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Cruachan Horseshoe (12" Disco Remix feat. bonus Corbett!)
by bobble_hat_kenny » Sun Jul 28, 2013 2:41 pm
Munros included on this walk: Ben Cruachan, Stob Daimh
Corbetts included on this walk: Beinn a' Bhuiridh
Date walked: 20/07/2013
Time taken: 10 hours
Distance: 15 km
Ascent: 1690m2 people think this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
It was Saturday, the sun was splitting the skies, I wasn't on-call for anybody and I had authorisation from my wife for a full day's walking ... unfortunately I neglected to buy a lottery ticket on the way back home from this wee outing, as I'd undoubtedly have won the jackpot .
Due to unavailability of my various sometime walking partners, mainly due to the holiday season (although one, who should perhaps remain nameless, managed to break his foot jumping out of bed to shout at his teenage son - a dangerous business that !), I was out on my own again. I managed a proper early start (the sunshine helped ), got parked nae bother on the grass verge at the Falls of Cruachan railway stop on the north side of the A85, and I was off. The route goes up the steps to the railway halt, then through the gated underpass beneath the railway line to reach a set of steps up to a hydroelectric doofalunk of some sort. The path up to the dam branches off to the left of the steps just where they take a right-hand bend; it might be easy to miss if you weren't concentrating as it is overgrown with bracken in the summer.
A wee trivium I gleaned from a couple of the Munros guidebooks regarding Ben Cruachan: because it's a big brute and it's climbed virtually from sea level, its ascent involves more height gain than any other Scottish peak outwith the Nevis Range . A cheery thought that. Another gem from the Munros guides: "height is gained rapidly" on the wee path up to the dam. I'm getting to know the euphemisms by now: that translates as "unrelentingly steep" . Still, the sunshine helped, and before long the dam was in sight: a grand prospect.
The path joins a track at this point; a left turn over a bridge crossing the Allt Cruachan and then an obvious flight of grassy steps lead to the famous ladder up onto the dam itself. Fortunately the ladder wasn't nearly as scary as I'd feared: it's only about twenty steps with a good handrail on both sides.
Once up on the dam, I set my sights on Meall Cuanail, Cruachan's southern Top. I'm not normally much of a Top-bagger, but since it was such a nice day and I had an early start, I'd a real notion to include the Corbett Beinn a'Bhuiridh at the end of the walk, and that would mar the aesthetic symmetry of the horseshoe unless I included Meall Cuanail too, don't you know ... The south ridge of Meall Cuanail is a bit craggy if approached absolutely direct from the west end of the dam, but a detour of about fifty metres or so south on the track that joins the dam at this point allows the south ridge to be tackled via steep but grassy slopes.
Once up on the ridge proper, it's a straightforward and scenic stoat up the remaining 550 or so metres to Meall Cuanail's summit.
There is only a faint and intermittent path, but a clear line of iron fenceposts would serve as a handy route-marker in Clag. Not that there was any Clag whatsoever today: in fact it was getting pretty hot by now, and I was glad that I'd taken extra water along - 4 litres to be exact - I thought that was generous, but I'd used it all by the end of the walk. Plenty Factor 50 suncream too !
Meall Cuanail's rounded summit is a grand viewpoint: the first of at least five Grand Viewpoints on this route, in fact. There were stunning views along the length of island-studded Loch Awe as it disappeared into the far distance.
Probably the most striking outlook, though, was on to Ben Cruachan itself, looking a tad intimidating from here with much scree and steepness. Stob Dearg, the Taynuilt Peak, was also looking extremely fine a bit further to the west. As its name suggests ("Red Peak"), it is indeed a rather attractive pink colour. I wouldn't be visiting it today, though .
There was a grand view right round to the far side of the horseshoe, with the ascent to Beinn a'Bhuiridh looking a bit steep, but a nice glimpse of (I think) Ben Lui keeking out from the bealach between Bhuiridh and Stob Garbh.
After the pleasantly grassy and rounded ascent of Meall Cuanail to break me in gently, I now got the first taste of rocky terrain on descent to the bealach with Cruachan - it crosses a couple of boulderfields. After this it was a long slog up the steep south side of Ben Cruachan. Not anything like as steep as the foreshortened view from Meall Cuanail had made it look, but it was still pretty effortful in that heat, and it was a real relief to reach the summit . Because of the difficulty of building a cairn (or anything else) on top of a big rounded boulder, neither the cairn nor the dilapidated Trig Point are quite at Ben Cruachan's true summit: this is a shot looking down to them from said big rounded boulder, which is I think the true summit.
From Cruachan's summit, there is a good view of the route ahead round the north rim of the corrie, including the first real obstacle - the famous Slabs.
On descent, spectacular views quickly opened up northwards towards Loch Etive, with Beinn Trilleachan basking in the sun in the distance.
And a last longing look back at the Taynuilt Peak - another day, definitely!
Before reaching the Slabs themselves, there is some entertaining easy scrambling down a few rocky sections: avoidable if you insist, but where's the fun in that ?
And now the dreaded Slabs! Actually, these turn out to be great fun in good weather when they are nice and dry - although they do feel quite adventurous (well, they did to a lightweight like me anyway ), it's possible just to stroll across them carefully, whistling nonchalantly and admiring the scenery, providing one has good tread on one's boots. I could imagine that they could get quite nasty when wet, however; and I wouldn't touch them with a bargepole in winter conditions, personally.
