An Caisteal & Beinn a’ Chroin

20 02 2014

Sep 2010
Stats: 2 Munros, 1 top, 10 miles, 3366 feet of ascent, 5 hours 45. Me and Richard in total clag! No decent photos from the actual walk as we didn’t see anything until after we’d descended back into the sunshine!

Richard and I were taking our last Munroing trip of the year and had based ourselves at Crianlarich. After one superb day where we did the Ben More/Stobinian round, the weather turned quite nasty. After two days avoiding the worst of the weather by taking the train to Oban (where the weather was better) and then Fort William (where it wasn’t), it stopped raining and was quite a good forecast. We looked out of the B&B and all was fine and dandy… We decided to be lazy and drive the car up to the starting layby – very naughty as it’s only about a mile and a half… but that adds 3 miles to the walk and the weather was supposed to go off ‘later’.

We were only the second car in the layby, although more arrived later, and we set off through the railway underpass and up the track we’d been on a few days before when we’d done Cruach Ardrain – the funny man in the forest was gone (see the Cruach Ardrain report)…

Ben More from An Caisteal parking
Ben More from An Caisteal parking

Pretty soon there is a small cairn where we turned off along the squelchy path following the burn across to the foot of Sron Gharbh. Looking at this route, I was surprised it turned off so early as all that achieves is to traipse through lots of boggy ground and ascend steeper ground up more bog. We thought it would probably have been better to follow the vehicle track a lot further along the glen and ascend the less steep NE side of Sron Gharbh after the bogs. I suppose we were free to do that but, as I’ve said before, we’re path addicts so we went where it did.

Sron Garbh from A82
Sron Garbh from A82

Although it had been clear when we set off (though dull, not sunny as promised), the moment we reached the top of the climb up the Sron the clag came quickly in. We still had a path so we trudged on up the ridge. This ridge was a lot easier than the Grey Heights one for Cruach Ardrain as it ascended gently instead of going up and down and twisting about.

The route steepened slightly where the hill name changes to “Twistin’ Hill” on the map and there were some interesting features along the way. First of all the ridge split into three parallel ridges – the path went up the middle one. Then there was a gully across the ridge which had a rocky clamber in and out again – the rocks were damp and greasy so all the rocky bits were tricky.

Then out of the mist loomed ‘the Castle’ which the hill is named after. I looked at the end of its rocky ridge and could see there was a route straight up the middle but Richard had followed the path along the left-hand edge so I followed him. This was narrow and had quite a steep drop off it so I wasn’t keen. It ended in rocks which needed to be clambered up to our right back onto the ridge. This being greasy, it was a bit tricky – we’d definitely have been better on my central route I think. Then we were admiring the castle and having a quick chat with the guy we’d caught up who was having a break by the cairn there. But I knew it wasn’t the summit so we soon pressed on.

Very soon after that, and with little more climbing, we were at the summit – a cold, misty and windy place so we didn’t linger. We started the clambery descent to the col while I worried and fretted about what the route up Beinn a’ Chroin would be like. By now the guy we’d spoken to on the summit was following us. There was one awkward bit where there were some steep slabs to descend above quite a drop down on the left – I decided it would be too dangerous to descend with it being so greasy so we looked around and found there was another, easier route the other side of the ridge.

Just as we reached the last scramble down to the col the cloud cleared for a couple of seconds. I told Richard to look quick and he sounded like he got a bit of a shock at the steep, craggy bulk which loomed ahead. I thought it actually looked a bit easier than I was expecting as it didn’t look much of a climb…

We soon reached the start of the path up Beinn a’ Chroin. I’d seen pictures of it before and remembered seeing a level path cutting through an awkward looking crag to the right so was looking out for that bit. As we ascended, the craggy buttress suddenly loomed out of the mist and I peered hard at it… I soon saw my ‘level path’ – it wasn’t level at all – I’d got totally the wrong impression from my glance at the photo. The path was rising up at a fair angle and the little grassy nick in the buttress it was heading for looked pretty small to me. Plus the drop off the buttress felt huge – after a very brief look at it, I didn’t look any more! I wasn’t happy…

We passed through the nick and I stared into the mist to see what happened next, hoping we would get onto wider ground and away from the big drop – we didn’t. The path continued on a narrowing ‘ledge’ of grass rising all the way. I could see our narrow grassy ledge soon ran out however and worried what happened after that. The route ahead became totally blocked by crags so I looked hard left for the path – there it was – going very steeply up to a crag band – ugh! I was breathing heavily now as I do when I’m stressed but fairly determined and coping nonetheless.

I headed steeply up to the crag band followed closely by Richard and we got to the rock step where I stopped to study it – it was very steep ground below us now. Even Richard wasn’t impressed as it was quite a big step up and extremely greasy. He told me to take my time and watch what I was doing with my feet – I assured him I would – but the reminder to take my time calmed me down a bit and made me think more.

After discussing where the footholds were, I placed my foot on the first one, ignored the middle one which was tucked away under the rock step and just stretched up for the one near the top of the step. My long legs reached it okay and I wedged myself across from that foothold to get my knee onto the top of the rock step. I was up and just had a few more greasy steps to do then it was grass again and looked easier. Then it was Richard’s turn… and he isn’t as tall as me…

He floundered away for a while but couldn’t get up and the guy behind was waiting so he started to offer to let him past. That meant I was stranded above the rock step wondering whether I was going to have to climb back down it so I wasn’t having any of it. I told him he had to get up now please and reminded him about the extra foothold tucked away below the rock step – ah yes – then he was up.

