The big thaw

Beinn Dorain (1076m); Beinn an Dothaidh (1004m)

  • Pronunciation:            Bine Doe-erenn;  Bine uh Naw-hee
  • Translation:                 Mountain of the Little Gullies; Mountain of Scorching
  • Total distance:             15.6km
  • Total time:                   7hrs 10mins
  • Total ascent:                1311m
  • Weather:                      Warmer than of late at +5°C at the start. Mixture of sunny intervals with hazy cloud. Dry all day. Quite breezy on the summits. Icy paths.
  • Start / end location:   Car park at Bridge of Orchy Hotel on A82 [Grid Ref: NN 297 396]
  • Map:                               A map of route can be found here– it may take a few moments to load into a separate window.

    Cameron approaching misty summit of Beinn Dorain

We parked the ‘van in the large car park by the Bridge of Orchy Hotel and managed to get underway at 08:00 after having travelled a few miles from our overnight stop in Glen Coe. During the night the wind had really picked up, but by morning it had abated a bit and the temperature was now noticeably much warmer than of late. The consequence was that the snow on the mountains had thawed considerably and instead of the uniform blanket that had enveloped the entire region for days it was now streaky with more hillside exposed than snow covering it.

Route to bealach between Dorain and Dothaidh

We started by accessing the hillside from the underpass at the Bridge of Orchy train station. Once across the railway line we quickly passed a radio transmitter mast and then followed a good path towards Coire an Dothaidh and the obvious bealach between Beinn Dorain and Beinn an Dothaidh.

Despite the thawing temperatures the path was still extensively covered with ribbons of hard ice that we definitely tried to avoid. The ground was still relatively cold and the warm moisture carried in the air had formed a very thin glazing of verglas on all the exposed rocks. It was lethal to try to walk on.

Cameron on summit of Beinn Dorain

The bealach at the head of Corrie an Dothaidh was around 750m and at this point we turned right in a SSW direction and followed the ridge towards the summit of Beinn Dorain. This ridge, which passed a very small frozen lochan veered due south to reach the twin peaks of Beinn Dorain. The ridge was mostly broad with only one or two sections of rocky outcrops that could be tackled head on or easily avoided by traversing around them. High up on this section we disturbed a flock of around twenty Snow Bunting in their winter plumage of tawny-brown back, rusty-buff cap and white breast and wings, except the tips, which are black.

The first summit peak that we came to wasn’t actually the highest point of Beinn Dorain. This is despite it sporting a large cairn. Instead, the true summit at 1076m or 3,530’, is only a couple of metres higher, and was another 100m or so further on. This highest point also had a cairn.

Elaine on summit of Beinn Dorain

It was a great shame that the visibility wasn’t anything like as good as we’ve had it on some of our other recent outings. Instead, the distant peaks were caught in a thin haze of cloud. The view from the top of Beinn Dorain would have been fantastic otherwise. That said it was still pretty good with views down its steep west flank to the A82 far below.

We retraced our steps back over the initial peak and then down towards the bealach, ready to make an assault on Beinn an Dothaidh. On the way towards the bealach we came across a large party of around 12 people who were using a moderate snow slope to practice some ice axe arrests: the manoeuvre that you perform to arrest your fall if you slip on steep snow or ice. We thought that this would make a good place to stop for lunch and to watch the practice session. After lunch we too had a few goes at ice axe arrests as it’s always good to take the opportunity to keep practicing these techniques particularly with the current conditions.

Munros of Beinn Achaladair & Beinn a' Chreachain from Beinn an Dothaidh

After our short lunch-stop we completed our descent to the bealach and then followed a faint path northward in the general direction of Beinn an Dothaidh. The path soon petered out under the intermittent snow cover and so we just headed on a course of least resistance (NNE) towards the right hand top of three making up Beinn an Dothaidh. This top is not named on the 1:50,000 OS map. From this top we then headed NNW to the next top, which is the summit of Beinn an Dothaidh at 1004m or 3,294’. There were some great views NE to another pair of Munros called Beinn Achaladair (1038m) and Beinn a’ Chreachan (1081m) – but we can wait for another day to climb them.

Cameron on summit of Beinn an Dothaidh

We finally headed almost due west to complete the trilogy of peaks before descending back to the bealach and then followed the path back down to the Bridge of Orchy Hotel and our ‘van. We were really disappointed as the hotel had a sign saying that it was closed from 5 December to 27 December: we could really have done with a nice pint. Still, once back in the ‘van we had our usual coffee, and since it is December, a mince pie!

Summit of Beinn an Dothaidh

About Cameron Speirs

Born and brought up in the Scottish Highlands, Cameron, has been interested in outdoor pursuits since he was a wee lad. Over the last few decades he has climbed extensively in the Italian Dolomites as well as summiting the Matterhorn and several other 4000m alpine peaks. Closer to home he has spent many wonderful weekends mountaineering and biking in Snowdonia, Cairngorms, Glen Coe, Skye and Lochaber.
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