A short overnighter making the most of excellent April weather taking in the Munro of Beinn Bhuidhe after a wild camp on neighbouring Beinn Chas
Wild Camp on the summit of Beinn Chas (NN 198 162)
Hills: Beinn Bhuidhe (Munro, 949m)
Route: View on OS Maps
Saturday 18th April 2015
It started with a couple of gulps of very sweet cider, consumed sitting outside the Drover’s Inn in the late afternoon sunshine after a great day climbing Beinn Chabhair with Matt and Jenny. I was suddenly feeling energised and rather than taking the easy option - camping at Ben Glas Farm with an evening meal at the Drovers - I got in the car and, after a quick map check, headed south and west. I followed the main road around via Tarbet, Arrochar and the Rest and Be Thankful before pulling in to the walker’s car park at the head of Loch Fyne, just up from the famous oyster bar. It was about 6:15 with the sun due to set around 8:30.
The evening was as good as they get with a soft, golden light and a pleasant temperature. There was barely any breeze and the only sounds were the birds chirping and a farmer making his way along the track to feed his cattle. Although I was in the deep shade of the glen as I made my way past the hydro plant at Clachan, the far hillside was bathed in sunlight, the faded russet of last year's bracken stretching up to the crags.
The gravel road beyond the hydro plant led me to the quarry workings which were quiet at this late hour of the day. I moved quickly between the large piles of gravel and stationary machinery, seemingly able to always make the right choice amongst the confusing maze of twists and turns. On the far side of the quarry I left the main glen road and followed a branching track that took me up to the forestry above Mark Park.
With only a couple of hours until sunset I was keen to find the shortest route up on to the western side of the glen where I hoped to find a good view out towards the west. The track climbed up through the still, tall pines where it was dusky and quiet before reaching the open hillside and continuing its climb up towards the bealach below Newton Hill.
I did intend to go all the way up to the bealach and tackle the trackless slope up to the broad ridge of the 680m high Beinn Chas from there. However, as I gained height a quick survey of the hillside led me to conclude that a straight ascent wouldn’t have that many disadvantages and would hopefully buy me a few more minutes of daylight.
A few minutes later as I scrambled up through the dead bracken I was regretting that decision slightly, but as I gained height I got through the steepest part of the slope and soon found myself winding through crags and up the last couple of gullies before the gradient eased and I crossed the sloping ground up towards the summit.
It was with great joy that I suddenly found myself with the sun shining straight in my eyes. It was 7:40, a full 50 minutes before sunset. I’d covered 5km and gained 680m of height from a sea level start in around 1.5 hours. There were grand views east and north east to the hills of Arrochar and across the reservoir of the Allt na Lairige to the Tyndrum hills
The top of Beinn Chas is a long, undulating ridge that runs south west to north east. At its northern end it drops down to a complex bealach below the Munro of Beinn Bhuidhe, this trip’s main target. On the south western end it drops steeply down towards Loch Fyne with a wind farm straddling its upper slopes. This was invisible from the summit though, the only evidence of its existence being the pylons climbing up the hillside in Glen Fyne.
I made my way across to the summit cairn, crossing a low fence on the way, and then had a quick scout around for a spot to pitch the tent. After a reasonale dry spell most of the ground was suitable and I soon found a comfortable, flat spot just below the summit and adjacent to a small pool of calm water.
The tent went up quickly in the still conditions and a snow bank on the eastern side of the summit yielded a good trickle of fresh water from which I filled up my Platypus for the night.
Then it was back to the tent to take in the views and enjoy the last warmth and sunlight of the day.
I got dinner on, a Chicken Korma curry with rice from Mountain Trails which proved very satisfying. As the stove was coming up to boil the sun dropped below the horizon.
The colours flared up as a burnt orange crept up from the hills of Mull which were dark silhouettes in the distance. The light faded and bright Venus was soon joined by the first twinkling stars of evening.
By the time dinner was done, rounded off by a cuppa and a slice of battenberg cake, it was fully dark, the sky was full of stars and the temperature had fallen appreciably. I spent a while happily stargazing before getting into the sleeping bag for a cosy listen to The Outdoor Station - Bob’s fourth wild camp of his twelve month challenge was tonight's episode.
Sunday 19th April
I slept really well after the long previous day, waking up just a few minutes before my alarm which had been set to catch the sunrise just after 6am. It was already bright outside and though I was warm and comfy I managed to rouse myself for a look about.
