Beinn Bheag - 653m
Beinn Bhreac-liath- 802m

Saturday 12th February 2011

Weather/Conditions: No rain/snow, mist and lying snow down to c. 500m. Had some break to blue sky on the summit and the sun came out more, later in the day.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 14.8km / 800m / 5h 45m
Accompanying: Alone

I headed to Tyndrum alone, for a one-day trip on Beinn Bhreac-liath and Beinn Udlaidh. These were the last two I'd left unclimbed in an area of eight Corbetts surrounding Tyndrum. The weather wasn't going to be especially bad but wouldn't brighten up until later. So instead of dragging myself out of bed in the small hours of the morning, I caught the 8.20am train from Queen Street.

I'd hoped for good weather but everything was looking very grey and snow-streaked as the train pulled up the Gare Loch. I reminded myself that there was still snow on the hills - I'd almost forgotten. I also reminded myself that the weather was set to clear up today.

In Tyndrum, nothing had changed and two rolling Corbetts in nil-visibility didn't seem like a lot of fun. I got a roll and sausage and a cup of tea in the Green Welly cafe, (extortionate) and tried to relax for a while before deciding to go for the hill. I started walking at 11.10am.

Beinn Bheag

The West Highland Way is always a pretty nice walk and this time was no exception. I got to the part where you cross beneath the railway and had to double back on myself to reach the row of trees marching up the hillside to Beinn Bheag.

Beinn Bheag means little hill in Gaelic, and I thought that really described all there was to it. I climbed the side of the forest to the snow and then brought out the map and compass to take a bearing for the summit. The top is an area of jumbled hillocks and fence lines, not all of which are marked on the 1:50,000 map. There were no spectacular features and no views but my senses were incredibly sharpened. I found I almost enjoyed this feeling of keeping a very close watch on the landscape. I came to the top of a couple of hillocks, but I wasn't ever convinced I'd been at the top yet. I moved through the mist until I found a cairn sitting on a ridge. It was the summit for sure, and a relief to have found after a couple of false tops.

Beinn Bhreac-liath

Another compass bearing brought me away from the cairn and over boggy ground towards the saddle to Beinn Bhreac-liath. The snow was thawing and the terrain gentle so I needed the use of an axe not once. The ascent to the summit would be 200 boggy vertical metres and while I wasn't overly excited, I thought I may as well get on with it. It was, however thrilling to finally be using a map and compass the way they should.

I know my way around the map and compass but I'm not great at it and certainly haven't ever practiced. Knowing what goes where has got me out of every navigational situation thus far but it's probably not my strongest point. And while I understand magnetic variation conceptually, I haven't worked out how it applies in a real-world situation (I'm willing to bet it's really simple).

But one compass bearing would take me to the top of this hill, and I could follow the north needle up the slopes until the ground flattened out. The cloud cleared in bits when I reached the summit and I scouted around for five minutes until I found a sizable cairn. Footprints from the opposite direction ended here. I was on the summit and it was about now that I came to the final decision now to do the second Corbett, Beinn Udlaidh. I left that for another day.

This summit was a more interesting one than the quality of the actual day suggests. One year previously saw the weekend that Michael died at Glen Shee and I got out on the hills as a kind of remembrance. Kevin McKeown was at Glen Etive (Stob Coire Sgreamhach) doing the same. I stood at the summit for a long time thinking, comprehending. Though the grief has subsided now to make the event pretty painless, it had taken longer to get over than I'd realised.


Descent was easy because I simply followed my tracks back. Where my tracks faded out, a compass was handy to stay on course but went mostly unneeded. About this time the cloud also lifted and I got a corker of a view down Glen Lochy - the best view I'd get all day. I think it's a pretty uninspiring glen and I, regretfully, have little positive to say about it. At this point it was beautiful though, made more intense by dramatic light in wake of the sensory deprivation of mist and snow.

For the first time of the day I could also see the little hill, Beinn Bheag, that I'd crossed. I could have retraced my steps over it, but decided instead to go down Coire Chailein. This little corrie can't claim to be encircled by spectacular peaks, but I always like to see a new place anyway. The glen is apparently a recognised site of fluvial geomorphology and while I'm not exactly sure what the second half means the erosion features are substantial and notable, enough to be marked on the OS maps. And thank God it isn't another glen suffocating beneath a blanket of Sitka spruce.

At foot of the glen I crossed beneath the A82 and crossed the plains of sheep-cropped grass to the West Highland Way. Tired by now, I tied my boots to my rucksack and put on a pair of sandals. With new-found energy (footwear makes the difference) I enjoyed the miles back to Tyndrum.

In Tyndrum I went looking for wi-fi since I brought a laptop along. The Real Food Cafe didn't have any, but got more luck at Paddy's Bar and the associated hotel. I got something to eat and had drinks, but just as I was about to head for the Real Food Cafe again, I heard someone shout 'Kev!' behind me. Kev McKeown and his brother Joe had arrived in Tyndrum and we sat in Paddy's bar for a couple drinks before I had to leave for the train home. They'd had (what sounded like) a good day on Stob Coire Sgreamhach and seemed to have had some more views than me.

But views or not, I'd still had a quality day!

Times (Time relative to 0.00)
(0.00) 11.10am Tyndrum
(1.40) 12.50pm Beinn Bheag
(2.55) 2.05pm Beinn Bhreac-liath
(3.15) 2.25pm Beinn Bhreac-liath (left)
(5.45) 4.55pm Tyndrum

Written: 2011-03-06