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Manflu and the Lawers Four

Manflu and the Lawers Four

Postby adamarchie » Tue Feb 21, 2012 10:58 pm

Munros included on this walk: An Stuc, Ben Lawers, Meall Garbh (Ben Lawers), Meall Greigh

Date walked: 19/02/2012

Time taken: 9 hours

Distance: 17.1 km

Ascent: 1541m

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The weekend wasn't going as planned. Saturday was supposed to be Beinn a'Bheithir with a couple of mates, but by Friday evening both had pulled out. I elected to head further east in hope of avoiding the worst of the westerly rain and cloud, and a round of Coire nan Cat looked very appealing. However, when the alarm went off at 6am, all I could feel was my head, fully in the dread grip of the manflu which had been brewing for a couple of days. In my sleep-addled state, I managed to weigh up the odds of a demandingly long and potentially tricky solo winter route in conditions where gusts of up to 70mph and intermittent whiteout were forecast, under the influence of this crushing headache (not to mention blowing my nose every five minutes) and decided against.

However, when I woke up again - now 11.30 - the headache was gone and, with the forecast for Sunday looking better, I fell to scheming again. A couple of other friends were planning on doing the four west Drumochter hills and fairly easily succeeded in talking me into it. Normally I wouldn't go near these with a barge pole, but under snow and with good visibility even the dullest hill makes for a fine day out, eh?

So, at Alex's instruction, the alarm was set for 5am. It was over breakfast at 5.10 that I got his text saying that he and Sarah had food poisoning. Well, the choice was obvious: the Lawers four it would be.

Driving up, a beautiful sunrise over the Tarmachan ridge and Beinn Ghlas promised great things, as did the ice down to the level of the north Loch Tay road, and I set off from Lawers village at 8.30 in high spirits.

Beinn Ghlas touched by the sunrise.

A sheep up and about at dawn.

After a nice enough walk through some thin woodland, the path emerged onto moorland at the mouth of the corrie, Meall Greigh coming into view. I elected to strike off to the right in the soft snow and head straight up Sron Mhor. Get the height gain in early, I say. All the way up, the views just kept getting better and better as first Meall Garbh, then An Stuc - its east face looking a tad intimidating - and finally the Ben itself came into view, Lochan nan Cat crouching beneath. Over my left shoulder, Loch Tay wasn't looking too shabby either and Ben Vorlich and Stuc a'Chroin were beautifully distinct beyond.

Entering the corrie. First Munro of the day, Meall Greigh (Hill of the Horse Stud) against the skyline.

South across Loch Tay to Ben Vorlich and Stuc a'Chroin.

Right to left: Meall Garbh (Rough Hill) and An Stuc (The Peak) come into view.

Left to right: Ben Lawers, An Stuc and Meall Garbh encircling Lochan nan Cat.

Having initially cursed Alex for the ridiculously early start, I was now thanking him as it meant I could take my time, stopping for snacks and fumbling with my phone camera whenever I felt like it. (NB Touch screen phones and Dachsteins don't mix well.) I refuelled in a leeward nook near the top of Sron Mhor and was soon at the summit of Meall Greigh, now relishing the vast views to the west, north and east as well.

The view to the north.

I was glad of the visibility on the next section: a broad, uneven ridge that I'm sure has led many a walker astray in a whiteout. (If you do find yourself in this unenviable situation, there are the remains of fences, marked on the 1:25,000, which can be followed.) The wind started to get up a bit here, but never felt like it was gusting more than 40mph: positively benign by our Scottish standards. Some lovely wind-sculpted snow dunes in evidence, with the odd stash of virgin powder in leeward pockets.

From the bealach, it was up at a fairly gentle angle to Meall Garbh. The snow was starting to firm up here, and I found myself kicking steps in some nice sections of windswept neve. While the Rough Hill itself isn't much to remark on, its view of a snowed-up An Stuc certainly is. The eye immediately begins plotting with a mixture of excitement and trepidation, particularly when you know you're about to take it on in rather suboptimal conditions. While it had till now been pleasant being able to leave the crampons off, the loose-snow-on-rock vibe was not filling me with joy with an exposed 45 degree slope in prospect.

Looking west from the summit of Meall Garbh towards the east face of An Stuc, the crux of the route. Ben Lawers beyond it to the left. Cracking views further afield.

