Herts & Bucks Wing

  Adventure Training Group


Staff trip to Scotland - January 2003

The aims of this trip were to log some quality Winter mountain days, to “bag” the odd Munro, and to introduce Richard to Scotland and the joys of Winter mountaineering. The previous week had been cold and wintry all over Britain, so we looked forward to good snow conditions on the hills as we travelled North. We broke our journey in Peebles, to spend a day mountain biking in the Glentress Forest and hired some excellent bikes, only to find that the approach road was an un-rideable sheet of ice! Somehow we slipped and pushed our way to the start of the trails, but found that they were nearly as slippery, despite the rapid thaw that was setting in. There's always a positive side, and we got some useful practice in bike control and found some new ways of falling off

After a day as tourists in Edinburgh we travelled to Tyndrum and settled into our campsite. Unfortunately, the forecast was for warm, wet, windy weather and any snow on the hills was fast disappearing. Tuesday was very wet and windy, so we settled for a fast low-level walk up the West Highland Way from our campsite to Bridge of Orchy arriving just as train pulled into the station to take us back to Tyndrum. We were lucky, as there would have been 6 hour wait for the next train if we'd been 5 minutes later. The only other walker we met during the day warned us that the forecast for tomorrow was much worse – with Severe Gales of up to 90 mph

The forecast proved all too accurate, so we switched back to tourist mode and drove across Rannoch Moor and through Glencoe to Fort William, watching the wind drive large waves across the lochs. We ventured as far as Spean Bridge and the wonderfully evocative Commando Memorial, where we watched Aonach Mor and Ben Nevis appearing and disappearing behind rain storms

On Thursday, the weather was still windy but the heavy rain had changed to showers. Determined to gain some height today, we parked the car off the Tyndrum-Oban road, to have a look at Ben Lui. The first obstacle was a broad river so we opted to keep our feet dry  and walked downstream to a footbridge, adding a couple of kilometres to the walk. A very muddy path through the forest brought us out onto the hillside where, sheltered from the worst of the wind, we worked our way up the mountain onto a bealach between Ben Lui and Beinn a’ Chliebh. 

The wind was behind us as we climbed steadily into the mist to the summit, and Richard celebrated his first Munro. None of us had been on the mountain before, so we studied the map carefully and opted to descend via a spur to the South of the Central Gully before returning to Tyndrum via a vehicle track running along the Cononish – a safe and easy route after dark. However, the spur was not obvious from above and occasional glimpses through the swirling mist revealed only cliffs below. With only an hour or so of daylight remaining, we decided to return to the summit, and retrace our steps to the car by our ascent route. This was a good decision, and careful navigation brought us back to the edge of the forest as darkness fell. The map showed a more direct path through the forest that the one we had taken in the morning, and we found the start of it with the last glimmer of daylight, but the “path” was steep, muddy and poorly defined, as we scrambled though the trees for the final kilometre to the river. With the car a mere 100 metres away,  we opted for a night-time river crossing

Friday saw the return of the rain, and another day as tourists, but the forecast for tomorrow was more promising and we looked forward to a good walk to end the week

We breakfasted early and studied the maps carefully as we waited for the dawn, deciding eventually to attempt the two Munros dominating Bridge of Orchy – Beinn Dorain and Beinn an Dothaidh. We parked in Bridge of Orchy and a straightforward 1.5 hour walk along a muddy path brought us to the bealach between the two mountains. We turned South and climbed through the mist onto Beinn Dorain. We were excited to find some good snow on the top, and the ice axes came out to add security - though the snow was too new and soft to justify crampons. Eventually we came to a large and very fine cairn, although our maps suggested we were some 400metres short of the summit. Sure enough a narrow ridge led to rather less impressive cairn, and the true summit. As we turned to return to the bealach it was snowing heavily, filling our earlier tracks

From the bealach, we headed up the opposite hill towards the summit of Beinn an Dothaidh, noticing some footprints ahead of us. Later we passed a party of three returning from the summit – the only other walkers we were to encounter all week. As we trudged up the hill on a bearing, visibility became very bad, the wind strengthened and the earlier snow turned to rain and hail, painful on exposed skin. On the summit ridge, we found the summit cairn, and turned back into the wind for the descent. We completed the descent in fading daylight as the Bridge of Orchy hotel opened for business, so treated ourselves to an excellent meal and some good beer to end the week. The weather hadn't been kind to us, but we'd made the most of it and will certainly return another day!

      Web site by: Flt Lt Geoff Bowles RAFVR(T), ML(S), SPA                                                            This page last updated on 28 October 2003