Sunshine on the Ben Lawers Round

The sun was shining, the midges were sleeping and the cloud across the Ben Lawers summit was looking like it would lift. What a perfect day for climbing mountains, it was hard to believe I was in Scotland.

Intending to do all of the 5 munros on the Ben Lawers range I knew it was going to be a long walk with a really dull slog back to the car. As I parked up at 9am at the main car park I was surprised by the number of cars already there and also by the information about the Nature Reserve on the large stones. Enough to distract me from my hike. From the car park the route starts sedately through the Nature Reserve.

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The route up Ben Lawers is a steep climb but simple to navigate as the route is entirely on a path. Compared to the previous day’s bog trot this was a fantastic mountain ridge with brilliant views into both Glen Lyon and to Loch Tay. It’s such a good walk I wasn’t the only one on the way up early in the morning. Crossing the first Munro of Beinn Ghlas I headed into the cloud, and the two German men who’d been behind me, finally caught me up.

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At 1214m Ben Lawers is the 10th highest Munro in Scotland and as such it was a surprise to find the two men who had confidently whizzed passed me up the mountain asking me if they were at the summit. Ok, we were in the cloud and you could argue it’s possible to be unsure, though I think the trig point was a bit of a give away. So I asked them how far they were going.

I was beyond surprised to hear they were on their way back down – not just because they were clearly fit enough to do the full round, but because the reason was they didn’t have a map. Seriously, there’s never an excuse to climb a mountain without a map! I resisted the urge to lecture them.

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A third chap bravely wearing shorts and clearly planning to complete the round before lunch and without breaking a sweat, stopped briefly to check his compass and headed off in the right direction to continue the round. I wasn’t going to bother trying to keep up with him.

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I bimbled across the ridge line to An Stuc, the third Munro and quickly worked out why Steve Kew warns in the Cicerone Munro guide ‘not to get stuck on An Stuc’. Commence jelly legs and bum sliding down the rock face as I descended. My down climbing is never graceful nor without swearing.

Annoyingly An Stuc looks like it has a simple way to ascend from the bottom which isn’t clear from the top. Damn.

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From An Stuc the remaining 2 munros Meall Garbh and Meall Greigh are barely noticeable except the miles which are needed to reach them. So it was lovely to break the trudge by meeting a shepherd and his four gorgeous sheep dogs. What a fantastic job, I mean it would be crap to do it in the typical Scottish sideways rain and but on a clear day, I’m jealous.

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I met at least 6 other walkers on these final tops who were also only doing part of the round. Perhaps I am too addicted to tick lists to consider not doing the whole route- while these final Munros might not have the adventure of An Stuc or the height of Ben Lawers they do have fantastic views.

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As I descended to the track at Lawers Burn I watched the sheep dogs rounding up the sheep, an amazing sight.

The trudge back to my car was long, dull and the sun came out which made it a real slog. The track runs around the side of the mountain and provides a quick route back, but unfortunately stops about half way, leaving the need to work your way around the hillside trying to contour and not lose too much height but also not twist ankles. I was knackered once back at my car. Having made it to the final Munro 4 and a half hours from setting out, it was soul destroying to have 2 hours 45 minutes back to the car. Ugh.

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Bog trotting – munro bagging

I’m not sure I fit the stereotype of the typical Munro bagging, surely they have old 1980s oversized waterproofs in neon colours, big heavy gaiters over old boots, rucksacks you could fit yourself in and doggy determination to walk for miles and miles.

As I stood ankle-deep in the peat bog between Meall Glas and Sgiath Chuil I had to question whether I was, however, crazy. To start with neither of these mountains are significant players in the munro lists (199 and 270 highest out of 283), there is no distinct path across the endless bog between the two and frankly there are nicer munros in the Trossachs – I’d even bagged 2 the day before.

But I was there and even when the sun turned to rain there was no point turning back. I think that statement either marks me as a munro-bagger or just plain mad.

The hike starts out from the A85 in Glen Dochart, parking at Auchessen – a lovely little spot on a surprisingly sunny day.

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As I crossed the river and headed past the cottages I actually thought the walk was going to be a nice uncomplicated affair, a bit off-path, but otherwise not too strenuous and the sun was out. There is even a new track being constructed by the local farmers presumably to provide them with better access to the moors and also making a simpler ascent beyond the houses towards Meall Glas.

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To be honest, the smile on the chap’s face as I passed his JCB digger should have told me everything, and it didn’t take long for me to find myself in a pathless plateau aiming for Meall Glas but wondering if it wasn’t at all easier to give up munro bagging and enjoy dry feet. On the plus side I did see some amazing bog plants as I waded through the peat hags. Ever cloud has a silver lining…. til it rains on you.

