Tuesday the 13th of August was the day before the schools in North Lanarkshire were due to return after the summer holidays, and as such, would be the last chance for me and my grandson Matthew to do a midweek hill walk. Magnanimous grandad that I am, I happily agreed with Matthew to go for the duo of Beinn Ghlas and Ben Lawers to give him a couple of new Munros, although secretly, selfish grandad, was miffed not to be adding to his Munro total as I had previously done them a couple of years before . Having said that, on my previous effort, the car park, never mind the mountains, was in the clouds and I don't think the visibility was much beyond 20-25 metres for most of my time on the walk and to be honest it had been quite a lonely and eerie experience. In fact, I was on the bypass path on the descent before the clag started to clear and it was here I met the first couple I had seen since leaving the car park. So I told myself at least I should be able to look forward to views I had not seen during my first walk.
We arrived at the car park around 9.10am, and there was already a good few cars there, with several people readying themselves for their adventure ahead. But I immediately noticed that everyone was waving their arms around their heads, so it was obvious the dreaded midges were at play. So we tried to ready ourselves, apply the Skin-so-Soft, boots on, choose what clothes to go in the rucksacks, food out the of the coolbag and also into rucksacks, etc all without leaving the car . When we eventually emerged from the car, a gent leaving the car beside us was swatting away as he set off, and when during a short conversation he said he had no protection from the beasts, I offered him some SSS, which he greatly accepted.
We set off around 9.30am and pretty soon I began to generate some body warmth, so pushed up the sleeves on my iso-cool type t shirt and exposed the only part of my skin without the SSS applied. And guess where the bites were the following day ? However it wasn't long before we were hit by our first rain shower, so jackets were on and skin covered again. There were a couple more showers, but rain wise the day was not too bad. You could see there was "weather" around but generally visibility was pretty good. Eventually we reached the part where the Beinn Ghlas bypass path connects with the route up to Beinn Ghlas summit and it is here the first bit of serious uphill begins.
We made the summit of Beinn Ghlas around 11.15am, passing two cairns on the way up, which had confused me on my first trip as to whether I had summited or not. No problems this time. Munro No18 for Matthew. A short break for a bite and drink and it was off to Ben Lawers at around 11.30am.
There was now a straightforward traverse to Ben lawers summit which is reached with two final steps/pulls. For some reason, on these pulls, Matthew had a sudden rush of energy and shot ahead of me and reached the summit a good five minutes before me. Although not the most in ascent, he was now standing on the highest summit he had managed to bag. Munro No.19 for Matthew. Another eat and drink break was taken. Looking back at Beinn Ghlas, the summit now looked quite busy and also quite a few on the descent heading for Ben Lawers. A hill runner arrived and we had a chat and he took our Lawers summit pics for us.
Now it had been mentioned by Matthew on the way to where we now sat, that it would be great to go back to school the following day with a nice round No. 20 in the bag and, to be honest, I had been harbouring a notion of maybe pushing on to An Stuc as well. Now I know An Stuc is normally done in a triple with Meall Greigh and Meall Garbh, but unsure of the east face of An Stuc due to conflicting reports of it's difficulty, I had been reasoning that at least I would have attained it's summit and if, at some later date, I attempted the triple and found the face too daunting, at least it would make my failure less disappointing.
We both looked ahead to An Stuc. It was now around 1pm, so plenty of time. We both agreed we would like to do it, but I had to inform Matthew that if we went ahead it would almost definitely mean retracing our steps back from An Stuc and re-summiting Ben Lawers. I had read one account of a sort of path that maybe could be found by dropping down from Bealach Dubh, but it sounded a bit vague and I'm not that adventurous. One last question to Matthew.
"Are you DEFINITELY up for it?"
The reply was yes, so off we set.
The route takes you over a rocky mound called Creag an Fhithich and it's here you can see the full amount of the descent you have to do reach Bealach Dubh. And also the extent of the ascent to An Stuc . AND the realisation that we were going to have to do it in reverse to regain the Lawers summit . At the parts of the route where we were exposed to the wind it was fairly strong and although not really cold, it was colder than I expected so the jackets stayed on the whole time we were "up high". Onwards and downwards to Bealach Dubh, then onwards and upwards to the summit of An Stuc, which we made around 2.15pm I guess. Matthew was elated. He had done his first "triple" and had bagged Nos 18,19 and 20, his goal for the summer acheived. And I had bagged one too. No.33 for me (I'm a late starter!). The weather pretty decent here and we had more rations and took in the views. Several different singles and couples arrived from the direction of Meall Garbh and I questioned them all about An Stuc's east face, but none of them had found it particularly difficult, although I was warned that might change if icy. Maybe one day!!
We both looked along the ridge and agreed if we had had some transport at the other end, we would have been happier to have continued along the ridge and bagged Mealls Garbh and Greigh, but that wasn't to be, so around 2.45pm we set off on the long journey back to the car park beginning with the re-ascent of Ben Lawers. On the descent to Bealach Dubh there was sudden, unmistakable sound of a helicopter approaching and we both turned round to see the red and white Search and Rescue chopper fly past us, not that much higher than where we stood. We watched as it passed over Ben Lawers and then began to circle around the region of the bypass path below Beinn Ghlas. We both saw red smoke, but were both unsure from where it originated. After a while it gained height and then returned over the top of our heads. Don't think it could have been super serious or we would have heard about it, but it did occur to me that if mentioned on the news or whatever that someone had to be airlifted from the Lawers range, his mum and gran would have a fit!!
I have to say, without the anticipation and reward of a fresh summit to stimulate mind and body, this was the hardest part of the day and both of us flagged a little, but I reminded Matthew that once we were back on Lawers it was all downhill and/or level from there. We were back on Ben Lawers summit around 4pm, so I guess going to An Stuc and the stay on top had added around 3hrs to our day.
The wind got quite strong here and some clag rolled in, so we hurried down to gain the bypass path where it calmed once more and I even took my jacket off for the first time since mid morning. Here we met three American pushing their mountain bikes along, what to me,seemed an unsuitable path due to the stone steps and stones which have been laid projecting directly out the path, but they assured me the path was fine. They left their ascent till late so that they would have a quieter path on which to career down. A descent they assured me would take them no time at all. Each to their own .
We rejoined the main path which by now was very quiet. I guess everyone I saw earlier on Beinn Ghlas had returned after Ben Lawers and were now long gone. We met a group of Belgian tourists near the burn for whom I happily took a picture, before finally reaching the car park at 6pm. For Matthew and I, it had been a long, strenuous, but enjoyable day with Matthew especially achieving his goal, and me, an unexpected (but hoped for) tick in my Munro map.
PS. Distance and Ascent were estimates.
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