The sky was a wonderful shade of pinky-blue with pale clouds streaking across, particular east over the hills of Arrochar. As I paced about, the cool air catching the back of my throat, the sun appeared beyond the Tyndrum hills and the world lit up.
From the summit cairn I watched as the morning light started to glide over the surrounding landscape until it finally touched the tent. A few of the Munros visible were attracting a little cloud cover but in broad terms it looked to be shaping up for a repeat of the previous day.
Back at the tent I got hot water on for a camp mocha and enjoyed a healthy, hearty breakfast of two cereal bars, some cashew nuts and a pork pie…! Given that it was a long drive back to Aberdeen I was keen to be on my way, making the most of the good weather and getting up onto the Munro early to enjoy the solitude of this less visited corner of the Highlands. My overnight point had been chosen carefully - I now had just a couple of kilometres and very little height loss to reach the final climb up to the summit ridge of Beinn Bhuidhe itself.
By 7:30 the tent was down and I was packed away, striding off along the ridge of Beinn Chas towards Beinn Bhuidhe, which looked reasonably close from here. The going was pretty easy, the ridge broad but undulating with the occasional bog or pool to avoid. I passed a strange looking research station and then the ground started to fall away to the bealach.
Here the ground was much more complex with more lochans to circumvent and narrow defiles that prevented me taking anything like a straight bearing. The sun was bright and macro-navigation was easy though as I made for a point which looked to be directly below the main weakness in Beinn Bhuidhe’s long , steep, eastern wall. There were still hanging cornices and snow patches evident in gullies but it mostly looked clear. My main concern was the north-eastern summit slopes where snow patches were likely to be holding on. I decided that the good weather the previous day would have encouraged at least a few visitors and so I was likely to find a well-stomped path through any lingering soft snow.
From here there were grand views back across Glen Fyne to the reservoir of An Lairige with the Crianlarich hills emerging from the early haze. I also got my first look at an ugly new hilltrack which has been bulldozed to within just a couple of hundred metres of the foot of Beinn Bhuidhe.
Here my course finally intersected the guidebook route that comes up from Glen Fyne near the ruined cottage of Inverchorachan. Here there was a faint track and plenty of boot prints crossing the large snow patches that sat in front of the final low point before the slope began.
The ascent to the ridge proved relatively straight forward. There was an easy angled snow slope and then a wet path up to a gully. The path was muddy but avoided any real difficulties. At the bottom of the gully there was a much larger snow patch, but by climbing up a steep, grass slope on the right I was able to soon rejoin the route after missing out the snow. After that there were no more difficulties and I was soon nearing the ridge. The views had opened out behind me as the Arrochar Hills appeared more fully, their tops clearing of the earlier cloud.
There was more snow at the ridgeline but again it was easy to bypass this once again and soon I was up, the views immediately opening up to the north-west where the whole of the Cruachan range of hills was strung out with Loch Awe visible to the west.
A clear path followed the eastern side of the ridge as it curved slowly up towards the summit. The morning was still young and bright and the views were excellent, though it was evident there was cloud and mist moving about. For a few minutes even the summit of Beinn Bhuidhe disappeared from sight but as I started the main pull up it reappeared.
To the north now marched the long line of hills marking the Black Mount and behind me Ben Lui put in a brief appearance emerging from behind the shoulder of Beinn Bhuidhe's northern top.
Ahead of me was the one thing I was worried about. At a narrowing of the ridge a decent snowpatch remained, its crest notched, with a steep plunge down the north side of the hill. A clear set of tracks climbed up it and next to them was the sign of someone who had glissaded down, their slide stopping alarmingly close to the drop off on the east. Ignoring the steep drop I slowly and carefully climbed up the steps, enlarging them where required. It was mostly fine but about three or four steps, four-fifths of the way up, felt particularly exposed. I was very glad when the gradient eased off and I found myself back on solid, grassy ground. Here there was a good view down onto Beinn Chas and the spot I had camped as well as north-east across the An Lairige reservoir where the mist was blowing in from.
The path now wound its way up the final part of the ridge, avoiding any further snow and soon I was standing on the summit, a small cairn marking the top of this remote Munro.
The views were clear out west but behind to the east cloud had been gathering and was now being blown through on a chill wind. The views were briefly veiled but I took the opportunity to sit down, have a breather and some food and enjoy the solace.
