Day 1: 10 miles 4857 ft – Day 2: didn’t know, didn’t care!
This report covers two days, the second of which was so dreish I didn’t even bother to take my camera (and wasn’t sorry) and the first of which only cleared up in the last hour on the way back down! I’ve spaced the photos out into their relevant places though or they’d all be in the middle!
During Richard and my week in the Ben Lawers area, our plans were to do the Ben Lawers horseshoe by starting up Meall Greigh and doing the ridge right round to Beinn Ghlas and then back along the track which goes from under Ben Lawers to Lochan nan Cat. However, the weather had other plans and it was mostly so dire we really didn’t want to do the whole ridge in one go as we were holding out in hope of a view one day.
(click on photos for full size/resolution)
Also due to the foul weather, my normally sunny-natured and reliable Sunny became totally fed-up of living inside a cloud and decided one morning not to bother starting at all. This meant bump-starting down the long drive and then a trip to Lix Toll for mending… apparently the end of the distributor cap had completely burnt out, along with the rotor arm, due to arcing in the excessive damp!
It was bad enough losing the car for a couple of days but I hadn’t taken my driving licence which made it awkward getting a courtesy/hire car, however, the garage were great and let me spend the morning on the phone to my insurers sorting something out. I ended up with them ‘hiring’ me a car as a courtesy car – I got a slight shock when I went outside to pick it up though… We got sat in it and I looked down for the gear lever and found… it was an automatic! Eeeek! I’ve only ever driven about three in my life and hate them but anyway, I only managed to smash Richard’s head in on the windscreen once.
The next morning it was cloud right down to Loch Tay and so I decided the best walk would be to do Beinn Ghlas to An Stuc from the Visitor Centre as I knew there’d be a good track all the way and we wouldn’t have to navigate (I hate navigating!)
I particularly wanted a good day to do Mealls Greig and Garbh as they’re the ones which are looking straight towards Glen Lyon and the Carn Mairg Four which we were intending to do later in the week. There was no way I was going to try a descent to them from An Stuc in greasy wet weather so we decided to leave them until another day…
As we were hoping to pick the Sunny up before closing time we thought we’d best start early and the book was quoting daft times for our walk. We got up around 7 – ridiculously early for me – and hit the hill around 8.
So much for early starts… we were both so absolutely knackered at that time in the morning that we really crawled up the track from the Visitor Centre. I was feeling like I would collapse at any minute – a far cry from my normally enthusiastic self at the start of a walk. We were walking at literally half our normal speed and it wasn’t looking good for getting what we wanted done before we had to be back at Lix Toll for my car. At one point, I warned Richard about a slug on the path (I hate things getting squashed) by calling “slug” behind me… he just said, “I know, I can’t help it, I’m knackered”
Luckily the path has an excellent zig-zag up onto the ridge and is no effort at all – otherwise I’d have died I think. Arrival on the ridge was when the cold north wind hit us (reviving me slightly), along with increasingly drizzly rain. At least it took our mind off being tired out…
We were soon on Beinn Ghlas summit and making our way along the excellent pathed ridge to the col. I could feel crags on my left as we left the summit but couldn’t really see anything at all.
On the col there was a pretty little lochan and I decided to hide behind the convenient rocks here and put my waterproofs on – quite unusual for me, but the rain and cold wind weren’t a good combination. Richard had suited up at the outset.
We then set off on the excellent stone-pitched zig-zag up Ben Lawers. I found this a pretty short and easy climb and soon saw what looked like two trig points looming out of the mist atop a knoll – they were…
We had a short break on the summit and a warming drink. I thought the ridge to our right was the continuation ridge but, on checking the map, found it was the one slightly left of it. The ridge was pleasantly narrow and descended at a steady rate until it eventually reached a flat area before a very slight ascent to the Munro ‘top’. From the ‘top’ the path clambered past a sheep bone down a slightly craggy area (no problems) on the left and then continued in the original direction towards the col before An Stuc. At times this path tended to trend downhill on the right hand side of the ridge and I was a little worried it was about to head off down to Lochan nan Cat but it didn’t.
