Sunday, 19 May 2013

Day 15, 16 and 17 - Orchy and Mamlorn

So I've been a bit out of range recently, tackling a group of hills in the middle of the Southern Highlands. I'd planned for this group to take three days, and I can say I'm very relieved to have finished them on schedule!

I'd planned ten Munros, beginning on the amazing Beinn Dorain, swinging around the "Wall of Rannoch" (so some call it) to Beinn a' Chreachain, past the head of Loch Lyon to Glen Lochay, and finally over the trio of Munros to Strath Fillan.

16th May

Dad saw me off from Bridge of Orchy on Thursday the 16th. I was feeling pretty knackered and not really feeling it. Conditions were pretty cold at Bridge of Orchy, and reluctantly, I set off up to Beinn Dorain with a heavy rucksack, and three days and ten Munros to go.

Beinn Dorain was climbed without a view, and in deep snow. Back at the bealach, I would have been quite happy for an excuse to quietly crawl back to Bridge of Orchy - I really wasn't feeling it. But I slogged with the rucksack over Beinn an Dothaidh, where I got some good views of Rannoch Moor.

In truth I think the real thing bugging me was the lack of having a place to sleep that night. Several factors came together: a high-Munro day, a lasting tiredness, a heavy rucksack and the prospect of sleeping out in the middle of nowhere. The thing that kept me going was the good forecast: there was no real reason not to go and so I talked myself into continuing when everything else said don't bother. Retrospectively, I'm very, very glad I continued.

Having climbed Beinn an Dothaidh, I dropped the rucksack at the Achaladair-Mhanach bealach and set off up Achaladair. I was still not feeling it: an off-day was amplified by a feeling of commitment, and my mood became dire. By Beinn a' Chreachain I was just pissed off and quite unhappy. Everything was there for the taking: the hills were in condition and the weather was good. But something was missing. I just wasn't getting my usual kick from these hills. I was emotionally drained. I couldn't contemplate doing this day after day.

I headed back to the rucksack, and decided to camp there and then. Beinn Mhanach would have to wait, even if it meant a longer day tomorrow. I had a meal and a big mug of tea, lying still and content for once. I felt fuelled and settled for the first time all day.

Perhaps I could make over that last Munro?

The pressure had gone, but only because I'd felt beat.

I packed up, excited; slightly apprehensive that I might physically not be ready. It was getting late, but I had time. I took a slow plod and it was like lifting a veil on my mood - suddenly the whole world opened up again and I saw it all: the sun sinking in the west, snow-covered spires of the Highlands (many which I'd now climbed). It was almost poetic, and borderline cliche. The panorama opened wide and sunlight danced on the brown slopes of Glen Lyon. I was seeing it all again. And I felt incredible.

Completely at peace, I strolled to the summit, shocked at this turn around in mood. Colours changed and shifted, I was buzzing to it all. The sun sunk to the horizon; I left the summit, and descended to Loch Lyon for a content night, only drifting off in content peace somewhere about 11pm.

I'm honestly not sure just how it all turned around.

Zebra stripes, Beinn a' Chuirn, at sunset

Window through to Lochaber

17th May

The following morning, I awoke above the shores of Loch Lyon to a hot sun beaming through the tent and a vast blue sky. Waters lapped below - I felt like I was on a foreign holiday. Only difference being, I was the only person here, completely alone. Loch Lyon was doubled in length when the dam was built (it used to end at the outflow of Allt Meran), and the glen I was looking down once hosted no loch at all. Now the glen is filled from side to side by water, and it was strange to know that what seems so permanent was once so different.

Campsite, Loch Lyon, in the morning

I'd broke through some mental barrier the day before, so my mood was of bliss and quiet content. After a relaxed breakfast, I strolled to the top of Creag Mhor, the Munro that took such little effort it was almost unbelievable. For a moment, three fighter jets pierced the silence. The sun was out. I was on a roll.

