The Ben Cruachan 4 - Sunrise, Sunshine & The Broken Spectre
Before I can even begin to try and describe one of the most exhausting, memorable, "photo heavy" and autumnal days in the Scottish mountains a special mention must go out to two terrific walk reports from "garyoppolis" and "robodob" who provided a great insight into doing Ben Cruachan and the surrounding three Munros!
If time and fitness (used very loosely) are on your side, I would highly recommend all four - hopefully the following blurb and many, many, many photos can explain why...
47 would be a real rubbish number to finish the year on - easy get to 50!
You'd be daft, you have a holiday coming up - begin packing and save your energy...
Aye but look at the weather it is meant to be a belter!
Good one, we know the forecast always lies, 99% chance of rain, have a long lie and enjoy.
Plenty of time for long lies when you're dead - plus 4am is alright with an early night.
Right enough the "green" voice in my head had won, I needed to get another 3 of these mountains into the proverbial bag so I could finish the year at a nice round number of 50.
By Wednesday lunch I had set my eyes on the three outliers north of Pitlochry; Carn Liath, Braigh Coire Chruinnbhal & Carn nan Gabhar. Shock horror, by Thursday the only chance of seeing the sun was west.. they do say this direction is best!
Unfortunately this change of plan at short notice meant I was the correct Ordnance Survey map short. For those who live in / around Aberdeen, a detour from the west of Anderson Drive to Cotswold in Union Square at rush hour adds 2 hours onto the drive to Stirling - not recommended!
Surely not, surely it CANNOT be 4am, I definitely only went to sleep 4 minutes ago.
You had a solid 7 hours, quit your whinging or you'll regret it.
Two snoozes later.
Ohhh warm, comfy... not a chance of rain in bed.
You've already packed and informed the rest of the family you'll be gone by 5...
After a fantastic concoction of coffee, Red Bull, bananas, porridge and breakfast bars I was in the car ready to leave just shortly after 5am.
I turned the radio on to find Radio One Dance Anthems still blaring from the drive down, it was as if I hadn't even gone to bed - certainly felt like this! Nonetheless a bit of an impromptu early morning rave kept me awake on the rather bendy drive to Dalmally.
I'm only 23 I should be at some after party listening to this not driving halfway across the country in the pitch black stuffing a banana into my gob...
Fair point - can't really argue with that.
I arrived at the start shortly after 6:30am and left the car a few hundred meters up the B8077. Unsurprisingly I was the first car there and began to get the layers on - it was a cold start! As soon as I started walking I could see my own breath in the head torch beam of light but nearly instantly I turned to a sweaty mess.
From one of the previous Walk Reports I remember being advised of a few cow & sheep encounters, all of which were described as welcoming and rather friendly hosts who happily mooooove (sorry) out the way. Apparently this is not the case when you are wearing a head torch - it all seems more dramatic when all you see is sets of eyes reflecting back from all directions!
Before I knew it one cow decided it was going to start the charge toward me. I am attempting to learn Spanish but nowhere have I been taught how to become a torero!!! (Maybe that is level 3...) .
Wouldn't have had this problem if you stayed in bed...
They are a lot bigger only 3ft away.
Next thing I new my survival instincts kicked in and the walking pole was out, ready to re-create an uncooked version of the nights before dinner... we had beef kebabs. I quickly realised that turning the metaphor of poking a large angry beast with a stick into reality probably wasn't the best response
Flashbacks of my time in Canada kicked in, if you spot a bear do you, a) act big, make a lot of noise or b) slowly back away... Thankfully this wasn't a grizzly but I produced a loud enough "blalaaaaamooooooooooooofooookkkofffffyouuuuhairrrrycreattture", this appeared to halt the cows progress before she scuttled off into the distance.
It may sound rather pathetic but at the time it fairly got my heart rate going - it dairy nearly turned into a cowtastrophe
Even in the dark I found the cairn indicating it was time to divert up Beinn Eunuch - it was as steep and tragic as I had expected, although it was still early in the day I had to whip out the old "100 step count then have a breather" tactic - you're lying if you don't do similar!
The first signs of daylight - wouldn't have got this view from bed!
By now my decision to get up was fully justified - I had hit the excited stage where no matter how badly the weather would turn, or how many blisters I would get I may have seen one of the best sunrises of my life!
