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The Cruachan Horseshoe - nemesis nailed!

The Cruachan Horseshoe - nemesis nailed!


Postby Graeme D » Tue Mar 09, 2010 8:21 pm

Route description: Ben Cruachan and Stob Daimh

Munros included on this walk: Ben Cruachan, Stob Daimh

Date walked: 06/03/2010

Time taken: 9 hours

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These two Munros have been something of a nemesis to me over the past year. On three or maybe even four occasions during that time, I have arranged a date for a trip up to the banks of Loch Awe and an assault on the “hollow mountain” but for one reason or another, every proposed trip has had to be shelved. I had never actually set foot on the mountain though – it had never beaten me in that regard. Today, however, as I finally headed up through the mixed trees towards the mighty Cruachan dam, I could not help but wonder if conditions up there would conspire against me and I would fail to finally nail my nemesis, only this time at close quarters.

Myself and my two companions for this trip, Geri and Berenice, had spent the previous few days studying the weather forecasts, keeping a close eye on predicted avalanche conditions, debating the wisdom of the route and musing over other potential destinations for our proposed outing.

Berenice caught an early train from Dundee and I picked her up from Perth train station bright and breezy at 7.15 before heading for Geri’s house in Crieff. I had a collection of OS maps in the back of the car as even at this point, we were not entirely sure where we were headed. Geri was ready and raring to go by the time we pulled up outside her house just before 8 o’clock. It was quickly decided that we were going to stick to Plan A and head for Cruachan and Stob Diamh. I also had one eye on the Corbett, Beinn a’Bhuiridh, depending on time and stamina.

We made good time on the quiet roads and pulled into the little roadside parking area by the Falls of Cruachan train “station”in the Pass of Brander at 9.20. Ten minutes later we were fully kitted and tooled up and heading up the steps and under the railway, but not before two blokes who were setting off slightly before we were ready had asked us if we knew where the start of the walk was! Nothing like knowing where you’re going!

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The route starts HERE!


It’s a tough old start to this one on a steep, narrow, eroded and winding path through the scattered trees, and we were all soon puffing and panting and reaching for the water bottles. A few layers were also shed before crossing the stile and heading out onto the open moor.

The huge dam wall soon loomed into view ahead, and we picked up the tarmac service road which loops over the bridge and up to the left side of the huge concrete structure, where the James Bond style metal ladder provides access up onto the walkway across the dam. Seriously, I’m not stealing DJG78’s idea from his recent post about this ladder up the dam wall reminding him of a James Bond scene and imagining Roger Moore grappling with a crazed villain on the dam wall – one of the girls said the very same thing and they hadn’t even read that report!

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Berenice approaching the bridge and the dam

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The girls are dwarfed by the dam wall

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Where's the bad guy?

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Cruachan reservoir from the top of the dam wall


We head up onto the path which climbs and runs along the west side of the reservoir. At the cairn we turn sharp left and begin the ascent up into Coire Dearg. It’s real tough going up through here and several pit stops are required, but that’s no bad thing given the views which are opening up behind us over the end of the reservoir, Beinn a’Bhuiridh and beyond.

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Heading up Coire Dearg, Beinn a'Bhuiridh in the background

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Geri goes potholing in the snow!


As we approach the upper end of the coire and the bealach, I call a lunch stop and while we are at it, Berenice and I decide to don crampons. Voices up on the ridge leading across from Meall Cuanail alert us to the presence of other human activity and it looks like the two guys we’d spoken to back at the roadside. Geri didn’t have any crampons, but at least she had an axe and felt reasonably confident about proceeding with that alone, so much so that she decided to follow me up through the gully leading onto the south ridge of Cruachan. I had a careful look at it with the thought of avalanche at the back of my mind but I reckoned it was pretty stable stuff. Berenice on the other hand didn’t fancy this route, so she proceeded over the shoulder of the bealach and around behind the back of the crags at the top of the coire.

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Berenice is a mere speck on the snow as she heads over the bealach

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Up into blue sky gully


She was at the top of the gully to greet us onto the ridge, but not before we’d had a real ding-dong battle with some solid ice patches, some of which were sculpted into fantastic shapes, and even one which looked like a person could climb into it, curl up and have forty winks! Hats off to Geri for making it up sans crampons!

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Solid ice hole

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Finally onto the ridge - view back down through the gully


Once onto the ridge, the summit cone of Cruachan is in full view and before too long, the “Top” of Taynuilt Peak comes into view over to our left. At the summit there is precious little sign of a cairn or the stump of the trig point, obviously buried under multiple layers of compacted snow.

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Cruachan summit looms ahead

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View west from the summit, Taynuilt Peak in the background


The views are excellent up the length of Loch Etive to Ben Starav and beyond to Glencoe, to the Bridge of Orchy hills and Rannoch Moor, to the Ben Lui group and the Crianlarich hills, over to Mull and the full length of Lismore, and closer to home, along the ridge to Stob Diamh.

