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Brutes of Lochay - Creag Mhor and Heasgarnich

Brutes of Lochay - Creag Mhor and Heasgarnich

Postby old danensian » Thu Feb 28, 2013 7:41 pm

Route description: Creag Mhor and Beinn Heasgarnich

Munros included on this walk: Beinn Heasgarnich, Creag Mhor (Glen Lochay)

Date walked: 27/02/2013

Time taken: 7.5 hours

Distance: 25.8 km

Ascent: 1470m

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It was minus six, or so the car’s temperature gauge told me. A skin of ice covered stretches of the river so, maybe it wasn’t wrong after all. What was understandable was the reluctance to emerge from the warmth of the car. It didn’t help that parking beyond Kenknock wasn’t on the cards, meaning another kilometre or so on each end of the day.

The final car park - before Kenknock

But hey, come on, you’ve driven this far. And days like this are just made for routes that could be termed “squelchy” at the best of times. I’d decided against it back in December because of the darker afternoons and knew that it wouldn’t be a short up-and-down. Now the light is stretching out a bit later there would be less risk of finishing the day in the beam of a head torch.

Booted and suited, and grateful for having had the forethought to completely pack my bag the night before, I was walking by nine. That extra kilometre gave the chance to get the legs going, so as I strode past Kenknock and reached the road over to Glen Lyon, I decided to get some early height and take the high level hydro road up the glen.

Beinn Challum at the head of Glen Lochay

Reaching the dam where the track turns off I was beginning to steam. Despite the apparently low temperature I could feel the sweat start to prickle and my jacket was soon off. The base layer under my Rohans was another thing. Stripping off now was one thing, but peeling off the layers and boots again higher up was another if things did get chilly on top.

Beinn Challum still dominates the prospect ahead

The prospect of Beinn Challum at the head of the glen looked impressive. It gets some bad press from those describing the route up from the A82: boggy, dreary, an unrelenting slog. Seen from this direction however, it stands in a magnificent position with a fine ridge culminating in a proper “pointy top.” Another target for a day like this I think.

Sron nan Eun from hydro track above Batavaime

Anyway, the track went on. And it went on. And, after a few more gates through the deer fences, it finally arrived at the dam and hydro works above Batavaime. I couldn’t recall where the path up to Sron nan Eun was supposed to strike off, but with plenty of snow above I suspected that it didn’t really matter. Picking a weaving line between outcrops and steeper patches of snow I made my way up. At some point I considered it safer to be on snow with crampons on rather than teetering up ever-steeper patches of frozen grass: the tufts I grasped didn’t quite give me the confidence I needed.

As is often the case, the mental effort of finding a safe way up meant the physical effort of actually getting there was minimised. It was with surprise then, that the ridge was breasted and the western panorama spread out in front, the north east face of Stob nan Clach in the foreground clad in winter splendour.

Another distracting factor as I ascended Sron nan Eun was the view across to Beinn Heasgarnich. “God, that’s big” was the recurring observation, and as I got higher it appeared to get bigger. What was worse, the drop down to the bealach between the two seemed to get deeper too. That looks brutal I thought.

Sron Tairbh and Stob an Fhir Bhogha defend Beinn Heasgarnich - from slopes of Sron nan Eun

Stob nan Clach from Sron nan Eun

Never mind the big thing beyond, I still had to get Creag Mhor in the bag first. Is it a ridge, is it a shoulder? I don’t know. Nearly there, I fooled myself and started to plod upwards. It was with relief that I looked back every now and again and saw Sron nan Eun retreating below. But of course the reverse didn’t seem to be happening. Never mind the brute over there, this one was no slouch either.

Looking back down on to Sron nan Eun

The half-encrusted pile of stones at the top finally hove into sight as the breeze picked up. It was time to put the jacket back on for the only time in the day and enjoy leaning back on the dry side of the cairn to soak in some sun and recover.

Summit of Creag Mhor

I hung around on the top for fifteen minutes – taking it all in. It’s such a flippant and simple phrase; just four little words to capture what? The sensation of being surrounded by magnificence and mountains in all directions; the sheer scale as they punctuate every quarter of the horizon; those existential thoughts about your place in the greater scheme of things; silence; solitude.

Beinn Challum from summit of Creag Mhor

Heasgarnich and Ben Lawers beyond Creag Mhor

Enough of all this: it was time to consider the more mundane and immediate. Heasgarnich still looked b****y big and some fuel would be needed to get up Sron Tairbh. The benefits of half a butty, a banana and a handful of jelly babies would hopefully be getting into my system by the time the hard work started.

Plunging down the northern slopes towards Coire an t Sneachda, I struck off to the right well before reaching it, taking advantage of shaded sweeping snow slopes in good condition to reach Lochan na Baintighearna.

Dropping down - and down and down - to Lochan na Baintighearna

Down to 650 metres. It was well below the level of Sron nan Eun, and it had taken me fifty minutes to climb the 250 metres to the top of Creag Mhor from there. Here were another 300 metres, and more most probably, before getting to Sron Tairbh. Take it easy, was the conclusion as the jacket came off for the final time. It’s the cost for the day, and so far it had been well worth paying.

It loomed up, standing across the path as if to say “You want to enjoy what’s up there? Then get past me first.”

Sron Tairbh from Lochan na Baintighearna - go on then, tackle me!