We continued up the next grassy zig-zag, things looking much better now we were away from the drops. Shortly before we reached a little rocky gully – this time with easy steps up it – I realised the guy hadn’t yet appeared and sent Richard to see if he’d got up the step okay. He went and peered over the edge and confirmed he had.

We continued and, immediately after the rocky gully, the ground levelled out. I was sure we couldn’t be up yet but we were. The summit followed soon after a couple of small ups and downs – again, much sooner than I expected. The other guy caught us up here. We didn’t stay at the summit as again it wasn’t very nice weather and we couldn’t see anything but he stayed for a break.

After a few minutes more progress along the ridge, we came to an awkward downclimb – it was probably only awkward because it was wet and greasy. I ended up having to sit down to get down it. Then there was a narrow col with a stream setting off down the hill. I wondered if this was the col between the summit ridge and the East ‘top’ but thought it was too soon as it said it was at least a ‘kilometre’ on the map.

As the ridge had become very complicated in the mist and we thought we might have to come back to this col Richard pulled a neat trick which made me laugh – out of his pocket he fished a piece of tailor’s chalk and marked the rocks on the side of the col we were about to ascend! Talk about a trail of breadcrumbs… 😉

The path had a very definite short ascent to a rounded cairned peak which we decided had to be the top as it was the right shape of peak. I said we had to head off north from there down a ridge but that I didn’t think there was a path to start with. We fished around and couldn’t see a path but I thought I’d seen one join us from the left (north) as we ascended to the top. We went back down our original route slightly and there was our path turning off to the north.

Still keeping my compass out and watching it carefully, we followed the path which was pretty sketchy at first. Eventually, as we got lower, the path became clearer and we were happier. I’d been worried higher up as I didn’t want to get the descent wrong as I knew how severely craggy the northern slopes of the mountain were. We then dropped out of the cloud to see the other guy in front of us! We couldn’t figure out how he’d got there but he must have gone down from the little col without doing the top.

All went okay to the bottom of the hill where I took a few grotty photos of the claggy surroundings. We then crossed the river to follow the track back. I was hoping it was going to be the same vehicle track we’d left earlier but it was just a grassy track across the bogs. And what bogs they were! It was a really wet walk back down the valley for another 2 miles before we regained the nice, dry vehicle track where we finally allowed ourselves a break in the sun – before that it was too wet to sit anywhere!

I had a huge disappointment when I rushed back to the Crianlarich station tearoom for a fried-egg sandwich… it was their half day and they were shut!

Here are the only photos we got on the hill and they were near the end of the walk!

Bealach a' Chroin appearing
Bealach a’ Chroin appearing

An Caisteal appearing
An Caisteal appearing

Cruach Ardrain shoulder & Beinn Tulaichean
Cruach Ardrain shoulder & Beinn Tulaichean

Beinn a' Chroin descent ridge fm near bottom
Looking back up Beinn a’ Chroin descent

Cruach Ardrain fm Beinn a' Chroin descent
Cruach Ardrain from Beinn a’ Chroin

Beinn Challum S Top from foot of An Caisteal
Beinn Challum from foot of An Caisteal

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6 responses

20 02 2014
bob

Pity about the weather being dull Carol. It’s been so long since I’ve been up those hills I’ve forgotten most of the features on them. I do remember standing on my hand with new and very sharp crampons attached to boots during a winter descent of Beinn a Chroin. Front pointing your own fingers is not recommended unless you like intense pain. The dripping blood came in very useful in what was a complete whiteout however, as it showed up well against the snow Still got the scars to this day!. Not very fond of that hill.

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20 02 2014
mountaincoward

Ouch! I actually didn’t mind the hill in the end but, if I’d had your painful experience on it, I’m sure it would have put me off too! 😮
Carol.

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20 02 2014
fedupofuserids

Shame about the weather & lack of photographs – I’ve driven past these many times but never ventured away from the car.

I always think that ‘drops’ seem bigger & more exposed in the mist when you return on a clear day they are not usually half as bad.

I’ll remember the tailors chalk trick 😉

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20 02 2014
mountaincoward

Yeah the chalk doesn’t take much carrying! 😉

I’m much more ‘windy’ about drops in the mist – I have a superb imagination and it takes full control in those conditions!
Carol.

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20 02 2014
McEff

Funny how the mind, or the memory, plays tricks on you. I’ve done that, seen pictures of obvious paths up steep places – or thought I had – only to discover that when you finally arrive there the situation iss totally different.
I’ve also had the unparalleled disappointment of turning up somewhere expecting to be refreshed and discovering it was half-day and the place is closed – a little shop at Kinlochewe while walking the Cape Wrath Trail being the first one that springs to mind. But there you go. That’s life.
Great report, Carol. I’ve not ventured into that group of hills at all. I shall pick a good clear day when I decide to do so.
Cheers, Alen

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20 02 2014
mountaincoward

The route-finding is pretty easy on An Caisteal but a bit harder on Beinn a’ Chroin. But the worst problem in wet weather is the greasiness of the rock – that really does cause problems as there’s quite a bit of clambering around. On a nice day though, these would be 2 great hills.

That would have been a disaster finding the Kinlochewe store shut – I presume there wasn’t a cafe in those days? I probably called in the Crianlarich Co-op after I’d got over my disappointment at missing my nice, greasy snack 🙂

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