A few minutes later the mist had blown through and it was looking much clearer. Cloud continued to worry some of the other peaks visible but I was back in the sunshine. The views from this remote peak are excellent with a vast swathe of the central Highlands visible from Cruachan across to Tyndrum and Crianlarich. These latter hills were largely lost in the mist and in the east Arrochar was visible only occasionally, one such glimpse giving me a dramatic sight of Ben Lomond.
I stayed on the summit in the sunshine for a good thirty or forty minutes, finding it hard to tear myself away from this sublime spot. Eventually though it became chilly enough that rather than dig into my bag for another layer, I decided to get moving, gathering up my things and leaving the summit behind.
I returned to the top of the snow slope and readied myself to descend. A few slow steps down and suddenly a couple of guys and a whole pack of dogs appeared. I shouted down that they could come up if they wanted but they were happy for me to descend first, which I did, slowly, facing into the slope. The first few steps were the worst but it soon got easier and then I was saying hello to the pair who had camped down in Glen Fyne and made good time to get up here.
Now I followed the enjoyable path back along the ridge and then, rather than heading down the gully, continued on until I was at the far end where the northern top rose up above the saddle.
Here I briefly scouted the downward route which looked fine and then headed up the short, steep incline to the top. This summit is just below Munro height but nevertheless has fine views, especially back west to the main summit.
I spent a few minutes up here looking out east to the Crianlarich Hills under wonderful cloud-streaked blue skies, to the Tyndrum hills with Ben Lui now attracting a more permanent cloud cap, and northwest across lonely Lochan Shira towards the Cruachan range.
From this vantage point I could see the guys and their dogs making the return back down the upper slopes of Beinn Bhuidhe.
After taking in my fill of the views I descended back down to the ridge and then started down the gently inclined slopes below the top, which angled their way back down to the bealach I had approached from.
This made for a very easy descent, the slopes more gentle and the snow patches easily avoidable when required. I was soon picking my way down to the ugly new road which has been bulldozed through here from the bealach to the west. It was difficult to get down the very steep banks of the road cutting and I was glad to get across it and start descending the steep grass slopes into Glen Fyne.
The descent was slow going. There were only occasional traces of a path and the ground was steep and slippery in places. Over to the west I could see the better trodden path that comes up from Glen Fyne besides the Allt na Faing. This had a reputation for some interesting scrambling in parts which I didn't fancy discovering in descent. I spotted a couple of figures heading up the track.
Further down things got easier as a faint track appeared. I crossed a rough pasture, passed a couple climbing up with their dogs and then dropped down the final grassy slopes to the ruins of Inverchorachan in Glen Fyne. By this point layers had been shed as the loss of height brought a marked increase in temperature. The day was perfect as blue skies stretched out overhead. There were excellent views up the rapidly narrowing Glen Fyne from here with the Munro of Beinn Dubhchraig dominating the view to the north.
I soon reached the landrover track and followed it a short way down the glen until a way down to the river and a few warm rocks presented the ideal opportunity for lunch. Here I sat down, took off my shoes and socks, and soaked my feet in the cold, cold river water as it flowed quickly past. With the sun high it was blissful to stop here and eat food.
After this pleasant break I continued to follow the landrover track westward. The going was very easy and my pace picked up as I gradually returned to the more civilised parts of Glen Fyne. In the stretches of woodland bordering the river there were primroses and wood anemones.
Further down the glen there were houses and farms, people out in their gardens and sheep and cattle in the fields. Young lambs were sunning themselves by the side of the road, unwilling to move even when I stopped to take a photo.
I crossed the river and then followed the metalled road down the opposite side of the glen to which I had come the previous evening. There was a herd of Highland cattle to pick my way around carefully, keeping a way eye on the calves dotted amongst them, then I passed a chap out riding his bike and then I was coming round the corner to the pleasant location of the Fyne Ales brewery at Achadunan.
Had I not already had lunch this would have made a very pleasant stop but instead I took the opportunity to pick up a mixed box of ales, figuring the car was only a short walk away now. I carried this down the road, bordered by daffodils and crossed the river one final time just up from the loch to get me back to the car.
It had been an excellent trip, making the most of the long drive to this southwest corner of the Highlands. In the sunshine the drive back was long but enjoyable. I stopped off at Comrie Croft for afternoon tea and a scone and then scooted back up the A90, arriving back in Aberdeen just on 6pm and in time for a hearty fish supper washed down with a nice Black Cuillin purchased from the shop in Stonehaven a few days previous.