The orientation of the slope meant that it was mostly clear of snow. I was reluctant to take off my crampons as they’d been snug and secure all day so far, and I definitely didn’t want a repeat of the previous week’s escapades on Meall nan Eun. Working on the assumption that much of the ground itself would still be frozen, they stayed on.

Within fifty minutes the worst of the day was over. The brute’s bark was worse than his bite. I now just needed to cross Stob an Fhir Bhogha before wandering across the summit plateau of Beinn Heasgarnich. By now the snow was starting to get a bit gloopy. The firm crunch of crampons was replaced by a sinking feeling every now and then. Was there going to be a soggy sting in the tail of the day?

The worst is over - lookinng across to Beinn Heasgarnich from Sron Tairbh

Looking back to an imposing north east face of Creag Mhor

Leaving Stob an Fhir Bhogha I saw a lone walker in the distance reaching the top of Beinn Heasgarnich. Apart from two guys I’d left in the car park in the morning wrestling with frozen water in their camper van, it was the first person I’d seen all day. For some reason or other I’d not considered anyone just doing Heasgarnich, so their presence had a touch of the mystery about it. Where had they come from? Was I seeing things?

I finally reached the top just two hours after leaving Creag Mhor, and the second opportunity to enjoy the surroundings, and the achievement. It had been a hard day but, up there alongside a cairn that would not have looked out of place in a scene from the Antarctic and masquerading as the fateful One Ton Depot, the reward was obvious.

Summit of Beinn Heasgarnich

In the south west the lower slopes of Ben Cruachan were starting to disappear into mist, as if an afternoon inversion was forming. Or was it an early sign that this window of spectacular weather was about to end?

After another stint of “taking it all in”, (don’t worry, there won’t be another stream of contemplation) it was time to descend and leave the tops to their glory. I decided to head directly for the road rather than skirt round Creag nan Bodach. Grateful for perfect visibility and the ease with which you could pick out a line to descend, down I plunged. Snow that was still in shade took a good crampon bite, making downward progress easy rather than a knee-jarring, toe-bashing trudge. However, I wouldn’t enjoy doing it in bad conditions, trying to keep a bearing while weaving in and out of the scattered outcrops and little ravines.

Looking down the descent to the Allt Tarsainn

Halfway down I met up with the lone walker and enjoyed the company and the chat as we made our way over snow bridges that were now sagging into the streams they had previously hidden, and across boggy stretches that were frozen solid. Comparing experiences and aspirations for future jaunts made those last few kilometres of tarmac a pleasure rather than a pain.

Back down to Glen Lochay ...

... and the end of a perfect day.

With the sun settling down towards the horizon as we got back into Glen Lochay, we agreed that it was one of those satisfying moments when you know you’ve used the day to the full. What more can be asked?

It had been just over seven and a half hour’s hard work, with a couple of extremely tiring stretches, but worth the effort with what had been achieved.

Driving back down to Ayrshire, I descended from the Fenwick Moors on the M77 to be met by a wall of mist that thickened and thickened as I got closer to home. “It’s been like this all afternoon” I was told. What a shame!

Tired but chuffed, I collapsed onto the sofa knowing I’d had a great day out.

If winter ends here, so be it. I’ll not be disappointed.

But if it doesn’t ....
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Re: Brutes of Lochay - Creag Mhor and Heasgarnich

Postby soapy27 » Thu Feb 28, 2013 8:28 pm

Great report and photos there :clap: :clap: I was along the road at Ben Lui conditions were perfect :D
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Re: Brutes of Lochay - Creag Mhor and Heasgarnich

Postby ScottishLeaf » Thu Feb 28, 2013 8:35 pm

You saw a lot more than I did when I did these a few weeks ago... we did them the other way round and ended up descending Creag Mhor in the dark :shock:

An underrated area though in good conditions like you got.
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Re: Brutes of Lochay - Creag Mhor and Heasgarnich

Postby PeteR » Thu Feb 28, 2013 8:47 pm

Enjoyed that report and some great photos too :D I seem to recall these were hard work, but I didn't enjoy quite the stellar views you had. Good effort
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Re: Brutes of Lochay - Creag Mhor and Heasgarnich

Postby rockhopper » Fri Mar 01, 2013 8:01 am

Am I jealous or what - another mid week report ! :sick: :mrgreen: Cracking day for it, excellent weather - can remember seeing hardly anything on these hills and also finding Sron nan Eun hard going - cheers :)
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Re: Brutes of Lochay - Creag Mhor and Heasgarnich

Postby johnkaysleftleg » Fri Mar 01, 2013 9:22 am

Beautifully written report and superb pics. Really enjoyed that :clap:
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Re: Brutes of Lochay - Creag Mhor and Heasgarnich

Postby steven65 » Fri Mar 01, 2013 5:44 pm

Very nice fotos in your report - i did these 2 the previous day - Tuesday 26/2 in glorious conditions , but in a slower time taking just over 10 hours :shock: I`m not built for speed :lol:
It was a great day out - 1 of my favourites yet :D ( not done a TR - just in my blog)
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Re: Brutes of Lochay - Creag Mhor and Heasgarnich

Postby gammy leg walker » Fri Mar 01, 2013 7:33 pm

These tow certainly make you work for your ticks OD.
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Re: Brutes of Lochay - Creag Mhor and Heasgarnich

Postby andrewdoggett » Sat Mar 02, 2013 12:33 pm

Well done Nigel; good prose; and excellent photos... I like this area; always feels off the beaten track... :clap:
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