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Mental face

Mental face


Postby BlackPanther » Sat Apr 27, 2019 4:58 pm

Route description: Ben Vorlich and Stuc a'Chroin

Munros included on this walk: Ben Vorlich (Loch Earn), Stuc a'Chroin

Date walked: 09/04/2019

Time taken: 6.75 hours

Distance: 15.5 km

Ascent: 1185m

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For the majority of hillwalkers the route over Ben Vorlich and Stuc a'Chroin is a challenge for the early stages of mountaineering career. Mostly due to their location in the south-east of the Munro-rich country. For us, they were two awkwardly placed red balloons on our bagging map. For many years we simply put them off "for later", not realizing, how fantastic this duo is in close encounter. Only in late March this year, when we successfully reached the summit of the nearby Corbett Meall an t-Seallaidh, the two Munros came to our attention. On our quest to compleat, we'd need to visit them anyway, so why not now, in spring?
We followed the usual route from Loch Earn to Ben Vorlich, the traversed, with adrenaline rushing in our veins, to Stuc a'Chroin. Having read a few descriptions, we knew that the climb up to the second Munro involves some scrambling, but different sources assured us that "there is a bypass path". Well, of course, as it usually happens in our case, we didn't exactly follow the bypass. We intended to avoid all the difficulties, but ended up doing some interesting scrambling, which, though not technically hard, made us gasp for air.
So one word of warning for those who haven't tackled this route yet: our line of ascent is not necessarily the easiest one! More details later.

Track_BEN VORLICH 09-04-19.gpx Open full screen  NB: Walkhighlands is not responsible for the accuracy of gpx files in users posts


After nearly 3 hours in the car, my stomach was in poor condition so I was first out and ready to catch some fresh air! Loch Earn in the background.
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The bulky shape of Ben Vorlich can be seen from the road. There was still some snow on the ridge but it didn't concern us much. After all, it was just a few melting patches :think:
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We marched up the track into Glen Vorlich, overtaking a few groups of people. The path up the first Munro was very busy, and it was Tuesday, I was glad we didn't come to climb this ridge on a weekend day. I imagine it would be nearly as bad as Ben Lomond!
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Back to Loch Earn:
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Lower down, the path has been upgraded but as soon as we reached the steeper section leading to Sgiath nam Tarmachan ridge, it was hard not to notice the erosion. This Munro must be one of the most popular in Scotland and with easy access up Glen Vorlich, it must have seen millions of visitors by now...
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...and the damage done to this route is undeniable:
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Looking down Sgiath nam Tarmachan, the scar of the wide path clearly visible:
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We crossed a few small snow patches on the final, rocky climb, but generally, it was just a long, boring slog...
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...ending with a 5 min stop on the windy summit of Ben Vorlich, our first new Munro this year and my M no. 247!
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View west from the top of Ben Vorlich:
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North to Loch Earn, the more distant hills still obstructed by cloud, but forecast was for sunny spells later in the day:
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The summit was cold and blowy, so we decided to drop to the col between the two Munros for a short tea and cookies break. But before we left, Kevin took a panoramic snap of what was yet to come:
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After the easy if boring march up Ben Vorlich, Stuc a'Chroin presented quite a different kind of challenge. Steep and rocky. At least there seemed to be little snow on the steepest section:
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Zoom to the north face of Stuc a'Chroin. At the first glance, it didn't look drastically hard, and we knew there was supposed to be a bypass path somewhere if we found the direct climb too awkward, so we never had second thoughts about going for it!
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We descended half way down from Ben Vorlich and found a sheltered spot behind a large boulder, where we sat down for something to eat and drink. As we munched on our cookies, a group of young men walked past, aiming obviously for the same route we had in mind. Some of them had ropes and helmets and looked like they meant business. I looked at Kevin doubtfully. Have we underestimated Stuc a'Chroin?
As a big snooker fan I know that some players produce the best game under pressure, and having just climbed my Munro no. 247 (100 + maximum break :lol: :lol: ) I was in the winning mode, so no amount of over-geared and fit-looking young lads would discourage me. Forget my dodgy knees, forget the long-fought vertigo. This is the day I'm going to go mental!
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Crossing the bealach was easy and looking up at the looming buttress, we didn't sense any danger:
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...even right from below, the slope didn't look too drastic. In winter, it would be a whole different matter, but now all snow gone (or so we thought at that point ha ha ha) we felt confident about trying it. According to the WH description "There are steep zig-zagging paths heading up the slope above, keeping to the right of the main buttress - care is necessary to ensure you stay on route":
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That doesn't seem too bad, does it?
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Ben Vorlich from the lower part of the buttress path:
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We hopped over the boulderfield at the bottom of the slope. No problem so far. Then we located a well-worn but quite airy path, traversing up in zig-zags. So far, so good:
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We reached a large slab, scrambled over to the top (with some considerable effort from yours truly, as my arms and legs didn't seem to reach as far as Kevin's) and squeezed through a short chimney. It's worth mentioning, that because the whole face is north-facing, it is in permanent shadow and the ground was damp and a bit slippery. At some point, I lost my balance and dropped to my knees, grabbing Kevin's leg to secure myself (he was standing on a rock just above me). The whole situation would look comical if we were in a panto show but on a nearly vertical side of a mountain buttress it was no laughing matter. I managed to get back onto my feet and scramble up to Kevin. He looked down and concluded: You be careful, girl. One slip and you will tumble all the way down into the corrie!
The suicidal way down:
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We continued up a couple of zigzags of the airy path, but Kevin got fed up with it as we seemed to be making little vertical progress. He spotted what he thought was a good line up the rocks and just went for it. I had no choice but to follow.
It's getting a bit mental now...
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The scrambling itself was not difficult. But we discovered that not all snow on the north face has melted. There were small patches of the white stuff, now very soft and porridgy, and from time to time we had to kick our feet into them. I much preferred to stay on hard rock when possible.
Eventually, after what felt like eternity but lasted maybe 10 minutes, we emerged on the 951m top. Kevin looked back at our ascent line and exclaimed with satisfaction, only known to dedicated mountaineers:
"Well, that was a bit mental!"
I knew one thing: no way we were coming down that way! :lol:
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On the lower top, happy to have climbed something a bit mental :lol:
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View west with Ben More & Stob Binnein on the horizon:
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The true summit is now only a short stroll away:
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Wee Lucy on the summit of her 102nd Munro, with Ben Vorlich in the background:
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A huge grin on Kevin's face - he's just reached his last milestone before compleation. 250 Munros in the bag!
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I'm still 2 away from the big number, but it didn't stop me from celebrating Panther style:
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I spotted familiar shapes of Creag Mac Ranaich and Meall an t-Seallaidh, the Corbett duo we climbed only a week before:
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The Tarmachan Ridge, I think:
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Ben More and Stob Binnein, zoomed:
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The summit area has two cairns, the northern one is the true top, but after a short photo session, we traversed to the southern cairn as it offered more shelter from the nippy wind. Here, as we sat down and enjoyed a hot cuppa, we admired views down to Lochan a'Chroin:
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Lochearnhead framed by the mountains:
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For the return route we picked a safe if steep and eroded bypass path into the corrie. Then we continued on that path as it contoured around the rim of the corrie, with excellent views back to our "mental" adventure.
Looking back at Stuc a'Chroin:
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The final descent from the western shoulder of Ben Vorlich was uneventful if boggy in places. Once back on the main path, we overtook many groups of people, returning from Vorlich. I don't want to sound patronizing but the very though that we managed both Munros whereas most of the other walkers did just one, made me feel much better about myself :lol: :lol:
The boggy path on the return:
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I guess that in dry conditions and without the annoying patches of snow between the rocks, this scramble would not be "a mental experience" but on the other hand, I found myself enjoying the adrenaline rush in my veins. Of course, the whole buttress can be avoided, either by using the bypass path to the far right or a steep, grassy gully to the very left. But for those ready to play in a rocky playground, this is the best way up Stuc a'Chroin :D

