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Ben Lui via Central Gully

Ben Lui via Central Gully

Postby yokehead » Tue Mar 31, 2009 12:47 am

Munros included on this walk: Ben Lui

Date walked: 23/03/2009

Distance: 19.3 km

Ascent: 1014m

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I met up with my mate Gary for a couple of days. The weather forecast was iffy with winds to 70mph and snow; we decided to head for Bridge of Orchy to do something around there, we’d see what the weather was actually like then choose our hill. Ben Lui had been mentioned as a possible outing for sometime during my stay but wasn’t on the agenda for today.

Visibility and cloudbase were favourable as we drove north toward Tyndrum, then Lui came into view. ‘Looks good’ says Gary as I try to keep the car on the road whilst gazing to the west myself. ‘It’ll be sheltered from the wind in the Corrie’ says he. ‘We could see what the gully is like and if it’s not on we could go around the ridge’. At this point I wonder if he is trying to tell me something. I’m more than game for a go but I haven’t had time for the poor brain to adjust to the thought. We consider a possible wasted day from the long walk in if the conditions are poor. We um and ah some more, the Dalrigh turn passes by. A decision is finally made, thoughts of Bridge of Orchy forgotten as I make a last-second screeching left turn up the road to Tyndrum Lower station (well, not quite but it does add to the story!).

From photos I’d seen and from Wanderlust’s report a month ago I knew that when I got to climbing Lui I’d want to walk in from the east, I wasn’t to be disappointed and would recommend this as the way to go, perhaps for once ignoring the ‘how many Munros can I bag today’ approach. There is a good track, which can be cycled if you like, for all of the 6km to the foot of your mountain. For us the first couple of km was through forest that sheltered us from the strong westerly wind. Lui came into view over the treetops, drawing us in. Just before we came out of the forest and the right turn to the west there was a heavy blatter of rain and sleet so we donned waterproof trousers. Only 15 minutes of walking in this, we weren’t troubled for the rest of the way and the wind didn’t seem to be as strong as forecast.

love at forest sight

Our view of Lui during the trek along the track was only slightly spoiled by the bizarre shade of green on the roofs of the barns at Cononish. It must have been a job lot of paint going cheap. Past this and the last of the forest, nothing ahead now but the magnificence of Lui. Skies that had been grey broke a little to give us patches of blue that better showed the mountain. The gully looks vertical from a distance and the lower slopes that lead to the corrie are hidden until well into the walk after the southern flank of Beinn Chuirn has been passed.

magnificent one

At last the whole mountain is in view. It looks like a giant’s armchair with the ENE and NNE ridges forming the armrests. It is wonderful. The bealach between Ben Lui and Ben Oss can also be seen now, I must confess that I didn’t take much notice of Ben Oss and Beinn Dubhcraig during the walk in; all eyes elsewhere! Just a short distance now to the end of the track where the Allt an Rund has to be crossed, it gave us no trouble although Gary had his camera at the ready and I think was disappointed that I didn’t make a hash of the crossing.

Lui & Oss

sorry, didn't slip

We started the climb to the corrie, keeping to the right of the delightful burn that cascaded down in a series of small falls. Gary stopped to admire and photograph Purple Saxifrage, the first he’d seen this year and triggered by last week’s short heatwave no doubt. A steeper pull and we were in the corrie; we stopped below the snowline for some fuel. It had taken 2 hours to get here from the station so not such a lengthy walk in after all and absolutely worth it. Being in the corrie is marvellous, looking round at potential routes up the ridges and at the summit that is still high above. Get here early, have a long stop and big early lunch whilst you admire your surroundings, take your time scrambling up and around the ridges for the afternoon, a brief stop for drink and snacks before an amble back along the track in the early evening followed by a big dinner. Do the mountain and yourself justice.

almost into the corrie

We moved up to the lower reaches of the snow slope and stopped to put on crampons and ready the ice axes, I had borrowed my son’s so had 2 axes for the climb. First a traverse across minor avalanche debris then we turned up the slope, gentle at first and the snow soft enough to easily sink the ice axe shaft and the feet.

our route

starting up the snow, looking back to the east

The slope gradually gets steeper and the climb proper begins in the narrower gully between crags, by this time the surface was of neve with some ice. Lovely stuff and Gary declared the conditions to be perfect (he is a ML with 2 rounds of the Munros under his belt amongst many other doings). Just to set the winter scene it started to snow, this kept up for the remainder of the climb.

just below the gully start

For me a new experience now, using 2 axes and mastering using crampon front points at every step. Gary helped me out by taking the time to kick steps in the hard surface snow; these steps would also be available if retreat were necessary due to the wind at the summit. We took a leisurely 90 minutes to the summit, a couple of times I stamped out a small platform next to boulders where I could take photos of Gary as he led. It was tremendous, using the axes almost like handles with the picks fully sunken into the snow or swinging the picks into the snow, crampons biting.

into the gully

Gary leading

Concentrating, focusing on each move, being aware of what I was doing and increasingly getting into a rhythm as it all became natural. Being here made sense, strange when I think of it like that after the event, but real. A few times there were strong gusts of wind with snow whipping all around and I pressed into the slope to offer least resistance, but mostly it was just the snow falling and a bit breezy. Very atmospheric. Gary disturbed a chunk of snow, it clonked me on the helmet (kindly lent by Gary). From one of my stances I purposely sent a chunk of snow down the slope, it disappeared at an amazing speed as a reminder of gravity’s acceleration. I felt secure and safe and was loving it.

getting higher

We came out of the gully and I stopped to watch Gary and take photos as he climbed the top part of the slope to the cornice. There had been a couple of climbers on the slope in recent days and they had kindly broken through the cornice for us, we had seen this before starting the climb. Gary went over the top out of sight, my turn now alone on the slope as it steepened further in the last few metres and over the cornice onto the top, feeling strange to have the whole of the foot on the ground.