I dropped the bag off for Beinn Heasgarnich, as I had done for every summit so far. It's a big hill, and another I've always had a fondness for. It's strange that although it should be a horrible hill (peat hags and bog everywhere), I love it's embracing arms and seclusion. It is the "peaceful/sheltering hill" in Gaelic and this quite sums up the way I feel about it. At the summit, I made phone calls just to share my electric mood. If the previous day had been a psychological nightmare, today was the release.
From Heasgarnich, looking SW

All of Scotland was in view, from the Southern Uplands to the North West; Fife to Jura. All was crystal clear. Best of all, as I walked down Heasgarnich, I bumped into Pauline, Ron and Mark from WalkHighlands. We had a chat. They offered to buy me dinner in Killin, my eyes must have lit up! So they headed over the top of the hill, while I headed down, and we agreed to meet up at the Glen Lochay car park.

We all headed back to Killin, and got a meal (thanks guys!) from the Falls of Dochart Inn - and the Inn were even kind enough to let me camp behind their car park - very kind people. I'm not much of a pub guy in general, but I have a love for this place. I settled in for the night, and on a high.

18th May

My last day in this region took me over the three I hadn't yet done: Sgiath Chuil, Meall Glas and Beinn Challum.

The weather had changed, and the skies were dark and unsettled. Mum and dad had come up for a day trip, so they took my camping kit in the car, and dropped me off at Kenknock, Glen Lochay.

The light was very weird. Dark clouds and light patches rushed through a troubled sky. I felt like the rain clouds would burst into life at any moment. The summits grew cloud caps and it made me nervous. It also didn't help that I'd planned to meet Kev McKeown on the summit of Beinn Challum (#3) at 5pm. I'd started late and now I didn't have so long to get there.

I put on a pace for the first time in days and flew up Sgiath Chuil. It was hard work but the body kept ticking over and working as it should. I got to the top in 1h 40m and down to the bealach to Meall Glas in bang on 2 hours. 8km in 2 hours, over a Munro - not bad going!

I rushed up Meall Glas and found myself in mist, on slippery grass and snow, which took a little nerve to get by. Dink phoned, I had to ask him to phone back, as the navigation had become quite intense, and demanded attention. A lot of mist and drizzle saw me to the top of Meall Glas.

Always a handy tool!

The drop towards Beinn Challum from here is enormous: down to 350m and back up to over 1000m. I continued west, down long grassy slopes to the river below. It went down a long way, but it strikes me that when you anticipate a huge workload, you simply accept it and work through it. In the past, I've had a nightmare on summits with just 100m height gain, because I'd expected them to be easy. I expected a battle to get to Beinn Challum, so I put my head down and simply plodded on.

Since I'd got over Sgiath Chuil in very good time, I had some time to play with, with the aim of meeting Kev on the summit of Challum at 5pm. I took breaks, shot some film, watched in awe and heavy clouds battered themselves against the mountain slopes. It was an awe-inspiring place. From Glen Lochay, Beinn Challum looks incredible (stark contrast to the Crianlarich side, where it's almost invisible!) and it was humbling to stand and watch the cloud tearing itself across a snow-streaked summit ridge I was about to climb.

Beinn Challum

I reached the top about 5:10pm. The summit cairn was deserted. The wind was strong and directional, so I sat in one side of the cairn almost completely untroubled. Kev arrived five minutes later with his dog Rupert, who'd both had a fight to get to the top. It was a wild afternoon and we spent 10 minute on top taking pics, looking at the map and sharing Kev's flask of soup. Bliss.

But although I loved being in this wild, turbulent place, it was time to get down. We got battered by wind on the summit ridge, and dropped into Coire nan Eacn to get out. I checked some boulders for climbing (which didn't amount to much, as usual) and we headed down Gleann a' Chlachain, back to Strath Fillan. Mum and dad were waiting, having had a good day themselves. Rain fell as we drove off, and it was only later I'd discovered that although I'd got off lightly: the Central Belt had seen torrential rain.

It's been a crazy three days, with many ups and downs - but mostly ups. It became quite clear to me that I would only do a walk of this magnitude over mountains, because they are the only thing I know that inspire me so deeply. I don't know anything else that would allow me to push through those mental barriers. But it's worth finding the strength to push through those barriers of doubt and motivation. The Munros of Orchy and Mamlorn gave me a well-remembered battle. I'm sure there will be many more to come.

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