At the far end of the slabs, it is necessary to scramble back up a wee gully to regain the crest of the ridge. This is easy enough in this direction, but it could cause problems if going anti-clockwise, as it wouldn't then be that obvious at what point to leave the gully to take the best line across the slabs. I suspect clockwise is the easier direction.
Back on the main ridge, and more grand views north towards Glen Etive!
Not too far to Drochaid Ghlas now. The "Grey Bridge" is another grand peak - it's actually substantially higher than the second Munro, Stob Diamh, which is the next peak along to the east (1009m to 998m). Apparently the controversial casting decision on Munro status here was down to Sir Hugh himself, who awarded the prize to Stob Diamh on the basis of relative height plus distance from the parent peak of Ben Cruachan. All admirably objective I'm sure, but like many before me, I found myself feeling sorry for Drochaid Ghlas , which is higher and pointier than Stob Diamh and will probably be experienced as the finer mountain of the two by most people's criteria.
Drochaid Ghlas's summit is actually slightly off-route, branching to the left at a cairn where the main route turns quite sharply right. Apparently a lot of people miss this in the Clag and wander on down Drochaid Ghlas' steep north ridge: not a mistake that I'd fancy myself as it looks very steep . Thankfully no possibilty of route-finding difficulties in today's blazing sunshine, though.
The summit cairn of Drochaid Ghlas is a grand eyrie, well worth the detour. I met a couple of friendly guys (sadly younger and much fitter than me, as always) who kindly took my photo:
The onwards route is obvious on a good day: back to the cairned fork in the path, then a steep descent down to the bealach with Stob Diamh and then an easier stroll back up to the second Munro summit. Lucky wee Stob Diamh was really lording it in the sunshine:
A steady plod got me up there soon enough. Time for an auto-timer shot, I think!
It may be a bit of a dubious choice as a Munro , but Stob Diamh is yet another fabulous viewpoint. To the west, Ben Cruachan looks particularly impressive from this angle, with a wee glimpse of Stob Dearg over its shoulder, Drochaid Ghlas looking impressively craggy in the foreground, and the rounded Meall Cuanail to the left.
And that famous view once again of Loch Awe snaking away into the distance:
The next peak along, and the third Munro Top of the day, is Stob Garbh. Like Alice the Camel, it has two humps, with the first one being the higher of the two. That Corbett, Beinn a'Bhuiridh, was starting to look quite steep from here: it was going to be a real slog at the end of a long hot day, I was beginning to suspect .
Down at the bealach with Stob Garbh, and it wasn't looking any less scary - a real steep scramble up grassy ramps between boulderfields and scree, with a couple of short sections of non-optional bouldering by the looks of it. Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained !
I took it slowly and it "went" okay, although I was definitely relieved when the gradient eventually eased off and the summit cairn came into view over to the right.
Well, I did promise that this was the 12" Disco Remix, did I not ?
I suspect heatstroke may have been involved...
They say that Pride Cometh Before a Fall, however. Not literally, I'm glad to say, but soon enough I wasn't feeling nearly so cocky on descent from Beinn a'Bhuiridh back down to the reservoir. This is steep, pathless, and really rather particular: I definitely wouldn't fancy tackling it in the Clag. There are a lot of crags about, some of them quite steep. As the OS map indicates, and as I'd fortunately spotted earlier on in the walk, it is necessary to avoid the Corbett's obvious west ridge, which ends at a very craggy lump about halfway down the east side of the reservoir with no obvious way on down. However, the lie of the land initially almost forces you down that same west ridge on descent; it's necessary to hold a westward (WSW) line all the time, looking out for any opportunities to slip southwards off the ridgeline on grassy slopes between crags. After a bit the reservoir comes into view, which aids route-finding: the trick is to aim well south, towards the near (east) corner of the dam. I found this hard work, maybe even harder than the scramble up. This impressive wee Corbett really is one tough customer: definitely harder than the rest of the Horseshoe, in fact.
I eventually got down to the track just south of the east end of the dam, and from here it was just a slow plod down to the track bifurcation, a sharp right turn to the bridge over the Allt Cruachan with a chance to top up my water supplies, and then a steeper plod down the path to the Falls of Cruachan railway halt and back to my car.
It was a long walk on a hot day: Meall Cuanail plus the Corbett takes it to almost 1700 metres of ascent, which is quite a lot for the likes of me. However, this was a fabulous day's walking. Ben Cruachan gets my vote as my favourite Munro to date, and I've climbed quite a few good ones by now .
by gmr82 » Tue Jul 30, 2013 10:37 pm
by bobble_hat_kenny » Thu Aug 01, 2013 12:31 pm
gmr82 wrote:Enjoyable report & photos, you had cracking weather too! Good on you for not ignoring the corbett either
Aye, Beinn a'Bhuiridh was a real highlight! It probably added at least an hour and a half's time, but it was well worth it .
Just sitting at work in my lunch hour just now, with the rain stoating off the pavement outside: difficult to believe it was that sunny just a couple of weeks ago ... hope that's not the last of our summer.
by gammy leg walker » Thu Aug 01, 2013 8:45 pm
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