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Eastwards along the ridge to Stob Diamh

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The girls at the summit, Loch Etive and a cloud shrouded Ben Starav behind


After a second lunch break at the summit, Geri decides that the ridge may be a step too far without crampons and decides to head back to down to wait for us at the dam. Berenice and I set off along the ridge, with her leading the way while I faff around with my pack near the summit. Within seconds I hear her shout back to me that there are “ridge issues” and I hurry over to see what has caused such an expression of concern. There is a steep section of down steps which look like they are ice-encrusted rounded boulders with not very much but a pretty sheer drop on either side and a limited “landing” area. I jumped first and Berenice followed. She reckoned that she only managed it because there was no wind and because I was so calm about it (although I have to admit that calm is not exactly what I was feeling inside!).

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What d'you reckon MC? It doesn't look too bad in this shot!

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Berenice proceeds with extreme caution!

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Cruachan shows her best side

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Impressive wind blasted ice sculpture

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Above Coire Caorach


We can see a group ahead on the summit of Stob Diamh but other than that, it looks like we have the ridge to ourselves. The walk along the ridge is absolutely exhilarating, although some dark clouds are building away to the south. We pass three guys from the group we’d seen earlier on the summit of Stob Diamh and give them advance warning of the dodgy section just before they hit the summit of Cruachan.

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Drochaid Ghlas in the distance, black clouds building


After a short detour to the summit of Drochaid Ghlas, we soon reach Stob Diamh before turning south to head over the “Top” of Stob Garbh before descending down to the Lairig Torran.

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Stob Diamh summit looking west back along the ridge to Cruachan

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South from Stob Diamh over Stob Garbh and Beinn a' Bhuiridh

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Stob Diamh from Stob Garbh

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Slippery slope above the reservoir


It is about 4.15 when we reach the shoulder and have to make a decision about whether to go for the Corbett or not. To be honest, it looked like a steep, craggy old face, and with the sky a bit leaden looking above, we regrettably decided to give it a miss. If it had been an hour earlier we’d probably have gone for it.

We remove the crampons as we reach the snow line but a bit further on, just before we reach the shore of the reservoir, we hit a big patch of very deep drift and it isn’t long before I go arse over nipple as I go knee deep and my forward momentum and the weight of my pack sends me sprawling. Before we reach the shore we both get stuck waist deep in the drift and have to be hauled out using brute force.

The trudge along the shore is a fairly tedious slog and it is with some relief that we reach the dam wall and pick up the road which loops around to the right to pick up the ascent path back to the car.

There is no sign of Geri at the dam and a quick call confirms that she has headed back to the car.

Berenice and I are back to the car on the stroke of 6, making it a 8½ hour day.

All in all another epic day in an epic winter in the Scottish Highlands nicely rounded off with a pint in the Munro Inn in Strathyre where Berenice was dropped off to meet a friend.
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Re: The Cruachan Horseshoe - nemesis nailed!

Postby PauloUK77 » Tue Mar 09, 2010 9:01 pm

The pics are amazing in this report i love the one of the solid ice hole.
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Re: The Cruachan Horseshoe - nemesis nailed!

Postby malky_c » Tue Mar 09, 2010 10:33 pm

Impressive stuff. Brilliant photos too. Looks like a fun little gully that you used to get onto the ridge.

When I was at uni in Dundee I once took a large group up that Corbett starting at Dalmally. The weather was typical rubbish autumn wind/rain, and the speed of the group varied enormously. I think it took us over 3 hours to get to the summit. I led off from the summit down the slope you would have come up, but for the life of me couldn't find an easy way through the crags and slabs. We ended up going back 50m or so to the summit and descending the way we'd come up. All in all a day I'd rather forget. Still, we fared better than another group who got on the wrong spur at Drochaid Ghlas and ended up 2/3 of the way down to Loch Etive before they realised their error! :oops: Fun times...
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Re: The Cruachan Horseshoe - nemesis nailed!

Postby mountain coward » Tue Mar 09, 2010 11:41 pm

You know what I think of that picture! Actually, Ben Cruachan (horseshoe plus the outlying top you did) was the first Munro Richard and I did... and I wasn't keen at all! I hated the bit leaving the main summit, especially after the first bit of downclimb where there is a big rock blocking the way where we had to negotiate a crack up the front of it with what I considered a fairly steep drop behind me. In the end, I got a bit stressed out with the whole day and ended up in tears at one point. Richard left me on my own to do the outlying Munro and I got a bit stuck getting back onto the main ridge (just lost courage). Anyway, I keep meaning to have another go at the horseshoe now I've done quite a few more Munros and see what I think to it now as I think it was all mostly first-time nerves and stress about what would come next along the ridge. I don't remember any real problems. But there's no way I'll be doing it in snow!

I can't believe that Geri was happy to follow you up an ice gully but then not along the ridge - I personally wouldn't have done either without crampons (if I'd have done the gully at all).

I'm fairly desperate to do Taynuilt Peak though if anyone else is thinking of going to it sometime...

Great photos and report anyway, especially the ice cave!
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Re: The Cruachan Horseshoe - nemesis nailed!