When I began "bagging", my sunrise up Lochnagar seemed unbeatable - maybe this was a draw.
Finally worked out the self timer - I may work out how to find a flat rock next time!
It may be worth noting at this point I don't apologise for the sheer volume of photos! Throughout the 9hrs from leaving the car to arriving back I had taken 97 photos, so even to limit it down to what is in here was a challenge!
Sunrise is the best time of the day - look at the colours in the distance!
Slightly higher up Beinn Eunaich looking backwards towards the north end of Loch Awe.
There is no doubt the thing that (jumping to conclusions here) puts most people off doing all four is the drop from Beinn a'Chochuill and the ascent back up Sron an Isean on route to Stob Daimh? Fair enough, I had built this up to be some form of terrifying monster! The longer the morning went on the more looking at it, the more I assumed today might be best to only take me to 49.
Beinn a'Chochuill on the right and Sron an Isean on the left - Stob Daimh still sleeping under the blanket (lucky for some!!!)
Okay - I didn't say the weather was perfect - Munro 48, Beinn Eunaich
Thankfully the clouds must have been hanging out about 950m because after a few minutes of heading towards Beinn a'Chochuill the views north(ish) over Glen Kinglass were spectacular!
I have never been sure what season I preferred - arguably the next few photos are a strong case for Autumn!
The constant temperature changes and my sweaty body resulted in near constantly fogged up camera lenses which was proving rather frustrating (if anyone have any magical tips feel free to send me a message)!
Unfortunately the clouds appeared to have the same direction of travel as me
I must spend near enough 50% of my time walking backwards
Waaahayy my heads nearly in the clouds.
Meh, 49, Beinn a'Chochuill.
Next up was the dreaded descent down to the bealach - unfortunately this coincided with me running out of water. Unsure what the water situation was across on Sron an Isean (it turned out to be far superior) I made a minor detour slightly further to the east than originally planned.
Before long I emerged from the clouds on the main recommended descent.
Here is the view heading down - there is a few chaps who were out camping for scale (about half way up)!
With the weather being predominately dry the way down wasn't nearly as bad as I expected - tell you what walking poles make one hell of a difference! I wholeheartedly take back any prior judgement that walking poles were just a fashion statement for old balding men
Before ascending up Sron an Isean I bumped into the lads out camping the night before (super jealous) and had a good chat for five minutes. Unfortunately my Gaelic leaves much to be desired so the best I could communicate my day was "those two over then and then those two up there, and the long walk back to the car".
Short break and seeing the first people of the day lifted the energy levels so I wished them an enjoyable ascent up to the summit of Beinn a' Chochuill and I set off trying to determine the best way to tackle the north face of Sron an Isean.
They are heading up here somewhere
My advice would be stick mid-right and just give it 10 minutes of hard sweaty work (my advice would also be not to drop & lose your gloves!)
Before the short walk to what would be the magic Munro 50 you should be rewards with some good 360 degree views!
Legs beginning to burn a tad and still a long day left - by now I think I had been going for 3.5 hours nearly solid!
Do I attract 0 views at the summits?! Oh well here she is, Stob Diamh number 50!
By now it was 11:30 and truthfully my legs were really beginning to feel it. The concept of another few hours of walking seemed far from ideal.
You've already hit 50, plus the views would be good to come back to....
Couple of sandwiches, some Sports Mixture and you'll be golden to go again!
Ohhh imagine injuring yourself the week before Peru.
*Repeat the above sentiment whilst munching two sandwiches*
At least the lunchtime view wasn't bad...
Thankfully lunch provided some munch needed calories and I began the final 'main climb' of the day - up to the start of the Ben Cruachan ridge.
The weather was teasing and with great 360 degrees potential on offer I made an conscious effort to push on at some speed to see if I could avoid the clouds and get a cracking view along the ridge.
The last tough climb.
My speedy attempt to beat the cloud was a success, but stupidly I had began the onset of cramp in both my quads. This is an unusual place for me to suffer cramp - even worse it seemed nearly impossible to stretch without looking like (more of) a plonker .
Views worth the cramp?
I took the time to "embrace the views", which could probably be more accurately described as my emergency recovery session! You know that feeling where if your feet aren't both perfectly flat your legs start to shake??? Not ideal.
