Compleation Walk – Up & Down Ben Lui

21 06 2014

Sat 31 May 2014

On our arrival at Crianlarich on the Friday night, Richard and I met up with my Welsh friend Alan who had come up to join us on my final Munro walk – he was staying at the Youth Hostel. We met up for drinks in the Rod & Reel pub – the place was absolutely jumping and we ended up staying so late Alan was officially locked out of the Youth Hostel and we had to ring the doorbell on our hotel. Luckily for Alan, the hostel warden hadn’t put the lock on properly and he managed to get in… We’d been amused in the pub to see one large guy needed two barstools to sit on – one for each cheek!

Photos by me, Richard Wood, Alan Bellis as marked – click on for full size/resolution
The next morning I picked up Alan at 0930 and drove him up to the meeting-up point at Dalrigh as he’d come up to Scotland by public transport. He set off walking immediately to get a head-start as he didn’t have a bike for the cycle to Cononish Farm. I then drove back for Richard and we looked around to see how many others had made it – a lot had already cancelled in the couple of weeks before the meet for various reasons.

As I drove into the carpark, I noticed a motorcyclist who looked very familiar. I was sure it was my Scottish friend Alan (Chalky) who was due to meet us in the pub that night after the walk but wasn’t walking with us. Indeed it was him! He was off to Germany and so couldn’t make the pub that evening but came to see me off on my big day – really nice of him – I was really chuffed 🙂 As I was chatting to him, another guy came over and introduced himself – it was Bob, my fellow blogger off Blue Sky Scotland. The only other person who hadn’t cancelled was my friend Simon – we waited until 1000 but then decided we’d best set off. I was very worried he might turn up a few minutes late and miss us though as Richard, Bob and I were cycling in and he wouldn’t be. I checked my phone periodically but there was no signal…

Me and Richard are very inept cyclists and kept getting off up all the hills – luckily there weren’t too many – Bob kept patiently waiting for us… We took so long getting to Cononish Farm (45 minutes) that Alan had gone on – we guessed he’d wait further along the route.

First Sight of Ben Lui
First sight of Ben Lui between Dalrigh and Cononish Farm

Now on the walking track – Richard’s Photo…

Ben Lui - Bob Ahead on the Track In
Bob marching ahead (my photo again now)

There is another one and a half miles of vehicle track heading towards Ben Lui but we’d dumped the bikes by now – just as we approached the end of it at the river crossing, we could see a sheepfold with something blue in it. Richard said it was Alan but I insisted it was just a blue plastic bag… “It’s the first blue plastic bag I’ve seen with sunglasses on” said Richard. He was right – it was Alan sat in the sun waiting for us…

We had a quick rest and then all set off up the good path to Coire Gaothach. The path was great and ran alongside the tumbling burn so I had a good few cupfuls of nice, cool water as we ascended – the sun was pretty hot. I also took the opportunity to soak my buff and stick it on my head – a very cooling tactic.

Approach to Coire Gaothach

Ben Lui Waterfall

Soaking my buff 😉 (Richard’s photo)

Ben Lui (5)
Alan’s Photo

Ben Lui - East Wall Exits
We need to get up the corrie wall on the left somewhere (my photo again)

On arrival in the corrie, Alan and I studied the left-hand wall for exit routes up onto the East Ridge as we were going that way. Richard and Bob were undecided as to what route to take at that point as they were only doing Ben Lui but I’d asked Alan if he’d mind accompanying me on the whole walk starting with Beinn a’ Chleibh. My plan was to get onto the shoulder of Lui’s East Ridge, follow a traverse path across to the South Ridge, traverse round the back on grass to the a’ Chleibh col and do that peak first. We were then going to ascend the normal route up the back of Ben Lui to join the other two.

In the end, Richard and Bob decided to join us as far as the Eastern shoulder and then maybe have a scramble up the East Ridge. Richard was unsure at this point whether to do the East Ridge or traverse with us to the gentle South Ridge and ascend from there – it would depend how his arthritic hip was going…

We picked a grassy line beside a snow patch to ascend steeply to the Eastern shoulder and all four of us plodded up it – it was very steep near the top and quite wet with snow-melt.