Postby kevsbald » Wed Mar 10, 2010 4:48 pm

Wonderful stuff Graeme. That ice hole looks fantastic. A great day out and you had the conditions to remember a true classic.
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Re: The Cruachan Horseshoe - nemesis nailed!

Postby doogz » Wed Mar 10, 2010 5:13 pm

great shots there.....i had a blast on the ridge myself ..fantastic day



cant believe the girl without crampons went for the gully


leaving the girl to head off cruachan herself minus crampons ..mmmm..if it had iced in the short time ....?......... if she was happy well so be it
..

it is everyones own choice but if we are 3 then up or down its 3
never split up is the way i was shown and its the way we function on the hills especially in winter where a few hours can mean the difference

great stuff graham and in no way having a pop

I will no doubt be berated as usual but i am only stating what I/WE would do

its still one of the best rounds i have done so far and your pics are fantastic
Last edited by doogz on Wed Mar 10, 2010 5:23 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Cruachan Horseshoe - nemesis nailed!

Postby Paul Webster » Wed Mar 10, 2010 5:20 pm

Stunning report Graeme, the ice cave especially looked amazing - I've never seen anything like that.

doogz wrote:cant believe the girl without crampons went for the gully if it steepened or iced considerably then down is more dangerous than up


I'm guessing, but maybe she went down the easier way that Berenice had come up
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Re: The Cruachan Horseshoe - nemesis nailed!

Postby doogz » Wed Mar 10, 2010 5:30 pm

i took that for granted paul..but on cruachan it is quite steep even back to the bealach...

i am only stating what OUR group does

On sunday we were in a ping pong ball with 20ft vis in all directions on the North slopes of Beinn Chabhair and we had a vote ....difficult with 4 ..lol...but with 2 defs to bin it and one so so ...at 700m all 4 of us left the hillside together ..has happened in a whiteout in waist deep snow on Beinn Bhuide as well ...stick together as you couldnt second guess someones route down if you get back to the car and 2- 3 hours pass and no sign

again i will reiterate thats OUR way not everyones way
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Re: The Cruachan Horseshoe - nemesis nailed!

Postby Graeme D » Wed Mar 10, 2010 7:29 pm

Paul Webster wrote:Stunning report Graeme, the ice cave especially looked amazing - I've never seen anything like that.

doogz wrote:cant believe the girl without crampons went for the gully if it steepened or iced considerably then down is more dangerous than up


I'm guessing, but maybe she went down the easier way that Berenice had come up


She did go back down the other way, behind the crags to the bealach and down into Coire Dearg. I know what you're saying Doogz, and in different company or in different conditions, it may well have been a different story. Also if it had been a descent route that was taking her into terrain she hadn't already scoped out on the ascent. But Geri was pretty relaxed about it and we knew exactly where her route was taking her. The day just before Christmas when I was on Beinn Udlamain with CurlyWurly - THAT would have been a case of all in or all out! 8)
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Re: The Cruachan Horseshoe - nemesis nailed!

Postby mountain coward » Thu Mar 11, 2010 12:04 am

While me and Richard always set out together, we very often split up part way round... sometimes he goes back as he doesn't fancy it and I have to continue alone. I just give him very detailed instructions on how to get back down, he follows them to the letter, and we're both happy. Quite often Richard will do a difficult traverse of a ridge while I'll find a coward's route. Sometimes he deigns to come with me on the coward's route while wishing he was on the more challenging bits... Think it depends how he feels on the day...

Many times I'll gallop off to collect some 'tops' - he doesn't bother as he isn't collecting tops...
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Re: The Cruachan Horseshoe - nemesis nailed!

Postby jonny616 » Thu Mar 11, 2010 12:26 am

Each to there own i say. Me & my pals are planning to do this in April i think. So i will be reading this again nearer the time.
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Re: The Cruachan Horseshoe - nemesis nailed!

Postby Graeme D » Thu Mar 11, 2010 12:53 pm

Geri has taken umbrage and wishes it to be known that she is not "namby pamby"! :lol: Seriously, I've done school-based hill training with her and I know she is capable of looking out for herself on the hill. In any case, how many of us go out into remote terrain on our own, or even in a 2 or 3 which in the event of something serious happening, isn't a great deal more help anyway? Lots I would guess. I personally go out on my own frequently - or at least with the dog, but damn all good she'd be in the event of something going wrong! :lol:
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Re: The Cruachan Horseshoe - nemesis nailed!

Postby foggieclimber » Thu Mar 11, 2010 12:58 pm

Nice report, great pics.

Geri must know what she's doing - she uses a Macpac rucksack! (albeit a wee 20l one) 8)
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Re: The Cruachan Horseshoe - nemesis nailed!

Postby Paul Webster » Thu Mar 11, 2010 1:08 pm

Umbrage is banned 8)
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Re: The Cruachan Horseshoe - nemesis nailed!

Postby CurlyWurly » Thu Mar 11, 2010 2:15 pm

Amazing report Graeme and excellent pictures, looks like you had an amazing day - shame I could not tag along but I had exciting stuff like car MOT's to sort !! :) Shame you could not nail the Corbett but I have not done that neither so maybe we can sort that out one day.
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