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Which of course it then promptly did as I ascended out of the bog and up to Meall Glas summit. So heavy I quickly continued along the fell top. Frankly, after crossing mile after mile of bog I’d like the trig point to be at the top of the right mountain but it sits on neighbouring Beinn Cheathaich. At least it stopped raining. Well, at least long enough for me to sit and eat something.

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Whilst I toyed with the idea of heading straight back to the car to save my feet and my sanity the thought of having to ever cross the peat again to ascend Sgiath Chuil was enough of a motivation. It is after all only about 310m to climb. Oh good the rain is coming my way again.

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At least the descent back down is straight forward and once back down to the main river it’s possible to follow it and eventually a path emerges to follow back down to the track. Even the cows were surprised to see me.

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A wet walk up Ben More and Stob Binnien

Despite the risk of rain I had every intention of getting munros bagged whilst I was camping in Glen Dochart in the Trossachs last week. I had a nice surprise to find my parents had detoured on their travels around Scotland to meet up, but I think Dad was less impressed this meant he would be bagging munros with me.

Ben More is easily accessed from the A85 between Crianlarich and Killin, although this does involve spotting the tiny sign indicating the start of the trail, hidden in the trees.

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The start of the route is following a track uphill as far as a gate, from where you need to cut off and weave your way up the mountainside. It is a grassy ascent for the majority of the way, but with no real path and lovely damp Scottish ground, this makes for a boggy ascent. Dad was even less impressed.

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Its a slow slog to the summit, climbing 874m of the grassy steep slope to the summit at 1174m. As you near the summit a wall appears to the right, marking the edge of the steep drop round the west side, and next to it a path leading to the summit.

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After a quick snack at the summit in the clouds, we continued on to drop down and then ascend Stob Binnein, the second munro of the day.

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No trig point here to mark the summit, but there is a cairn and as the clouds parted we had a fab view of the rest of the ridge.

 

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As we turned around to descend back down to the col it started to rain, making the descent west off the hill, down to the track at Benmore Burn a wet and soggy trudge. I probably added to the misery by cutting off the path and heading directly for the end of the track, but it did mean we saw this happy frog.

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Whiskey and walking, walking and whiskey.

Always one to make the most of the bank holiday weekends, I dragged my best friend to the Trossachs. Not only was this her first time hiking in Scotland, it was also the first time she had been camping in the UK too. I had to rectify that immediately!

Now I’m not suggesting she isn’t a hiker, as she’s done the Inca Trail, but somehow she’d made it through her life and never walked any of the amazing hills in the UK. So we took the opportunity to visit a friend in Scotland to rectify the situation.

I opted for Crieff as our base, deciding there would be enough to keep us all happy if the weather was awful the whole time we were there, which lets face it is always a possibility in Scotland. It was also close enough for our Scottish friend to join us for a few days.

I was careful not to have the whole break revolve around mountains, which I would have done had I gone alone, I resisted my urge to inflict my obsession on others. Out of the choice of great walks in the area bizarrely they both opted to climb Ben Vorlich over the shorter walk of Ben Chonzie.

After a day of relaxing at the Blackford Highland games and sampling some very fine whiskey, we spent the next day bagging the two munros of Ben Vorlich and Stuc a Chroin.

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Ben Vorlich is an easy munro to bag as there is a clear path from Ardvorlich to the summit and we were very lucky to have great views once there. However from there it is clear that not many walkers carry on to bag Stuc a Chroin too; probably put off by the wall of rock staring back at you.

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Despite the rockface ahead there is a path of sorts around it to the left to avoid any need to scramble, although my fearless friend still didn’t want to look back at the view!

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From the summit of Stuc a Chroin most people skirt back below its summit to the north side to end up back on the Ben Vorlich track. Despite the long walk and jelly legs from the ascent, my friends decided they wanted to descend down to Glen Ample to walk through the woodland. This added an entertaining climb through a 10 metre high deer fence (thankfully there was a person sized hole in it!) and another 2-3 miles to the walk, past the deers at a local farm and back along the country lane.  Nevertheless it was a good route all round.

Our second day’s walk was a half-hearted affair to bag Ben Chonzie, just because it was there. But I was please to discover that despite the blanket fog we encountered my friend really wanted to go on. I think I might have turned her into a munro bagger after all! 

DSCF2988 There’s a summit cairn up here somewhere!