Taynuilt Peak by Train

24 09 2014

Mon 1 Sep 2014
As I had a few Munro Tops to bag in the area, I’d booked a 3-night stay at the lovely Suie Lodge Hotel between Crianlarich and Killin. The weather was forecast to be good for the whole of my trip but, as often is the case, didn’t turn out that way! Thinking I’d get the most remote of the tops I had planned out of the way first, that of Taynuilt Peak in the Ben Cruachan range, I decided to bag that on the first day. As there is a railway station at the start of the path up the hill, I fancied taking the train for a change…

(minimal photos for this one due to the clag)

I perused the train timetable at Crianlarich and was pleased to see that I didn’t have to set off from there until 1015 – as I was only staying eight miles down the road, that meant a very leisurely start 🙂 I’d checked the mileage of my route and it was going to be eight miles – that gave me 7 hours 45 minutes before I caught the early evening train back again – plenty of time, even with the quite large height gain involved.

After a leisurely breakfast, I drove to Crianlarich Station and lounged on the platform in the sun. The train arrived bang on time, uncoupled the carriages which were going up to Fort William, and then set off westwards for the Falls of Cruachan stop where I was to alight. As we headed further west, however, the sun went in and I could see the clouds start to descend on the hills…

We rolled into Falls of Cruachan at ten to eleven (again on time) – I hadn’t had to pay as the guard hadn’t ventured down to my carriage to collect my fare. I was the only person to alight at the platform but later met people on the hill who’d also taken the train.

There are two choices of path, one either side of the burn, tackling the exceedingly steep lower slopes of the hill. I don’t like the eastern path which takes off under the railway as, just before the hydro-dam, there is a very nasty leaning stile over the deer fence. I’m not the only person to have been perturbed at the angle of lean and the large drop into the gorge immediately below it! I headed down to the roadside and, after a quick search, located the road which heads back to a level crossing over the railway and the path up the western bank of the burn.

The western path is somewhat steeper but 1000 feet or so is gained pretty quickly. Near the top of the steep climb, you exit birch woodland and, soon after, the massive hydro-dam hoves into view. Soon after this the hydro road is joined to take you up to beneath the dam.

I was very surprised to see a couple who’d come up the other side of the burn sit for a very long break here. As it was already more or less midday, and the full Cruachan round is very long, I was surprised they felt they could spare half an hour to rest so soon on the walk (more about them later however).

I was glad to get onto the dry surface of the hydro road and stormed up it at speed to where there is a set of grassy steps up to the left-hand side of the dam wall and then a steel ladder onto the dam top. The ladder is faintly exciting in wet boots but, so long as you keep a good grip of the sides, is fine. There was a gate immediately at the top of the ladder which I was pleased to see wasn’t locked. I pulled it open to access the top of the dam where I had a short walk to another gate at the end which was also unlocked.

A short, rocky path leads up to a higher dam road which goes alongside the reservoir. There is a tiny scramble at one point but it was easy enough and I was soon belting along the reservoir edge.

Cruachan Reservoir & Dam

This road took me for another mile or so to the far corner of the reservoir where a couple of tracks head up the burn to the col between Meall Cunail and Ben Cruachan proper. I was expecting a very sketchy and soggy path but, while it was pretty wet in places, it was easy to follow. By now, I’d caught up several pairs of walkers ahead…

Waterfall on way up to Cruachan Col
There were some nice waterfalls…

I found it very easy going up the first half of the track and thought the whole ascent to the col was going to be a doddle – I was soon proved wrong however. About half-way up, you met the steep corrie wall and a fairly loose track heading up it. As usual, I was trying to catch the front guy up – I’d passed most of the others.