Next up two chaps seemed to appear from nowhere, turns out they were testing the north side, marked Drochaid Ghlas on the OS map as a potential winter route. They began trying to work out what it was in the distance, Mull, Skye, Rum or even still the mainland?! Looking back on the map - must be the mainland or potentially Mull?
After a good five minutes I opted to carry on to the main event of the day, Ben Cruachan.
The view just before I set off.
I put the camera away as there is a few parts of the ridge that need a bit more flexibility than my legs wanted to provide and both hands free is much preferred. It was a nice ridge with views every which way, but for me it was far from providing that proper "buzz".
Over the last 51 Munros the AE Ridge was the most exhilarating, yet I still didn't feel close to being out of my comfort zone. I can't wait for more and more ridge routes! The hairier the better... and winter
Weee ridge snaps!
It can't have taken long to get along the ridge - in my head felt about 30 minutes tops but it was almost a beginning to feel like a blur!
Either way I had reached the top of Ben Cruachan and managed to get one photo looking north(ish) before the clouds creeped in.
Munro 51, Ben Cruachan
The weather at the top was incredibly peaceful so I joined the rest on the rather busy summit and found a perch to attempt recuperation number 3! Rather quickly after arriving the two chaps that I had bumped into earlier reappeared and explained how our routes very nearly crossed - I was slowly making my way down Beinn a'Chochuill as they were heading to the north face of Ben Cruachan.
We had a good chat, they provided the final bit of convincing I needed to learn more about the winter climbing whilst also putting more doubt into how much I will suffer with altitude sickness up the Inca Trail .
Finally!!! My first broken spectre - I have seen these across a number of Walk Reports and always been super jealous!
Very nearly got sucked into the idea of retracing my steps along the ridge and down the east of Stob Garbh but knowing how little energy I had in my system I opted to stick with the original plan - descent Ben Cruachan to Bealach an Lochain and make my way down to the A85 before a bit of pavement pounding to the car!
Surely with a bit of rainbow and salted peanuts in my system the return leg would be easy - plus it is all downhill !
Down at the Bealach an Lochain.
Struggling majorly now.
Damn - I was exhausted.
I knew I had at least 6km of a walk back to the car and I was out of food, running low of water and genuinely the most tired I have ever been coming off the hills!
Started the internal debate if I was seeing things - this does say 24mph? Most unique speed sign in Scotland?
Looking back towards Ben Cruachan.
Terrific choice of name
Wish I was sinking into a pint of beer right now.
If you keep stopping to take naff photos you'll be lucky to make it home for dinner!
Least it's not raining!
After what was a longer than expected slog down the tarmac road for the hydro schemeI made it back to the A85. The speed limit is 30mph and there is a narrow pavement at the side of the road. For the vast majority it is a relatively comfortable and safe walk back to the car (assuming you are not 4ft wide).
Here are a few of the stats according to my fancy Garmin watch:
- Total time 8hr 52mins 37secs
- Distance 26.82km
- Ascent 1958m
- Calories 3720 (time for pies!)
- Average heart rate of 124bpm
View back at the car, what I missed in the dark! Where are those pesky cows?!
If you are contemplating doing the 2 Munros, or looking for an epic day walk, definitely consider this! If the weather is good getting up the first half of Beinn Eunaich in the dark can make for incredible views.
There was also debates about the best direction to do the route - I chose anti-clockwise so I could do the flat and long pavement pounding when my legs were tired. Looking back I don't think I would have changed direction, although sunrise at Ben Cruachan may have been more impressive?
If there is no preference to complete a circulate loop then maybe retracing your steps along Ben Cruachan's ridge and heading down Stob Garbh would be the most direct route to the car.
Alternatively I am sure you could easily hitch a lift back on the A85 - I did contemplate but I was far too much of a sweaty mess and would almost definitely have fallen asleep .
Next scheduled walk is the Inca Trail - I'll let you know how the altitude goes!
As always, thanks for all the existing Walk Reports, the friendly people out on the hills this weekend, and for reading if you've made it this far! Any comments (particularly advice to stop a steamy camera!!!!) 100% welcomed!
Over and out,
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Warning Please note that hillwalking when there is snow lying requires an ice-axe, crampons and the knowledge, experience and skill to use them correctly. Summer routes may not be viable or appropriate in winter. See winter information on our skills and safety pages for more information.