Beinn Dorain - 1076m
Friday 21st January 2011

Weather/Conditions: Wind higher up, little/no snow or rain, but a lot of cloud. We were continually at the upper edge of cloud, though never above.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 11km / 1000m / 6h 20m
Accompanying: Dougie

This was my fourth time up Beinn Dorain, the first in winter and the first without a view from the summit.

I'd been so lucky on my previous climbs of Beinn Dorain. The first time in November 2008, The Merrick in Galloway could be seen, some 100-odd miles away, one of the longer sightlines in Scotland. The second time I camped on the summit mid-September 2009 and watched the sun set. The third time I climbed it, April 2010, it was the final summit on a round of the five Orchy Munros. The Highlands remained snow-streaked, the white summits were set against the deep blue of a sunny spring sky and glen's deeps browns.

Beinn Dorain is so worth climbing in good weather because the view is so good, but today it wasn't to be. The forecast predicted a cloud top of about 900m - high summits poking out the top - but from our window in the Bridge of Orchy Hotel bunkhouse, it was realised soon that the hoped forecast wouldn't transpire.


Dougie and I headed out almost as soon as we got up. Breakfast had just been some fruit in bed, but I didn't think Beinn Dorain would be too taxing a day anyway. We left extra gear in the hotel cloakroom for later pickup and got on our way, heading up through the train station.

The funny thing about this day was that I didn't feel too great. In the morning I was a bit wasted and out of energy in general - maybe I did need that breakfast. (But in any case, I wasn't giving the hotel even more money!)

The weather wasn't going as hoped, not bad but not great either. But the fun really started when we got to the 744m bealach. Before then it had been a bit dreich, and in my memory the climb to the summit defined the day. Only five minutes beyond the bealach the cloud opened for the first time and not the last. I ran up the hillside to the next viewpoint, pulled the camera out and got shots in case the scene closed over again. We had been told by others that the summit of Dorain had been 'grey' and it sounded like views were hard to come by.

But through this window to the east, Creag Mhor and Beinn Heasgarnich were free of the cloud. The east must have been clear today with Beinn Dorain poised on the edge but unable to escape the mist. The scene closed over again.

It always seemed as if we were edging at the top of the cloud, though we never broke through. And so a strange half-light occurred at this point where half the sky would be blue in the interior of cloud, the other half of the sky glowing blunt yellow of the sun. Light and shapes played off snow banks in a surreal and thrilling experience.

For all the excitement, I'd forgotten just how long it was to the summit. In April 2010, on a round with four Munros under my belt, I'd battered up the ridge at such speed that I barely remembered how long it was. Today it was anything but unpleasant, though we weren't trying to set records either. Just have a good time was the name of the game.


Higher up on the mountain, I could sense the hill thinning to a ridge, as if we were up high beside the summit. And sure enough the tracks we were following brought us to the north top of Beinn Dorain, where a cairn larger than the main summit's sits. I'd been here three times in perfect weather, I knew a narrow ridge took us beyond this pseudo-summit to the real one. Just as Dougie was about to sit down for a summit-snack, I broke the news and I won't deny there was a streak of smugness! We continued on beyond the cairn, breaking trail on virgin snow.

We'd passed a fair few folk on our way up, though not one track was seen on Dorain's summit ridge, not even a drifted remnant. We headed downhill on a gradual incline and as I began to question whether I'd made a mistake, the ground reared up again and dropped us at the side of a second cairn, the summit. It felt good to be on top of Beinn Dorain, possibly the first summiteers in a while even if we never managed to break through the cloud!

We often came close to the extent that a full blue sky sometimes appeared above us. This was very much a parallel to my second time on this hill, in September 2009. I'd pitched my tent the night before, watched a West Coast sunset and fallen asleep, and the next morning I awoke to wind and cloud blowing across the summit. I sat among the damp rock and wind, camera in hand for an eternity hoping for a break in the cloud that never came, always tantalisingly close to the cloud top but never quite there, so close that the blue sky was right in front of me.

You can't always get what you want, but I had no complaints about Beinn Dorain today.


The cloud thickened on descent as if the best of the day had passed. We followed footprints downward. I carved the words 'NOT SUMMIT' into the snow by the north top, and we continued on our way. The only problem on descent was that we lost the prints and began to veer off course, too far to the left. We were greeted with confusing topography, and north on the compass was a long way off where instinct told me north was.

It was a minor wee scare, but resolved itself soon and then we were back at the bealach, with Bridge of Orchy in sight.

And in complete contrast to getting lost above the bealach, the cloud cleared from the summits and sunset was pretty good. Having expected to be finished for the day, this proves the point to always expect the unexpected. Sometimes the physical effort involved in climbing mountains seems a lot, but on every walk there are exhilarating moments to break up the effort, there are sights to see and in the rapidly changing weather of Scotland, things can always turn around for better or for worse.

We didn't get the full-blown 'sea of cloud' as anticipated, but what we did get had been pretty damn good.

We sat in the hotel at Bridge of Orchy drinking - I was staying off alcohol but snuck in a Guinness. If there's anything going for that hotel, it's the chips. Having skipped on food all day, I received them well, and then bought more.

With two days of walking under my belt, it was time to commence with the actual weekend. Eight of us had booked into the bunkhouse at Inchree, near Glen Coe for Friday and Saturday nights. What we would climb on Saturday would be up for much discussion, as was Sunday. But to get to Inchree, Dougie and I had to get a lift from someone - Diane didn't show up due to some miscommunication, but Craig managed to pile us into his car and that was sorted.

As it was, the next day we climbed Na Gruagaichean and Binnein Mor in the Mamores.

Times (Time relative to 0.00)
(0.00) 10.20am Bridge of Orchy
(3.20) 1.40pm Beinn Dorain
(3.40) 2.00pm Beinn Dorain (left)
(6.20) 4.40pm Bridge of Orchy

Written: 2011-02-06