Gary on the final leg

almost there

over the top

Gary had been photographing me, I went over to him and we had a bout of back slapping before getting behind the cairn out of the wind for some sustenance. The wind certainly was strong but fortunately not the 70mph forecast. It was strong enough though for us to descend the south east ridge to the bealach with Ben Oss to give us shelter instead of taking a shorter route north.

face stuffed with choccie

At the bealach I wasn’t tempted to go for Ben Oss, we still had a ways to go. We kept to the west of the Allt Coire Laoigh and crossed to the track for an uneventful walk back to the car. We hadn’t seen anyone else all day. Rain started just before we reached the car but nothing could dampen my spirits from this day! We did make it to Bridge of Orchy in the end but only to the hotel, the wrong direction I know but a pint of Bitter & Twisted and a meal awaited.
Last edited by yokehead on Fri Sep 07, 2018 10:29 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Ben Lui via Central Gully

Postby mountain coward » Tue Mar 31, 2009 2:56 am

Great pics but definitely not for me!
mountain coward

Re: Ben Lui via Central Gully

Postby cjwaugh » Tue Mar 31, 2009 8:38 am

Brilliant yokehead i did this hill as one of my first Munro's but not from this direction .I don't have the knowledge to climb up the corrie in the snow but well done great report :D
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Re: Ben Lui via Central Gully

Postby maddjock » Tue Mar 31, 2009 9:04 am

I'll echo the above... great report and fascinating pics there....
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Re: Ben Lui via Central Gully

Postby kevsbald » Tue Mar 31, 2009 11:45 am

Great stuff. Reminds me of when I did the Buachaille in similar conditions and kicking steps makes you feel like Fiennes et al. A good day to remember....
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Re: Ben Lui via Central Gully

Postby Wanderlust » Tue Mar 31, 2009 7:12 pm

Looks like an exhilarating climb, and the gully appears to be really steep - quite a challenge.

A well written report and great photos, particularly the action shots. Thanks mentioning my report, btw

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Re: Ben Lui via Central Gully

Postby Paul Webster » Wed Apr 01, 2009 1:30 pm

Great report, fab photos. Heading up a steep snow couloir with an axe in each hand looks way too scary for me!

No doubt you'll soon have a rope and be doing some tough summer stuff 8)
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Re: Ben Lui via Central Gully

Postby yokehead » Wed Apr 01, 2009 7:20 pm

Cheers all, just get yourself on a short winter skills course with a bit of steep ground work included and see where it might lead, you may just get hooked like me! :D :D

I'm not looking to go for rock climbing (at least I don't think so :) ) but I may do some basic rope work and increase the all round skills for scrambling and winter climbs such as this so I can continue to mix it up as I like.

Have a look at my mate's blog for some more pics and videos of our doings, and of other great mountain days:
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Re: Ben Lui via Central Gully

Postby bigbertie » Sat Apr 04, 2009 8:30 pm

Yokehead - great report, and I agree, Central Gully in winter is the way to do it. There is an old picture of a lone climber near the top (he has come out onto the snow rib right of the upper basin for extra exposure!). He has a single long axe and is using it casually like a walking stick! The picture (which is on the cover of the paperback edition of the WH Murray books) had always inspired me to climb the gully, so in 2005 I returned to do it. If that was your first winter climb you did well to solo it - it's an easy angle but a very long slide to the bottom. The weekend after I did it a solo climber slipped on the top snowfield and slid into and right down the gully collecting 2 pairs of roped climbers on the way. Happily they didn't hit any rocks and emerged at the bottom with only 2 minor injuries.

If you get into Munro-bagging by easy winter routes I recommend:
Aonach Eagach (of course)
Stob Coire Sgreamach (by Sron na Lairig)
Beinn a'Chaorainn (by E Ridge)
Buachaille Etive Mor (by Curved Ridge)
Ben Nevis (by Ledge Route)
Creag Meagaidh (by Raeburns Gully)

I say these are easy, but of course winter conditions vary a lot - they can be desperate. Do at your own risk! (Just felt I should give a disclaimer - it's normal these days)
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Re: Ben Lui via Central Gully

Postby yokehead » Sun Apr 05, 2009 7:21 pm

Hi bb, yes it is amazing to think what was done on the mountain in the days before all the specialist gear was available (crampons made a huge difference but they came much later). Recently on the interweb, in SMC journals, I came across some 100 year old reports penned by Mr Munro himself. Descriptions of the challenges and difficulties are so understated! Like the photo you mention, imagine just the axe and hours of step cutting yet they describe the experience like it was a walk in the park. They had a certain style in those days, wonderful. 8) I wouldn't have liked to be on Lui without the crampons, even with 2 axes!

Thanks for the winter route recommendations, yep these look just the job. Disclaimer noted! :shock: :lol:
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Re: Ben Lui via Central Gully

Postby Rekrab » Sun Apr 19, 2009 11:05 am

loved that report!
I did this climb in november (remember that first dump of snow we had) up the Central gully
and it was cracking loved it. one of few munro's i'd repeat.

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Re: Ben Lui via Central Gully

Postby jimwright » Sun Apr 26, 2009 8:15 pm

Great report Yokerhead and fantastic photos - my son and I did Ben Lui/Beinn a'Chleibh/Ben Oss and Beinn Dubhchraig on a glorious May day last year and there was still snow in the Central Gully. Although my son and I have done loads of munros not much experience in the winter climbing - but your report has gave me a real urge although i'll start with something easier than the central gully. Well done again!!
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