Ben Lui-East Shoulder Snow Ramp
East Ridge Snow Ramp Route Right of Mid-Photo

Across Coire Gaothach from East Ridge Shoulder
NE Ridge Across Coire Gaothach from East Shoulder

Ben Lui East Ridge
The Majestic East Ridge

Richard’s Photo of East Ridge

Ben Lui East ridge(Alan)
Alan’s shot of me & Richard strolling along East Ridge Shoulder

As soon as we reached the ridge and I looked ahead to our traverse route, I could see we were in trouble! There were three areas where the thick snow hadn’t cleared, only one of which looked avoidable. From the location of the other two snow patches, I knew we would have difficulties. Me and Richard had microspikes but Bob & Alan had nothing with them. Looking at the angle and size of the snow patches, I’d have liked my ice axe as well! Needless to say, none of us took photos along this section…

We set off along the tiny path which goes along the traverse shelf – after last winter, the path is cracking badly and thinking of falling down the mountainside. At this point there was no steep ground below us however – just grassy slopes.

Pretty soon, we encountered the first snow patch – or at least had to pass immediately below its snout at the top of a steep, rocky gully. Alan went first in his summer boots… He had some trouble edging below the snow and we worried he’d slide off down the gully – he made it across though. I went next. The ground was so steep below the snow patch I could only get the very edge of my boots on the grass. The grass was still flattened and wet from the melting snow and very slippery. I plunged each hand deeply into the snow above me and edged across the top of the gully. Just as I crossed the top of it, I couldn’t find anywhere to put my boots at all and Alan warned me there was quite a step across. I was literally bricking it as I lunged across and managed to safely reach the other side. After watching me and hearing the panic in my voice, the other two wisely decided to seek another route!

Bob scrambled steeply up rough, rocky ground to a point way above the snow patch where he could traverse safely into the corrie on grass. Richard set off that way but then decided there was a very safe slot along the top side of the snow patch and went along that – he looked quite funny as we could only see the top half of him above the snow.

As I watched Richard, a sudden gust of wind snatched my buff off my head and it whistled off behind me. I looked around and down the gully but couldn’t see it anywhere for a while… eventually I saw it had landed right in the middle of the steep snow slide above the gully! I tentatively tried to edge across the snow towards it but didn’t like the way the snow went steeply out of sight over the edge and soon came back. In the end, Alan bravely borrowed my microspikes and retrieved it for me – my hero! 🙂

We re-grouped and continued into the corrie for a discussion. The exit from the traverse was steeper than I’d envisaged and was completely blocked with a thick snow ramp with a huge quantity of snow along the top. We all agreed it looked very unsafe indeed…

Ben Lui Exit Ramp & Cornice
The exit ramp – the cornice stretched all the way along the underside of the South Ridge which we were trying to get to!

Richard and Bob decided to set off up the steep East Ridge while Alan and I discussed whether we could traverse left and find a safer, thinner patch of snow to get through onto the South Ridge. In the end, I thought it was too dangerous and reluctantly decided we should also take the East Ridge upwards. I knew that meant we would be a few feet short of Ben Lui’s summit by the time we could turn onto the South Ridge above the cornices though…

As we got further up the steep climb, we saw the top of our traverse’s exit snows – there was the most huge crevasse I’ve ever seen in Britain – it was about 20 feet deep – definitely not a safe place to have ascended. Unfortunately, we could also see that, not far to the left of the exit, there had been a very short and thin section of snow at an easy angle which we could have exited up instead. I apologised profusely to Alan but it was too late to change our route so we continued upwards.

Richard’s photo of the long cornicing from above – we could have got up further left of our exit ramp

And Richard’s close-up of the crevasse! 😮

The East Ridge was quite scrambly in places but great fun and very easy and I enjoyed it immensely. About 30 feet from the summit, Alan and I turned off to head down the back of Lui to the a’ Chleibh col – we were getting very strange looks from the various people sat around having a break up there.

Richard’s photo back down the East Ridge

And his photo of the long descent to Beinn a’ Chleibh (above) with mine of Alan descending (below)
Descending to Beinn a' Chleibh

It was a long way down the back to the col where we dumped our packs (I found dumping mine made little difference as it balances out my heavy camera) and trudged up to Beinn a’ Chleibh. We were out of the wind and in full sun and I slowed considerably due to the heat.

Beinn a' Chleibh from col
My photo of the ascent

I met up with Alan on the summit where he was talking to a chap and telling him I was just about to do my final Munro – the chap was quite excited as he said he’d always wanted to meet someone on their compleation walk. I wasn’t sure the first summit cairn was the true summit as I could see another of similar height a short way further on so went off to visit that just in case. A couple of guys followed me… I think the first one is the actual summit.