It was a steep climb up from the col to An Stuc to start with but soon slackened off. However, it was at this point I started to feel quite tired again and made heavy weather of the ascent. Although basically in the same direction as the descent from Ben Lawers, An Stuc seemed to be totally sheltered and warm so we had a decent break on the summit. I went over to the end to look down the very steep face – I reached the top of the craggy bit and peered into the mist but couldn’t see anything really…
We then retraced our steps all the way back along the route to the visitor centre… the re-ascent of Ben Lawers seemed to go on forever – it’s about a mile so quite long really. While sitting on the summit again eating Richard’s tea loaf and drinking more hot drinks, I looked up and noticed there was a little bit of blue above us. I pointed it out to Richard and it actually started to expand… By the time we were leaving the summit, the knoll with the trig point on had started to materialise behind us – still nothing below though.
About half way down the descent of the zig-zags we saw two things… the first was a chappie coming up – the first person we’d seen all day… the second was a slightly clearing col and bits of Beinn Ghlas appearing. I whipped the previously redundant camera out ready… yep – definitely things were appearing. Within about 5 minutes, Beinn Ghlas had come out, Ben Lawers was considering it behind us, and Meall Corranaich had loomed into view ahead. We had been going to take the path from the col behind the ridge and miss out Beinn Ghlas on the way back but decided, now there was a view, to go back over it.
As we reached the col lots of people suddenly appeared all heading our way. All the sensible folks who’d had a good lie-in, a good breakfast, read the paper, then decided to go for a walk when the sun came out and it stopped raining! I was quite jealous that they were going to have a superb walk when we’d had quite a miserable one really. Still, I was clicking away with the camera and managed to take a whole film before we got back to the visitor centre. So much for needing an early start – it was only 1.30pm!
On the day before we went home it was another miserable day with the cloud again down to Loch Tay but we had the ridge to finish off. As we were staying at Machuim Farm cottages we just had to set off up the track behind the farm towards Lochan nan Cat to do Mealls Greigh and Garbh. I decided it was best to walk up to the Loch and then it looked easy but steepish on the map up to the col between Garbh and An Stuc. We would then do Meall Garbh, plod along to Meall Greigh and have an easy, grassy descent in the clag – I think ascents in the clag can seem to go on forever sometimes, especially without a path.
We sloshed our way up the boggy track for a few miles to the Loch – unable to see further than the opposite bank all the way. I was glad I’d left the camera at the cottage.
As we reached the Loch, it started to clear slightly and we could at least see various cols appearing. However, most of the area surrounding the loch looked really craggy and forbidding and I wasn’t sure which col was ours. I was thinking it was straight ahead which didn’t look too bad – at least it seemed grassy enough. But there was another col to the right of that past some truly awful cragginess. This col wasn’t half as simple looking… it had lots of greasy-looking small crags peppered about all over the grass slopes, none of which I really wanted to ascend steeply above in those conditions. My heart sank as I realised this was our col! It had to be as I’d deduced that the truly awful cragginess between the two cols was the lower slopes of An Stuc.
We stood at the loch and I pointed out to Richard where we had to go – even he didn’t look keen as it was just so steep. We decided that we had to go for the bit where there was no crag at all – ferociously steep grass though. The more I looked at it, the more impossible it looked – it was pretty vertical near the top really. We set off towards our chosen route on a rising traverse across a grassy ridge when I decided I would be far happier up the ridge itself so altered course up it. There were some objections from Richard but I said it looked a lot better. We ended up following a burn up through a gully with some extremely steep grass exits – so steep you couldn’t really not use your hands. Still, I thought, it eases after this bit – it didn’t for quite a while but we plodded on up, me getting happier as we got higher and it started to get less steep.
We eventually reached the height of the col (but way to the right of it) and decided not to bother going to look at An Stuc as we wouldn’t see anything anyway and it was by now quite a way off. The weather was getting worse… By now we were on a fairly plain grassy hillside and didn’t really have much idea where exactly. The only feature I could see was a slight re-entrant with a stream issuing from it – but there were no streams marked on the map for our bit of hill… I decided that it matched a kink in the contours and successfully found us the summit in the next few minutes so was a bit boosted by that. My method had been to aim well off to the left to find the ridgeline and then find the path from An Stuc to Meall Garbh (I knew there would be one).
From here it was all plain-sailing as there was path all the way and no difficulties other than slippery mud on the steepish descent from Meall Garbh. It even cleared briefly so we could see the ridges which go down to Glen Lyon – never saw the valley though. It’s a long climb up a gentle ridge to Meall Greigh but very easy. We then just continued straight on to descend to just above the farm on a thin path in the grass. We never saw the burn again until just as we landed on the top of its steep bank! And were we soaked! We were both very happy to get back to our lovely comfy cottage…