Having returned home we checked weather forecast for the next day and it was looking good on the western front, so we decided to drive to Loch Arkaig area as we had unfinished business there in the shape of a superb Corbett. TR coming soon.
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BlackPanther
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Re: Mental face

Postby Mal Grey » Sat Apr 27, 2019 6:45 pm

Great description that pretty much matches my own memories of this dark, dripping, easy but unsettling scramble. We too said "no way are we going down that way" on reaching the top.

I wonder what percentage of Vorlich ascents are followed up with this way up S a C? Quite a small one I would guess!
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Mal Grey
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Re: Mental face

Postby Coop » Sat Apr 27, 2019 8:56 pm

Same route almost to a T.
I think SaC is underestimated.
I dont think I said to myself "I won't be going back down that way "
I probably said " I can't get back down that way :D "
Done it again from the corbet on the other side but going that way didnt do it justuce.
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Re: Mental face

Postby DizzyVizion » Sun Apr 28, 2019 12:21 pm

Good stuff :wink:
I had a mini-epic myself up S'a'C not so long ago. This report brought back memories. It's a nice scramble if you're mentally prepared for some awkward moves. If not though like you said, it's a bit mental :thumbup:
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Re: Mental face

Postby Mountainlove » Sun Apr 28, 2019 5:22 pm

Great to see the two down south :-)
I really enjoyed the two , did them in really crap weather first time around and in much better the second time and yes that scramble route up is a bit mental :lol:
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Re: Mental face

Postby BlackPanther » Mon Apr 29, 2019 6:19 pm

Many thanks for all comments :D :D

I see I'm not the only one calling this route "mental". And I agree, the N face of SaC is underestimated in guide books, giving an impression of nothing but a few rocks to hop over. On closer inspection, it's quite unnerving, especially when wet.

This photo shows my reaction to the face. Note my wet knees :lol:
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I'm still drowning in backlog reports so apologies for the delay in posting everything. Getting it all sorted is just as mental as climbing a mountain :lol: :lol:
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Re: Mental face

Postby Alteknacker » Mon Apr 29, 2019 10:33 pm

Nice one! It's never fails to amaze me how different hills can look, depending on whether they're dressed in green or in white!

I thought SaC was on the mental side too - it's so steep! - though I did it as a down-climb in very cold weather with lots of snow, so it was slow but not too difficult.
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