Ben Lui over a' Chleibh Lochan
My photo of Ben Lui across a lochan near the summit

Alan and I had a short break on reaching the col again and then set off to tackle the long, hot slog back up to Ben Lui again. He is much fitter than me so forged ahead so he could get set up to take photos of my arrival. The long grassy section was quite easy but near the summit, the path gets steeper, looser and rockier and I found it quite hard.

Ben Lui from a' Chleibh
The Long Re-ascent of Ben Lui (my photo) – we should have traversed to the col from the peak low on the right-hand ridge on the far right of the photo!

Richard’s photos of me soldiering up and arriving…

By the time I reached the summit I was feeling pretty tired and, unfortunately, that made me a bit subdued. The others kept having to remind me to celebrate!

Carol on her final Munro, Ben Lui
Alan’s Photo of Munro Compleatist number 5485

Bob had very kindly brought balloons and tied them to his walking pole and was flying them from the cairn.

Bob's Balloons for me
Balloons – a nice surprise (my photo)

Richard had brought me chocolates to celebrate with (I don’t drink so champagne or whisky was out in my case). Everyone took various photos of me either at the summit cairn or resting in the sun with my coffee and choccies and we sat chatting for a while.

Richard’s photo

My photos of the summit area…

Ben Lui South Ridge & Crevasse!
Looking down South Ridge from just above where Alan and I reached!

Ben Lui NE Peak(with sun)
The NE Ridge top

Central Gully Cornice!
A cornice block the size of my box room at the exit of Central Gully!

Richard’s photo Down Our Ascent Ridge from the Summit Area

Richard’s photo of the main summit from the NE Summit (above) and mine with the East Ridge on the left (below)
Ben Lui Summit & East Ridge Top

My choice of descent wasn’t a good one – I’d decided to go down the ‘normal’ route of the North-Eastern Ridge – it looked pretty steep – it certainly was! I have to admit to being quite terrified until we reached the shoulder way below us. The path was loose, the ridge was steep and narrow and, if you slipped left, there were some nice, sharp rocks and then a huge snow slide down the steep corrie. The other side of the ridge was a huge drop into Coire Gaothach!

Richard’s photo of the NE Ridge from the summit ridge

The path kept as near to the edge as it could, even when it had a choice and could have cut safely down the corrie straight for the shoulder below. I assumed that was because the corrie was often full of dangerous snow slopes.

Richard’s photos of our descent


After the first little shoulder, the path got even worse and I got seriously scared and started whimpering and complaining constantly to Richard – Alan and Bob were way ahead I was being so cautious! I was ashamed that I was making such a fuss on my final Munro descent but thought the route was pretty dangerous.

At one point, I knew there was a sheer drop ahead into the corrie and the path was edging nearer and nearer to the void. It would get to an edge and then there would be a clamber down to another sort of ‘ledge’ and the path would head for another edge. In the end, it reached the final drop over the cliffs and turned left on loose ground directly above the drop – ugh! I noticed there were sharp, pointy rocks waiting below to tear you apart if you slipped…

Richard’s photos of the nasty crags below the traverse!

Ben Lui-Richard on NE Ridge
My photo of Richard ahead when things calmed down a bit!

When we finally reached the North-eastern shoulder, there was a small peak ahead which I said we should quickly visit before starting the steep descent down the next path into the corrie. The next path wasn’t particularly scary but I still found it necessary to go slowly as I hate steep, loose paths. Poor Bob was sat quite a while in the corrie waiting. Alan, being bike-less, was continuing back ahead of us anyway.

Richard’s photo looking back up – the path insisted on following the edge all the way

Richard’s photo of the onward descent path from the little peak we added in and some across the corrie to our ascent route



When we caught Bob up and sat for a break in the sun above the corrie, he remembered another present he hadn’t given me on the summit and fished in his pack for it. We then all descended to, and then out of, the corrie. Even I found the descent from the corrie to the valley below exceedingly long and my thigh muscles started screaming. There was a young lad descending by us and he looked so knackered Bob asked whether he was okay. Ben Lui is a long, tough descent, that’s for sure!

