My dad and I have recently returned from a summit wild camp on Beinn Nuis, Arran. Beinn Nuis forms part of the “Three Beinns Loop”, a popular hill walk on the island. The weather on day 1 was fantastic and we were rewarded with a spectacular sunset, but darkness brought with it very different conditions!
We made the very familiar journey to the Isle of Arran on the 1230 ferry from Brodick to Ardrossan. Conditions were near perfect for a summit camp: the sun was shining, there was very little wind and there was no sign of a weather front approaching. We had planned to camp on Beinn Nuis, a 792m mountain which sits almost directly in the centre of the island. Its steep sides and pyramidal shape makes it easily recognisable from the Ayrshire Coastline. Ben Nuis has a relatively flat top and a small plateau extending west from the summit, so it’s an excellent location for a wild camp.
The ferry docked on time and we boarded the bus for a short journey to the entrance of Glen Rosa, the starting point for our expedition. From there we walked roughly a mile to reach the start of the track through the valley.
We then turned left off the main path to follow a small path upwards next to Garbh Allt. This steep section soon came to an end and we were rewarded with views of the surrounding hills. The path heads towards Beinn Nuis, eventually taking a short detour down a gorge to cross Garbh Allt further upstream.
After crossing the river we proceeded closer to Beinn Nuis, occasionally stopping to appreciate the impressive scenery surrounding us. This is an area of the island we are both familiar with as we completed the Three Beinns loop a few years ago. However, Arran’s hills have a habit of appearing very different every single time we visit, so it was as if we had never visited the area before at all.
The path then becomes much steeper as it ascends onto Beinn Nuis itself. We stopped more frequently as our packs weighed around 13kg this time compared to roughly 9kg for our lightweight packs. This was because we decided to take extra water and food as we would be camping at altitude with no water source or easy escape route. Other additions such as extra clothing and a portable charger (I planned to take considerably more photos than usual so I needed backup power for my phone and iPod) as well as other smaller items that don’t usually come with us on lightweight trips. I also opted for my Osprey Kestrel this time round and my North Face Triclimate jacket as we were staying in mountain conditions so I wanted more durable equipment with me (click here to see more about my equipment).
We reached the summit of Beinn Nuis at around 1800 and began looking for a suitable pitch. We decided to descend west slightly to Caisteal an Fhinn as we were then sheltered from any approaching weather and wind, which is usually south westerly, by a large tor (this turned out to be useless).
We pitched our tents and after sorting our sleeping kit out, we had dinner. I had brought Adventure Food pasta bolognese. For anyone looking for dried food, I’d highly recommend this brand of meal. Although quite expensive at around £5 per meal, it’s tasty, filling and nutritionally balanced and provides a hearty meal after exertion.
The sun then began to set and we were rewarded with fantastic views west over Kintyre, Islay and Jura as well as north to the Cowal Peninsula and as far as Mull. After extensively photographing the setting sun, we turned in for the night. Unfortunately, this is where things took a turn for the worst.
The weather had been perfect all day, with hardly any wind and very little cloud movement. We had just witnessed a virtually cloudless sunset too. However, the wind started to pick up. It didn’t come from the south-west as it usually does in this part of Scotland, but instead from the south-east, rendering our summit tor completely useless in providing some much needed shelter. Both of our tents were warped and bent out of shape by the strong winds, which led me to having almost no sleep whatsoever due to the tent inner managing to somehow touch my face and sleeping bag for nearly the whole night. As I have a down sleeping bag, this led it to become damp and hence slightly too cold to be comfortable, but there isn’t much that can be done with a damp down sleeping bag in the middle of the night about 750m. Puddles also started to form in my inner next to my camping mat and my pillow also ended up damp for the same reason as my sleeping bag. I wasn’t unbearably cold though, so I plugged my earphones in and listened to some music in the hope that i’d soon dose off anyway. Looking back, I don’t think it rained on us the entire trip, so the water must have come from rising moisture from the ground after being a warm day then a cold night. The inner will have been filled with condensation from my body and probably my breath, so this combined with a tent that essentially spent the night resting on my face meant that it was inevitable we would have a damp, dismal experience.
I’m not sure if I got anymore than a few minutes sleep, but I decided at around 0600 to start packing my kit away regardless of how wet it was. I packed everything away except the tent and had my breakfast inside the tent. I donned my boots and jacket and headed outside to see what the weather was actually like. Surprisingly, it was quite a pleasant morning, just slightly too windy for me not to worry about my tent. The sun was shining though and any cloud was passing high above the tops of the hills on Arran so it wasn’t showing any signs of rain. My dad then came out to investigate the conditions and informed me that he’d experienced similar conditions to myself inside his tent too, so he decided to pack up and we hastily descended in the same direction we arrived to drop out of the relentless wind. After dropping about 50m or so in height, we found a small sheltered section and relaxed for a few minutes out of the wind. Before long, we were moving again and off the shoulder of the hill into Coire a’Bhradain. We stopped again after crossing Garbh Allt through the gorge and had a small bite to eat and a drink as well as a thoroughly deserved seat after our fairly quick descent with heavy packs.
Now feeling refreshed, we continued our descent towards Glen Rosa and stopped once more at watersmeet between Garbh Allt and Glenrosa Water. We were well out of the wind now and the day began to feel summery.
After a short rest and more water, we continued out of Glen Rosa and this time walked round Brodick Bay to reach the ferry by foot rather than bus. We boarded the 1350 boat back to Ardrossan and set off having learnt a couple of lessons. Firstly, our tents aren’t really designed for windy mountainous conditions. We were aware of this before heading off and weren’t expecting freak weather, but perhaps next time we’ll pick a day where the conditions are absolutely perfect or pick a hill where we can pitch in a very sheltered spot. Also, down sleeping bags are pretty useless in these conditions. I’ve been quite lucky so far with my Venom 400, having been well ventilated and just the right temperature on almost every use, but perhaps a synthetic bag would be more useful for summit trips or multi day trips in questionable or changeable conditions.
Overall, the trip went fairly well as we were both nowhere near too uncomfortable to survive. We had plenty of food and water and spare clothing after a damp night and despite having almost no sleep, I was still relatively awake and felt pretty fresh on day 2. We will definitely be on more summit wild camps in the future, but not before there’s a change of weather or a small alteration to the equipment that comes with us!