This section was hard work but I thought that, when I reached the skyline, that would be the col – wrong! On reaching the skyline, there was a short flat section and then another steep climb. By now I was having to stop to catch my breath and the guy ahead had disappeared over the lip of the corrie – I was no nearer to him…

I eventually puffed my way up to the col where I saw he was chatting to another guy. I walked straight past them around the corner as I was hoping to traverse what looked on the map like easy grassy slopes across Coire a’ Bhachaill to ascend my peak. When I got to see the route across the corrie, I decided there were too many folds I couldn’t see into which could be pretty rocky to cross. I quickly changed my mind and decided to head up towards Cruachan’s main peak and see how soon I could traverse across.

Ben Cruachan Ascent
View back to reservoir from ascent

I’d had a brief glimpse of my peak and the rocky ridge across to it from the main peak when the cloud lifted momentarily. That, unfortunately, was the last I saw of it as the cloud descended again and remained firmly down.

I headed up very steep grass until I joined the main path above and the two chaps I’d seen talking. One was obviously struggling with the steepness – it’s a very hard ascent up this section. Another guy was up ahead and I made reasonable progress and soon caught him up. I noticed I was puffing loudly and he wasn’t but, on studying him further, I saw he was much younger than me.

Eventually the lad stopped briefly and I commented on the unforecast clag as I passed. I’d originally been going to miss the main summit on the way across to my peak and contour across to the ridge but, by the time I could see I was above it, I wasn’t many feet off the cairn so continued to heave my way up the boulderfield to the Munro summit.

I was pleased that the mist lifted again very briefly to show me the view down the back of the peak to Glen Noe, and the eastern ridge to the round we’d done last time (also in clag).

The Ben Cruachan round was probably my first Munros and I remember I’d been terrified most of the way round. At one point I’d been in tears at the look of the misty steep descent from Drochaid Glas and Richard and another Munroist had to calm me down. Now, looking at the onward route, I thought it looked very pleasant indeed and wished I was going that way.

Ben Cruachan Onward Ridge

It was too cold on the summit to hang around long and the view soon disappeared so I set off downwards to locate the start of my ridge. The young guy was still stood below the summit and he hailed me. He was an Italian and told me he’d come on the train from Oban. He asked me whether I thought he could manage the whole round in time to get his 1900 train back? I had a brief think and said that, if he didn’t hang around and take long breaks, he should manage okay.

Just above the top of the boulderfield I’d come up, I could see there were sketchy paths heading across to descend to the ridge to Taynuilt Peak (Stob Dearg). The ridge cleared briefly – I was glad to see it all looked okay as some of the books seem to make it sound a bit exposed.

I sheltered in the hollow of a giant rock to put on my fleece jumper and coat as, now I was descending, I was getting very cold.

The path became very clear along the ridge-top and the going was pretty good for quite a while. I seemed to be descending for a long time though and kept checking my altimeter. Several times I thought I’d reached the col but then a rise to another section of ridge would appear. Suddenly I was above quite a large slabby downclimb which looked pretty awkward.

There were two sections of steep down-scrambling on the abrasive slabs – as I always face out if I can, I could hear I was doing quite some damage to my pack as it scraped down the rocks. At the foot of the scramble I was almost at the col which, when I reached it, I noted on my altimeter was around 950 ‘metres’. Quite a height loss as the two peaks either side were over 1100 ‘metres’.

Cruachan-Taynuilt Peak Slabs Scramble
The Scramble Slabs

From the col, I still couldn’t see my top but continued on the good path. A very short, bouldery ascent – which had a bit of a drop off to the right into Coire Chat – soon took me to the summit cairn of Taynuilt Peak. This should have been a superb view out over Loch Etive and towards the coast at Oban. I was very sad to see nothing at all except the summit boulders. I took a photo of them anyway as one had an interesting stripe but it doesn’t really show up in the misty conditions.

Taynuilt Peak Summit

After a quick coffee, I headed off back along the ridge. I found the slabs a bit more awkward to scramble back up… This time I didn’t go back to the summit of Cruachan but traversed across to as near the bottom of the boulderfield as I could, re-located the ascent paths, and headed off down.

