Sunday 18th January 2015
Weather/Conditions: Great winter weather - blue skies and a great quality of light. Light breeze all the way form bottom to top, windier (20mph?) on summit. The snow was hard going though - lying thick almost to sea level and in almost every consistency, changing every step of the way - verglas, bulletproof, soft and deep... hard work!
Distance/Ascent/Time: 10.6km / 550m / 6h 20m
I was scraping ice off the windscreen in the dark of early morning, wanting to be away and on the hills. Beinn a' Mhanaich was a good choice for my day - nothing too big as I had to be home in the afternoon, but far enough to just get you into the Highlands. It's also a hill I've been put off doing in the past. One side of the mountain is a military firing range, and the prominent ridge leading up to the summit is dotted with signs that make it known in no uncertain terms. I've never liked the military's presence in this area, but it was a pleasant surprise to find the firing range less intrusive than expected.
A quick stop by the Milton BP for food, and I was off to the layby beneath the hill (not before a couple of navigational hiccups - in that regard driving to the hill was harder than the hill!).
Snow lay on the ground, on the trees, glowing in the half-light of the coming dawn. A stiff breeze came and went, rustling the birches and sending distant wisps of spindrift tumbling over the skyline above.
I set off as the day broke, but it was slow in coming. And I was slow in waking up - I wondered why I felt so sluggish, but it should be no surprise when I do these hills on such little sleep... I walked up to the frozen Auchengaich Reservoir and crossed the dam. The hills were velvet with snow, quite a sight. A hard plod brought me to The Strone, the long ridge leading to Beinn a' Mhanaich. Across the glen, spindrift cartwheeled across Beinn Chaorach in a never ending procession - the winds weren't too high today but the snow was very dry. Everywhere were the signs of snow deposition and wind erosion. It's a pain in the ass to walk through but the shapes are pretty.
I walked direct into the spindrift on The Strone (goggles time), still tired but with the most amazing colours breaking around about me. The snow was of highly variable consistency. I was walking fine one moment, then my foot would disappear into clawing powder. Rhythm was interrupted, pace upset. Add to that that Beinn a' Mhanaich has more than it's fair share of false summits and I was keen to get to the top!
It came in time however, with a strong, cool wind to meet me and some great views to the north. This is a reminder that you are only just in the Highlands - you stand with the lowlands to one side and the Highland peaks receding on the opposite horizon. Two different worlds. I had planned to go on to Cruach an t-Sidhein and Beinn Chaorach to mop up my Luss Hills for good, but I was so knackered by the time I'd got to Beinn a' Mhanaich that I called it a day without even thinking twice about it. I went to dig some avalanche pits. That turned into cutting out blocks - which eventually turned into a snow shelter. It was good fun, but hard physical work. I can't imagine wanting to build one of these in an emergency, it took a lot of effort! I must have been there building for way more than an hour. Maybe two. An old guy passed by, intrigued. I got on my way soon after.
I seemed to find the firmer ground on descent, walking on iron-hard snow fields, chipped in texture like Glen Coe rhyolite but bubbling in shape too. Very enjoyable to walk on! The dam arrived in time, the car soon after. I'd had a good day - done less summits than expected but sometimes that's the case. I've found that post-Munros, I'm never quite as keen to link multiple summits in a day. There just aren't many places where you can do this naturally. I suppose the Munros just link beautifully into one another, in a way I never quite appreciated before: the Mamores, Grey Corries, Skye, Glen Shiel... I love to explore new hills in Scotland, but the majority I have left (Corbetts and Grahams) stand alone, isolated, so you don't get that sensation of being high, all day, linking ridges. There are obvious exceptions; Rum, Moidart. But no doubt I'll do the Corbetts and Grahams in time.
Anyway, the car wouldn't move from it's space due to the ice, the tyres just spun underneath me. After some failed attempts at chipping the ice out with my axe, I got a push from a guy, then home soon after.
Beinn a' Mhanaich - 180° North
Beinn a' Mhanaich - 180° South
(0.00) 8.10am Parking
(3.00) 11.10am Beinn a' Mhanaich
(4.50) 1.00pm Beinn a' Mhanaich (left)
(6.20) 2.30pm Parking