of the glen. Ultimately this would lead me up to the summit of Beinn Dorain by its less visited north-eastern ridge. The climb was steep on trackless, wet grass that tested the traction of my footwear. I made steady progress though and it wasn’t long before I was able to define craggy shapes above me, dark against a clear blue sky.
Just a few metres higher up I popped above the mist completely. A perfect inversion filled the lower part of the Auch glen, illuminated by the rising sun. The cool temperature of the glen was left behind and I was down to base-layer as I wound my way around the crags on the loosely defined eastern ridge of Meall Tionail.
The slope eased and I found myself on a rolling grassy plateau where a few sheep were grazing. All around were fabulous mountain views, particularly to the northeast where the mist was breaking up in the Auch glen and Loch Lyon could be seen beyond Beinn Mhanach’s green, grassy slopes. There was a little cloud still playing around the Munros that surrounded me, including Beinn a’ Dothaid and Beinn Achaladir but further east the hills were cloud free.
Behind me the dark slopes of Meall Garbh rose up towards Beinn Dorain. I wound my way across the lumpy ground until I hit the bouldery north east ridge. It was a sharp, steep pull up but the terrain wasn’t too tricky and I gained height quickly. Behind me the views developed over the Mamlorns. Sadly as I climbed the cloud thickened all around me. One by one the summits were lost from view and finally I was walking in mist up to the cairn marking the subsidiary top of Meall Garbh.
It was a little disappointing after the earlier sunshine but the pleasant ridge walking was enjoyable and the yawning gulfs as the crags on the south side plunged away into the Auch glen were spectacular, half veiled by the mist.
Soon enough I pulled up to the large cairn marking the end of the north east ridge and immediately picked up the baggers path that took me along the undulating south-west spur to the summit itself. All was quiet and I found no-one but a couple of corvids at the Munro’s cairn. The mist muted the traffic noise from the A82 below and I enjoyed a quiet few minutes eating some food and looking out for any thinning of the mist.
It didn’t seem to be happening so I once more shouldered my pack and headed back along the ridge, following the bagger’s path as it rapidly lost height through an eroded gully. As I descended I started to meet a few folk coming up from the bealach. The cloud thinned as I got below the 800m contour and I enjoyed fine views up towards Glen Lyon and across Loch Tulla towards the Black Mount and Etive hills.
The majority of people were heading for Beinn Dorain first so it was a quiet track that took up the slopes of Beinn an Dothaid on the far side of the bealach. The track is a good one, bypassing the steeper crags above the Bridge of Orchy and slowly contouring up into a high coire below the summit.
Rather than head directly for the summit I climbed up trackless grassy slopes to the western top. It was gratifying to see that the improvement in the weather had continued apace and so I enjoyed fine, expansive views out over Rannoch Moor to where Glen Coe and the big hill groups of the West Highlands stood still largely shrouded.
After a short break here I picked up the southern lip of Coire Achaladair with views across to Beinn Achaladair and made my way along the ridge to the Munro summit of Dothaid. Here I stopped for lunch, enjoying the views as they opened out around me.
From the summit I continued east to the final top which marks the start of a steep, grassy descent down to the pronounced bealach separating Dothaid from Achaladair. By now the sun was out and it was an enjoyable stretch of grassy ridge along from the bealach towards Achaladir.
The views out over Rannoch Moor and toward Loch Lyon were spectacular and everything looked a lot mroe summery now with the sun streaming down between fast moving clouds.
Achaladair is a long mountain with a flattish summit ridge marked by a series of cairns and rocky crests. The views from the winding path up from the coire to the summit itself were fabulous though it was clear more interesting weather was coming in as showers swept across Rannoch Moor from Glencoe. Meanwhile in the east the sun was shining over the Lawers Range.
I hit the Munro summit itself but continued on a short way to a more distinctive cairn where there was a good spot to sit with my legs dangling over the edge looking down on the railway as it curves away from the road and making its way towards remote Rannoch Station. I drew my hood up as the rain arrived and looking back the way I had come saw that Beinn Dorain and Beinn an Dothaid were now covered once again by cloud. The long range visibility was good and I could see the end of Loch Ericht framed by the hills on either side.
With the weather closing in I carried on, wondering whether I would get much of a view on the remaining two Munros. The eastern side of Beinn Achaladair is spectacular with path following the edge of its steep flanks where crags plunge down towards the forestry far below. I wound my way down the ridge enjoying some occasional brief scrabbles down rocky steps. The views had largely gone as I reached the bealach.
From the bealach the terrain returned to its more normal grassy self and it was a steady plod up the other side onto Beinn a' Chreachain's southern top. Behind me Beinn Achaladair's dramatic profile was revealed in full as the light continued to change over Rannoch Moor.
The clouds swept in and the hills were obscured as I started the final climb up Beinn a' Chreachain's steep western side. I gave into the rain and donned full waterproofs. The rain didn't relent until the final walk along the ridge to the large cairn marking the summit of the day's fourth Munro.
The mist swirled as I sat and had a drink and something to eat. I'm sure this must be a fantastic vantage point for Loch Lyon and the Lawers range but after twenty or so minutes I still hadn't seen anything so I traced my steps back to the start of the descent path. I'd only taken a few steps down when the clouds suddenly cleared and there was blue sky around again. I turned and headed back up to the shoulder of the Munro to catch some striking views across Rannoch Moor and up to the summit which gradually appeared out of the gloom.
The day was progressing and late afternoon light bathed the hills as I descended back off Beinn a' Chreachain, mostly following my outward footsteps to the col below Beinn Achaladair.
The final Munro of the round could now clearly be seen, standing somewhat on its own with steep slopes guarding all sides.
As I approached the bealach I turned downslope to follow the gentle coire across a number of streams to reach the col below Beinn Mhanach. I had been a little concerned that there might be stalking going on in this remote area but there was no sign of movement as I surveyed the scene and I was soon enough across and picking my way up to the saddle before the summit of Beinn Mhanach.
The southern top, Beinn a' Chuirn, was just a short distance away so I decided to visit that first, knowing that the descent from Beinn Mhanach itself was somewhat gentler.
After this brief detour I headed over to Beinn Mhanach. Since the clearing on the previous hill the weather had only improved and now the views were grand and the Mamlorns across Loch Lyon were catching some beautiful evening sunshine as the shadows lengthened. It was a glorious time to up high, all alone on the fifth and final Munro of the trip and I spent ages watching the shifting light and soaking up the views.
Conscious of a long drive ahead and that the weather couldn't last forever I tore myself reluctantly away from the summit and started my descent, following an easy line down into the Auch Glen which opened up below me.
Soon enough I was down and on the good track that would take me all the way back to the car. The going was largely uneventful as the clouds thickened and the beautiful light faded. Someway down the glen I found the track taken over by a heard of cows with calves. Not wanting to cause any disturbance I crossed the stream and thwacked my way through heather and bog to go around them, rejoining the track once I had passed them.
After that it was all straightforward and soon enough the viaduct appeared and the hills receded. The mist had returned to the crags around Beinn Dorain and there was the slightly unusual sight of a tent pitched directly under the viaduct to take in before I was climbing back up the road to the car.
Stretches and a change of clothes and then it was down to Tyndrum for a fish supper at the Real Food Cafe before a dark but easy drive back across the country to Aberdeen. A long but rewarding day.
I was slightly sad not to be still out in the tent but the weather on the Sunday lived up to predications and I was glad I had made the call to squeeze it into a day. Sometimes its good to do long miles and see the changing light and perspectives all in one go.