We were pleased to get back to our bikes – it was nice to just sit down and freewheel nearly all the way back to Dalrigh. We all went at different speeds on the rough track – Bob way in front and me at the back being super-cautious. I was surprised to reach the carpark and find only Bob & Alan there – no Richard. I asked if anyone had seen him but no-one had. After about five more minutes, he turned up after having taken a wrong turn and had an adventure wading back across the river with the bike.

Bob had to go straight after the walk as he was meeting someone so me, Alan and Richard hit the Rod & Reel again to see if anyone else turned up. A few had said they might but, in the end, no-one else made it. It was a party-like atmosphere in there again with some great music. I said I’d pay the tab and we put all the meals and drinks on it.

After a superb meal and quite a few drinks, I went off to the bar to pay our tab. “Oh, it’s been paid” the barmaid said. I checked with Richard and Alan and they hadn’t paid it. It turned out that the two guys on the next table had given the wrong table number and paid our tab accidentally. I paid theirs instead but it was about half what ours would have been – very nice of them – thanks guys!




14 responses

16 02 2015

Congratulations – not such a Mountain Coward after all then!

I’ve still got a dozen to go. Not sure if that’s good or bad really. I think I’ll miss them if they ever get done.

How do /you/ feel now?

Regards and respect … MartinJ


19 02 2015

Thanks Martin. I immediately started on working on finishing my Munro Tops (only 29 to go now) when I’d compleated the Munros. I missed the challenge really and felt I needed to take on another list. Having said that, I’m pretty sure I won’t be doing the Corbetts as I’ve only done 25 and I think I’m getting too old. I’m finding the hills much harder in the last couple of years and even some of my joints are now thinking they might start to wear out.

I’m still cowardly though – that didn’t really get completely better – I still get nervous before Scottish stuff and scared on some of the hills or routes…


30 06 2014
Tessa Park

Great report 🙂 sorry that we couldn’t make it. Don’t think I’d have liked your route much though!!


1 07 2014

It certainly didn’t go to plan with the snow so you might not have! If you do it and want to do the NE ridge, go UP instead of down – that way, you won’t be sliding about looking down big drops. I enjoyed the East Ridge though.

I had a look at the normal ‘northern route’ for both hills and it looked really easy – there wasn’t any snow either which I’d thought there would be, it being north-facing.


24 06 2014
Scotlands Mountains

Congratulations MC 🙂 I was swithering as to whether to come but thought there would be a large crowd and me no likey crowds.Took the opportunity of the two days of sunshine to spray the wing of my car instead.

Seems weird seeing Bob on someone elses blog 🙂


24 06 2014

Shame you couldn’t make it – there were only 4 of us and you knew Bob so I don’t think it would have been too bad for you! We had superb weather for a change too. I had a more close-up photo of Bob but thought he might not like me to put it out there (I notice he doesn’t do ‘selfies’ on his blog), so I didn’t and just stuck with the one of him walking ahead…


23 06 2014

Congratulations, Carol. The balloons were a nice touch. Shame you don’t drink whisky.
Ben Lui is one of my favourite mountains. It was one of my early Munros and I had a perfect September day to climb it – one of those rare autumn days with a frosty morning and cloudless sky. You coulddn’t have had a more beautiful mountain on which to finish.
Cheers, Alen


24 06 2014

With that descent, it’s probably as well I didn’t drink whisky! On the other hand, maybe it would have given me ‘Scotch Courage’! 😉


22 06 2014

Bugger, looked like a missed a great day 😦 but great job and of course typical MC style, not entirely free of difficulties & drama!!!

Maybe I can make it when you compleat the tops or the Corbetts?

Cheers Simon


22 06 2014

I don’t think there’ll be a Corbetts Compleation so I’ll have to give you a shout for the Tops Compleation. You missed a very untypical MountainCoward weather day!


22 06 2014

It was a great day out and the weather could not have been better. Well done Carol for picking one of the most entertaining Munros to finish on. I forgot how good Ben Lui can be as a scrambling hill.


22 06 2014

I couldn’t believe what good weather it was 🙂 It was a great day apart from that bloody NE ridge! I think I wouldn’t have minded going up that way but, as a descent, it was ‘orrid!

I quite fancy doing the whole East Ridge and then coming back along that traverse I was supposed to do…


21 06 2014

Excellent stuff Carol! Aren’t you supposed to choose a drama-free one for the final summit, though? 🙂


21 06 2014

Not if you’re a mountain coward! 😉


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