Friday, April 22, 2016

Beinn Mhanach

Ben Lui from Beinn Mhanach

Beinn Mhanach (pro-nounced byn vanach) is a Munro in the Bridge of Orchy group of hills. While the four main Munros in this group lie alongside the main A82 heading to Glen Coe, Beinn Mhanch sits hidden behind them, mostly out of sight. No-one calls this hill Orchy's hidden gem though - because 'hidden lump' would be a fairer assessment! The hill is a good few miles from the road, and is a large grassy elongated dome, lacking any distinct ridges or towering peaks. 

Beinn Mhanach has three attributes which attract walkers to its summit cairn. The first of these is the fact that it owns mythical Munro status, and so is compulsory for those who need to add ticking lists to their enjoyment of the hills. People like me, in other words! Secondly, it is a good physical challenge. The walk in is quite long and the climb from the floor of the glen to the top unrelentingly steep and hard going. The western end of the hill is in fact steep enough that the hill walking books warn against attempting a descent this way. The greatest thing about Beinn Mhanach though, is its location. The adjacent Glen Orchy hills, stretching from Ben Dorain to Beinn a'Chreachain are only the foreground of a massive mountain panorama.

There are two obvious routes towards this hill, the first is from Bridge of Orchy station, and over the bealach between Ben Dorain and Beinn and Dothaidh. This is the shortest route, but involves a lot of extra ascent. The other is to walk from the main road towards the farm at Auch, and on under the viaduct on the Crianlarich-Fort William arm of the West Highland Railway and then along the track along the Auch Achaid-innis Chaileinn which eventually reaches recently renovated farm buildings at Ais-an t-Sithean. This track fords the meandering Allt Kinglass river repeatedly, but crossing it was never a problem as it didn't reach the height of or boots. The SMC Munro book notes that when the fords are too deep, then the walker can continue up the glen by staying on the SE bank of the stream.

Once past the Ais-an t-Sithean farm buildings, the track bears round to the right, still climbing and reaches a gate, fence and weir system before descending towards the very end of Loch Lyon. At this watershed, there is a deep gully scarring the face of the hill, which leads to the lowest point on the broad ridge between the Munro summit of Beinn Mhanach at its lower top, Beinn a Chuirn. The ascent of the hill can be approached from either side of this gully. The left hand side is gentler, and reaches the summit plateau at its lowest point; but climbing on the right side of the gully (alongside a rusting iron fence) leads directly and steeply, towards the summit. We went up the steep way, and back the more gentle route.

The climb was exhausting! Although I had scraped ice off the car windscreen in Perth at 6:45AM, by 10:30AM. the sun was basting the mountains, the intense heat being held in almost completely still air. Thankfully in April we are still in the pre-midgie phase of the year! Shedding layer after layer, we made the summit, only to have a chill-wind take our temperature imbalance to the other extreme. With icy winds evaporating hot sweat from our faces, we felt our body temperature plummeting and changed in a few seconds from tropical to Arctic clothing!

The views from the top were quite amazing. Ben Lui (Beinn Laoigh) immediately draws the eye, as it is such a beautiful mountain, and is so pleasingly framed by the glen below. 

Westwards, Cruachan's shapely and majestic peaks, still snow-capped, glistened stunningly in the clear, crisp sunshine.  Northwards, the railway line across Rannoch Moor could be seen, along with the Laggan Hills. The Lawers group dominated the eastern view, while to the South the peaks which encircle the strange little village of Crianlarich, looked truly impressive.

The descent was hot and the ground quite slippery. The sun shone and heated up the grass which gave off a distinct odour - which reminded me of childhood. Once back at the head of the path, it is simply a long trudge back to the main road.

Final view of the Orchy Hills, in the wing mirror from an interminable traffic jam on the A82.

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