I was meeting some of the people I’d passed on the ascent coming up including one of the couple who’d been taking the very long break before the dam. He was stood waiting for his partner who was sat looking exhausted on a rock much lower down. On asking me whether it was much further and hearing my reply of “I’m afraid so”, he expressed doubt about whether she’d make it. I think in the end he probably left her sat on her boulder and summitted himself and then returned to pick her up – he was certainly intending to make the summit himself – I’d have done the same.

The descent down the steep corrie wall was pretty hard work and I was pleased to reach the easier and grassier path below. I made great progress along the dam roads – by now I was watching the time – I reckoned I could just make it in time to catch the cafe at the Cruachan Hydro Visitor Centre before it closed (I was assuming it closed at five).

I belted on over the stile to the steep re-descent through the woodland. This was pretty wet and slippery so I had to take a lot more care. At ten to five, I was heading the few yards along the road to the Visitor Centre. By now I was dying of thirst as I’d only had one coffee on the hill and wanted to save my last two cupfuls to while away my long wait for the train.

I was pretty upset, on reaching the cafe entrance, to see it was completely shut up and all the lights off. I carried on round to the side and saw a woman was still there. She opened the window and asked if she could help me. I asked if she would sell me a can of drink to take away but she refused 😦 Although the cafe had apparently just shut, everyone except her had already left – I couldn’t believe they shut before 5pm!

Feeling miffed, I went into the power station works carpark to sit by the loch even though it was officially private. There were some nice picnic tables and it was a nice view.

After twenty minutes or so and another cup of coffee, I sauntered up to the station platform. I was surprised to see my young Italian friend just arriving from his round already – it was only half past five. I had an hour and three-quarters to wait for my train and he had two hours. We chatted for a while and I found he’d been in Scotland for six months or so working in Youth Hostels.

By the time my train arrived (on time again thankfully), it was drizzling and we were both pretty cold despite having several walk-arounds to get our blood circulating. I was glad to get onto the warm train and sit in comfort – I hoped his train wouldn’t be late…

Stats: 8 miles, 4633 feet of ascent, 6 hours

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8 responses

30 09 2014
McEff

There are few things more disappointing than arriving at a cafe, tea room or pub expecting it to be open and finding it is shut. That sort of thing happens too much in this country. And how many times do you see a sign at the side of the road that says “Hot food next layby” only to find nothing there except a bin overflowing with rubbish?
On a brighter note, its good to catch a train or a boat to the start of a walk every once in a while. It has a nice old fashioned feel about it.
Cheers, Alen

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2 10 2014
mountaincoward

I’m getting very fed-up with the short and unpredictable hours put in by most cafes. I think they should all open a bit later, say 1030, and stay open until at least 1700 and preferably 1800. That way, you don’t have a dead hour between 1700 & 1800 where you can’t get food or drink after a walk.

I really enjoyed taking the train instead of driving 🙂
Carol.

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25 09 2014
bob

It’s a fine mountain. I still remember a full winter ascent when it was plastered in snow and the light was amazing with a storm coming in near the summit. It was actually easier as all the awkward slabs were buried and you just cramponed over the top of them. Great ridge.

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25 09 2014
mountaincoward

It is a superb mountain. I distinctly remember, during the great effort of the climb up to the main summit this time, thinking to myself that unfortunately I wouldn’t be climbing the hill again as it was just too hard… now I’m back and rested up, I’m changing my mind a bit 🙂

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25 09 2014
stravaigerjohn

I remember well that route up Cruachan back in ’96. My first Munro.

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25 09 2014
mountaincoward

So, me and you both did the same first Munro! 🙂

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25 09 2014
fedup

“(minimal photos for this one due to the clag)” – about sums up my trips North 😦
On the positive your certainly working through those remaining tops 😀 – that is a fine looking ridge still sadly on my to do list!
Cheers Simon

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25 09 2014
mountaincoward

It will be a superb walk on a good day. To be honest, I don’t think Taynuilt Peak is all that much to add onto the normal round…

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