Friday, 20 May 2016

A grand day out: 5 munros near Bridge of Orchy

It’s hard to say what I missed the most in my year out: the routine of the daily miles, the adrenaline of a world championship start line, or the breathtaking views from mountain summits.  At least it was the mountains that I dreamt about the most.

I’d hated watching other people head out on fun adventures whilst I was confined to the sofa. So when Murray decided to run the five munros round Bridge of Orchy last weekend, I decided that I wasn’t going to miss out again.

The only problem was that the route was 35km and 2200+ metres of climb. My longest hill run so far was a generous 16km and included a third of the climb. With a walk/camp in the previous night and a pick-up at the end, I got this down to 27km – probably manageable but enough out of my comfort zone to be buzzing with excitement.

The view down the glen at 9pm when we were walking in to camp.

Happy camper walking in along the Allt Kinglass.

Our wee tent on the left still not quite getting the sun when we woke up.
I went ‘backwards’ round the route – starting with Ben Mhanach before hitting the main ridge. See later notes on why I strongly advise against it, but it at least got the main track run and climb done while there was some spring in the legs. I can’t say it was the most pleasant of ascents, contouring across gullies, but the views from the top were worth it.

First summit of the day - Beinn Mhanach

View back to Ben Lui (I think)

Where I was heading - summit 2 - Beinn a'Chreachain

I was still moving fairly well on the next big climb up to Beinn a’Chreachain, buoyed by the realisation that the weather was not going to give me the hail and snow flurries forecast but bluebird skies instead. Beinn a’Chreachain was a fine hill, with a final rocky climb and views all the way to Loch Ericht/Ben Alder munros to the north-east, Glencoe in the west, and the incredible Rannoch Moor in between. Quite literally breath-taking.

Summit 2 - Beinn a'Chreachain

Rannoch Moor and beyond. Ben Alder in the distance.

The view northwest

The ridge I was about to run. Summit 3 on the ridge, Summit 4 peeking out just behind, and Summit 5 far left.

The third summit (Beinn Achaladair) was the easiest physically as it was ‘just’ a run a long a ridge. There was a final kick up to the actual summit but I found a scramble-y path very close to the crag edges which focused the mind somewhat. The actual summit didn’t seem to have a cairn on it, but I met the first hill walker (and dog) of day to share some appreciation of the surroundings.

Summit 3 - Beinn Achaladair and a few Starav hills behind

Loch Tulla and beyond

Summit 2 now impressively looming ahead

Things were all going pretty smoothly until the bealach before Beinn an Dothaidh. Then they really took a turn for the worse. I meandered up the 200m of climb, picking up odd snow patches as I was in need of rehydration (not recommended). I’d been out close to 4 hours by this point and I hadn’t felt this sort of exhaustion for a long time. I remembered though that you always go through bad patches on long runs and so I convinced myself that it would just be a patch, not the beginning of a death march to the end.

Summit 4 - Beinn an Dothaidh

Picking up some proper water at the stream in the final bealach did perk me up a bit. Or I was motivated by pride to keep running in front of the many hill walkers that were now also making their way up Beinn Dorain. Either way, I finished the last 300m of climb almost as strongly as I’d started the day and I was rewarded with the final summit.

Summit 5 - Beinn Dorain

The Starav hills

Job done! If only. It turns out there was a very good reason why the guidebook suggests anyone attempting all five should go anti-clockwise. Beinn Dorain rises up 900m from the valley in about 1.5km. It also has a few substantial cliffs and the slope is generously covered in large scree. It took me 40 minutes (!) to get down this. Murray was on a slightly different route (to get our camping gear) but still did a 14 min/km. Definitely up there as one of my more sketchy mountain experiences, probably the worst non-weather related!

Really not recommended. Much better to do the route in the other direction.

So eventually it was job done. A wonderful job. Fantastic to be back in the hills, testing myself on the climbs, overcoming those wobbly moments, and pushing those comfort zones back a little more.

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