Saturday 12th September 2009
Weather/Conditions: Beautifully clear day on the 12th - cloudless blue skies and endless sun. I camped on Dorain's summit so a cold night, but also cloudless with vistas of stars above.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 12km / 1000m / 3h walking time
I set off from Bridge of Orchy under a warm sun. Even with little wind and a heavy weight on my back, progress was good. I'd taken the train from Dalmuir (Glasgow) to Bridge of Orchy, and to catch it, I'd been in the car for twenty anxious minutes while running late to the station. If I missed the train, all bets would be off and I'd have to spend the night on some local hills. It was hardly ideal, but as I arrived, the train pulled up and it I ran to catch it. Desperate times call for desperate measures and the effort paid off - it's just not too easy to run with a huge rucksack and probably doesn't look too elegant either. Only when I'd cooled off from the adrenaline, could I appreciate the vibrancy of the landscape. With clear, fresh air and sun splitting skies, the Highlands rarely looked so beautiful.
Above Bridge of Orchy and on the slopes of Beinn Dorain, many walkers were on their way down. it could have been a social event, but nice to see so many out enjoying the day. Even with an awful weight on my back, the gradient was flat enough to make fast progress and I quickly reached the higher regions of Coire an Dothaidh. At the 744m bealach, I turned right without pause and continued to follow the path in the direction of Dorain's summit.
Although I was making good progress, it was still early in the day. I ignored that I'd have a hard decision to make at Dorain's summit; whether to sit and wait for sunset at the summit or move onto another peak and camp elsewhere. I wanted to see how fast I could climb Dorain, and figured I'd think about camping later.
The final stages of the walk went on a bit longer than expected for it always seemed the summit would be just around the corner. When I reached the subsidiary peak, the drop and reascent to the true summit was greater than I had anticipated. The summit came only with perseverance and I arrived on top at 4.30pm, 1 hour 40 minutes before I left Bridge of Orchy. For hauling a rucksack up that I could barely lift normally, it was a fabulous time. And now with the goal achieved, I could sit at the summit and take in the views that came from being at one of the best viewpoints in the Southern Highlands.
Campsite at 1075m
As I sat at the summit and got my breath back, the unavoidable question arose as to what to do next. After pondering it over, I made the decision to stay here and wait for the sunset, since I was up partly for the photography. In such a case, few summits offer more widespread and varied views than Beinn Dorain. During late afternoon, I put up the tent on the summit and took my time to organise my gear. I was in no rush and only wished time to pass.
As the afternoon turned into sunset, two more people arrived on top, both with dogs, and of course, I was completely alone after the last one left. When the light began to fade, I only really appreciated the significance of spending the night here. It was an exposed location and with higher winds than expected, apprehension crept in. Such times are breeding grounds for negative thoughts, and I could feel the ongoing battle between instinct and rational mind. Instinct told me it was a bad place - not normal, natural or a place to spend a night. Rational thought showed me that I was perfectly safe and there was no reason to be concerned, that the tent was most certainly not going to blow away, and that no, I was not going to blow over the edge in my sleep.
I shot the hell out of the sunset. The camera clicked away all evening because the views were wonderful. Despite the spectacular beauty of it all, I began to myself very much 'out-there'. The wind had been forecast to be a low lower than 30-40mph, and I felt uneasy and even a little lonely which isn't my normal reaction. I ignored all these feelings, but I won't deny that I felt them. As sunset was overcome by darkness, I retreated to the tent. It was warmer and more comfortable than sitting out in the open, and I slept well.
I woke up again at 9.30pm and all was dark. One of the reasons I'd come up here was to see the stars. I rarely see the stars at home, either because of Glasgow's light pollution or the sheer amount of cloud that covers the skies. When I unzipped the tent door, it was in perfect time to see a meteor strike across the eastern sky, so I had to go out. I started by lying half way out of the tent, but half the sky was therefore blocked. Then in the north eastern skies a fireball appeared, leaving a fiery trail in it's wake, visible for perhaps two seconds. It was the most spectacular meteor I have seen, and reeling with excitement, I went to lie out by the summit cairn on the bedrock, in a sleeping bag with camera in hand. I was even quite warm. Above me was the night sky in all its beauty. My eyes were well adjusted to the darkness and I was just in awe of my surroundings. Seeing the galaxy in three dimensions allowed me to appreciate what I was seeing, and it was uplifting to feel like I was out on the edge of the earth staring into a void greater than my comprehension allowed me to appreciate. As odd as it may sound, feeling 'out on the edge of the earth' is something I don't feel enough. Any pessimism from earlier had evaporated, and it seemed as if I'd stumbled into a different existence. The only evidence of what I knew to be earth was the twinkling of Crianlarich and Tyndrum street lights and the dim glow of Glasgow on the horizon. Otherwise, there was nothing - only darkness and the stars above my head. On the brink of falling asleep after half an hour outside, I crawled back to my tent to doze off for the night.
Nearly-but-not-quite cloud inversion and Descent
In the morning I awoke early to a glum day. But when I looked out the tent door, and the moon was up in the sky. There was blue sky above my head too.. I knew in that moment that I was at the top on the cloud, and that spelled the possibility of a cloud inversion. I left the tent to sit outside, resisting the bite of the wind, hoping for a moment above the clouds. To my mind, ten seconds above the clouds could repay half an hour shivering in the wind, but those ten seconds never arrived. I often saw glimpses of the sun through the cloud, or even found myself in gaps between the tops of the cloud, but never actually above. It was disappointing that I'd had no results and as the summit clouded over I faced up to the fact that there would be no inversion. Shaded from the northerly wind, I fired up the stove for some Ravioli, then went back to my tent, finally deciding to leave just after 9am.
I took my time packing, then got on my way with one last goodbye to the summit cairn which had been my residence for 17 hours. The broad path took me through the cloud, and it was mostly an easy descent when I reappeared from the cloud. At the 744m bealach, I met the first people since last night. It was back to earth with a bump and most certainly wasn't in my own little world anymore.
Although I'd planned to climb some more mountains on this trip, I was happy enough now with what I'd done and phoned dad who wanting the drive anyway, could come to pick me up. I passed many people on their way up the hill as I made my way back and despite the pack weight, I ran sections and walked with speed all the way. I was back in Bridge of Orchy 1 hour 20 minutes after I left the summit, which was fantastic for carrying a rucksack that heavy. If you tally walking time all together, that adds up to three hours to climb Dorain, top to bottom and back. While this sounds terribly egotistic, it's a simple confidence boost and the knowledge I gain ('Know thyself' applies well here) I can use in the future, provided I keep wishing to push things further.
Down at the Bridge of Orchy railway station, I got into an unlikely conversation with a bloke who lived beside the station and we both stood watching a helicopter circling downwards before landing by the hotel. I then carried onto the Bridge of Orchy Hotel for multiple cups of hot chocolate. Having taken my time, dad appeared and we spent the morning in Glen Orchy, a fabulously scenic glen, returning afterwards to Glasgow. Much better than taking the train.
Beinn Dorain (4.50pm)
Beinn Dorain (7.30pm)
(0.00) 2.50pm Bridge of Orchy
(1.05) 3.55pm 744m bealach
(1.40) 4.30pm Beinn Dorain (arrived)
(Sunset - 7.50pm)
(0.00) 9.40am Left Beinn Dorain
(1.20) 11.00am Bridge of Orchy