But first it was time for another chocolate bar and the descent from Meall Garbh. Halfway down, it was with some relief that I finally found ground worthy of crampons, and I was soon at the bottom of the 400 ft crux of the day's route. Well, nothing for it: onwards and upwards.

I decided to stick to the neve (hopefully in every respect) wherever I could find it, linking these sections with mixed climbing on frozen turf and rock variably covered with loose snow. There weren't any technically challenging moves involved (unless you count a bit of crawling along an overhung ledge in order not to catch my hugely protruding ski touring poles on it) and the route only averages out at 45 degrees. However, some of the sections of neve were a fair bit steeper - at least 60 degrees, maybe more - and not in very solid condition. Add to this the fact that rather than this being a simple gully climb where an ice axe arrest will give you a second chance, if you slip here, on mixed terrain, you're going straight to the bottom, no questions asked. And when you consider that the bottom could, if this isn't your day, be Lochan nan Cat, the grip factor increases considerably - with a commensurate increase, no doubt, in adrenaline-fuelled superfluous grip force being applied to one's (unfortunately) single ice axe as it tries to find some purchase on another useless snow/earth hold.

It was with great relief then that I finally found myself front-pointing up a slope that, yes, was levelling out ahead of me. It was only now, back on horizontal ground, that I realised how out-of-breath and plain beat I was. I contemplated continuing on to the summit, but instead threw my rucksack off and collapsed backward onto the snow.

An Stuc.jpg
The official "path" is in green, my route in red.

After a minute of sunbathing (it really was sunny at this point) I was sufficiently recovered to join another walker on the summit. He had come from the other direction and was wearing an interesting set of mini-crampons that seemed just to cover the front part of his soles. Only a few minutes later I was followed up by a further climber - sensibly with two climbing axes rather than my single walking one. We swapped stories while a hawk treated us to a majestic display of soaring and diving, making full use of the expanse of the corrie.

My last sandwich eaten, it was time for Ben Lawers, one of the first hills I climbed as a boy, that time from the other side, wellies in spring snow. I briefly considered the short cut home from the bealach west of An Stuc, but, manflu notwithstanding, there was plenty of spare energy to burn and I suspected that the northeast ridge of Lawers would, on descent, command some striking views.

Decision made, the descent from An Stuc required only moderate attention and then it was one last windswept push up the ridge to Ben Lawers, ice axe now back on the rucksack and my trusty ski touring poles pegging away.

On arrival it was time to treat myself to that classic combination of brittle Snickers bar, frozen banana and ice cold Highland Park. Never better.

The descent was actually pretty nice for the first couple of kilometres. The ridge flares out to the east, before curving elegantly to the northeast, and the crest is initially fine without being at all taxing. The snow was very crampon-friendly here and progress was as swift as the views to the left were stunning.

An Stuc, Meall Garbh and Lochan nan Cat from Lawers' NE ridge on the descent.

Lower down, the ridge peters out into a vast bog. Fortunately, this being winter, most of it was frozen, so no mud up to the knees. In any other season, I imagine it'd be a nightmare, which is a shame as that ridge otherwise makes a good descent route: certainly better than the trek over to Beinn Ghlas

One last look back to An Stuc.

Now on a track and with crampons off, I was probably in my first serious danger of a fall, with plenty of intermittent ice lying around and concentration slumping as it tends to do once the heights are left behind. The play of evening sunlight was also an entirely reasonable distraction. Fortunately I survived the stomp home without embarrassing incident.

Trees catching the day's last warmth.

Sunset over Loch Tay.

I reached the car in the gloaming, nine hours on the hill exceedingly well spent. And writing this two days later, I can safely say that it didn't do the manflu any harm either.

Note: In case this isn't clear from the text, I wouldn't recommend An Stuc as an introduction to low grade winter climbing, particularly if you're soloing. Being sensible, it ought really to be done with a bit of protection, and two axes would make the experience more pleasurable.

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Last edited by adamarchie on Wed Apr 11, 2012 11:07 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Manflu and the Lawers Four

Postby doogz » Tue Feb 21, 2012 11:38 pm

My exact walk for Sunday........we may have met too......until the doctor and my wife intervened

A viral infection was causing my head and face to lose any sensation on on side ....doc said rest would help ...I stupidly told my wife who banned me from walking
all this on Friday too...

I am gutted NOW ...after reading your fine report :?

Don't know if our wee mate would have taken on An Stuc ..lol

Well done on your route and some great pics too


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Re: Manflu and the Lawers Four

Postby adamarchie » Wed Feb 22, 2012 12:12 am

Doogz, too bad you didn't make it. Hope your face has come back to life!

Judging by tracks and the chap I met - plus another on the way back to Lawers village - I reckon four other folk, each travelling alone, did the route that day, three of whom descended from the bealach between An Stuc and Ben Lawers. We were lucky!
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Re: Manflu and the Lawers Four

Postby Bod » Wed Feb 22, 2012 1:18 am

A lovely day and an impressive effort, well done :D
Glad you got some good clear weather and some sunshine. I have been round these, but a winter return next year may be on the cards.... :D :D :D
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Re: Manflu and the Lawers Four

Postby Gable Gable End » Wed Feb 22, 2012 9:05 am

Great report and pictures here!
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Re: Manflu and the Lawers Four

Postby pollyh33 » Wed Feb 22, 2012 9:24 am

Fantastic report and photos :thumbup:

Thanks for taking time to include so much detail and advice into your narrative.

An Stuc is still on my list of hills to venture up and I will be leaving it for a good few months yet- no way I'm undertaking that beast in anything other than perfect conditions :shock: :shock:
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Re: Manflu and the Lawers Four

Postby Mountainlove » Wed Feb 22, 2012 11:16 am

Great report and photos...this is one round I need to do as well...only done Ben Lawers many many years ago but really fancy the full round!
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Re: Manflu and the Lawers Four

Postby quoman » Wed Feb 22, 2012 11:46 am

liked the report the photo's are quality

done them last year in every kind of weather you could have in scotland :lol:
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Re: Manflu and the Lawers Four

Postby jonny616 » Wed Feb 22, 2012 1:16 pm

Having done an stuc from that side in summer i can see it would be fun in winter. Great report & pics :lol:
pollyh33 wrote:Fantastic report and photos :thumbup:

Thanks for taking time to include so much detail and advice into your narrative.

An Stuc is still on my list of hills to venture up and I will be leaving it for a good few months yet- no way I'm undertaking that beast in anything other than perfect conditions :shock: :shock:

Its an easy walk from the Lawers side Polly
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Re: Manflu and the Lawers Four

Postby simon-b » Wed Feb 22, 2012 5:27 pm

A great way to shake off the manflu :D

Sounds like you had fun on An Stuc, and I'm glad you were able to enjoy a rest on that most attractive summit.

Last summer I was doing that route minus Ben Lawers when thunder began echoing around Meall Garbh. A good day to have lunch in a bealach rather than on a summit. As I was sitting between Meall Garbh and An Stuc, waiting to see if things would improve, thunder continued to rumble. The slender peak of An Stuc didn't look the best place to be sure of avoiding a lightning strike, but at least the scramble up wasn't on a narrow ridge.

Then it started to rain, and I decided to go for it before things got worse. I've never scrambled up wet rocks so quickly, and I was on and off An Stuc like a shot.

Thanks for some fine pictures and your story of a less hurried visit to that peak.
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Re: Manflu and the Lawers Four

Postby adamarchie » Wed Feb 22, 2012 7:39 pm

Thanks all for the votes of confidence. A good incentive to write up future trips - and to buy a camera that can be operated without removing the mitts!
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Re: Manflu and the Lawers Four

Postby Klaasloopt » Wed Feb 22, 2012 7:40 pm

Really nice and wintry! The photo titled "Looking west from the summit of Meall Garbh towards the east face of An Stuc..." I like the most, it looks like a cold and empty land full of mountains. How a phone-photo can be very convincing...
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Re: Manflu and the Lawers Four

Postby Del246 » Wed Feb 22, 2012 9:52 pm

Great stuff and I take my hat off to you for doing An Stuc in the snow !
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Re: Manflu and the Lawers Four

Postby Niall-Adam » Wed Jan 02, 2013 3:39 pm

Thanks Adam.
Very helpful for our planned ascent of An Stuc from Glen Lyon as your 8th photo "Looking west from the summit of Meall Garbh towards the east face of An Stuc" shows that there is a steady, even gradient on the ridge-line of this northerly approach.
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