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Overcoming obstacles to reach the Queen of Mountains

Overcoming obstacles to reach the Queen of Mountains


Postby dogplodder » Mon Jul 03, 2017 5:33 pm

Route description: Ben Lui and Beinn a'Chleibh

Munros included on this walk: Beinn a'Chleibh, Ben Lui

Date walked: 25/05/2017

Distance: 10 km

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Many moons ago, towards the end of last century (possibly 1998) I set off with friends to climb Ben Lui. We drove over from Dundee after work on the Friday and stayed overnight at the Strathfillan Wigwams. I remember my wigwam was so near the river the roar of the waterfall kept me awake half the night. I also remember Gerard cooking bacon for breakfast.

It had been Gerard's idea to climb Ben Lui and he insisted we do it via Glen Cononish. That way you could appreciate the full beauty of the mountain as you walked up the long glen. We were happy to go along with that since Ben Lui boasts the title "Queen of the Mountains" (though I imagine it applies to the Southern Highlands only as there would be some serious contenders for that title further north). :shh:

We set off along the track from Dalrigh but hadn't gone far when the rain started. We donned waterproofs and kept going but after about an hour we were soaked and fed up and the cloud was so low we couldn't appreciate the "full beauty of the mountain" because we couldn't see her at all. It looked like it was set to be wet for the rest of the day so we aborted the climb. Back then I wasn't as obsessed with weather forecasts as I am now so it came as a bigger disappointment than it should have been.

The following year we tried again and I made a second booking for wigwams at Strathfillan. But this time I was more cautious and when the forecast turned out to be terrible I phoned and cancelled. The £20 deposit was non refundable but I was told if we came back it would stand against the next booking, except that when I tried to book again a year later I was told it would have had to have been in the same year to count, so I lost the deposit. Oh well. Then in 2001 we moved to Inverness and I never did get back to climb Ben Lui.

Well that was about to change. Moira and I had managed to find three days we were both free to head down the road to Crianlarich. We had unfinished business with Ben More, Moira had her eye on Ben Lomond (my first ever Munro which I was happy to repeat) and I saw the opportunity to have another go at Queen Lui along with lady in waiting Beinn a' Chleibh. Only this time we would forget about the aesthetically pleasing approach and go in the back door, a much shorter route. 8)

Shorter it may be but it does have a few obstacles to overcome, the first being the River Lochy which might mean getting the boots off and wading across. We parked in the car park off the A85 and got booted up. Not that the boots were on for long as one look at the river told us we'd not be getting across with dry feet.

A little cloud flitting around Ben Lui as we set off
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River Lochy and railway underpass
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So off came the boots and on went the sandals (bought in Thailand in 2004 for the equivalent of £1 and still going strong) and over we went. Next obstacle was the bridge under the railway line which by bending low it's possible to share with the Eas Daimh burn for which it was built. But if you don't bend low enough your rucksack gets caught on the overhang and you have to reverse to get uncaught. More than any other hill I've approached this was starting to have a "I'm a celebrity tucker trial challenge" feel about it and a few snakes or rats under the bridge wouldn't have seemed out of place. :twisted:

From the river the path continues through a felled area with heaps of conifer branches and black peaty mud to negotiate along the left side of the burn. After about half a kilometre there's a small cairn near where the Fionn Choire burn joins the Eas Daimh and marks the point for crossing the Eas Daimh. Someone has strung a rope between trees but we found it easy enough stepping over on rocks without the aid of the rope. It didn't go quite so well on the return, but more of that anon. :shifty:

Eas Daimh crossing
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A narrow path continues up the left side of the Fionn Choire, crossing it and leading to a gate in the deer fence. But it was a wooden gate, not a steel gate as specified in WH instructions. So was it the right gate? We couldn't see any other. Second concern was the ankle deep quagmire in which the gate was sitting. Getting through the swinging kissing gate type arrangement with rucksack on back without plunging feet into muddy water involved some nifty moves which turned out to be just a warm up for the nifty moves we'd need later in the forest of deep mud and spiky branches. :o

Once through the gate we failed to locate the "good path to the construction access road" but instead found the start of what might have been a path but which fizzled out among heaps of felled branches. Then we saw a line of guys walking along the path we'd turned off before crossing the Eas Daimh. It's a funny thing but even when you know you're on the right track it's always disconcerting seeing others doing something different. When they spotted us they turned and headed back to cross the burn and it was about 10 minutes before we saw them again.

Then from deep in the jungle of felled woodland I saw what looked like a path on the other side of the deer fence so we cut our losses and retraced our steps to shimmy back through the flooded gateway. The path on the other side was indeed better, albeit with dead tree detritus strewn around impeding passage. But by this time that felt entirely par for the course. :silent:

The guys who had missed the turn at the cairn had now reached the gate in the deer fence which they went through and like us must have failed to find the path as we saw them crashing through fallen branches in a parallel line to our path. When they spied us back on the original side of the fence they made a beeline for it and climbed over. By this time the sun was beating down on us so when we reached the dusty construction track at the bridge we stopped to apply sun cream and that's where they caught up with us. "Why didn't you tell us we were on the wrong side of the fence?" one demanded. Well that would be because we weren't sure we were on the right side of it ourselves. It was all a bit confusing and I'd like to see where the path we should have been on actually was. :think:

At least our next navigational choice was clear. There was a cairn at the side of the construction track immediately after the bridge, marking the start of a rough path up through the woods. From reading pollyh33's report about thigh high mud I had some idea what to expect. It wasn't going to be a normal walk in the woods. The path was eroded and muddy and in places disappeared into wide areas of deep mud you could easily lose your boots in. At times it was easier to push through the close planted conifers but even there it was slippy underfoot due to so many people doing the same thing. You also had to fight with low hanging spiky branches. It was another bush tucker challenge and in a strange way it was fun working out how to get through with boots unscathed, although on the return I was more gung ho about ploughing straight through mud rather than avoiding it. Eventually we reached another gate surrounded by muddy moat and emerged from the forestry into the wide openness of Fionn Choire.

Beinn a' Chleibh and path through forest (looks benign here but don't be deceived)
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So what with one thing and another the walk to this point had taken longer than it should have. We sat down by the side of the burn and discussed our next move. WH advised going east up grassy slopes to reach Ben Lui's north ridge. Two things put me off that approach. One was the use of the words "featureless, pathless and unremitting ascent" - not an appealing combination. The second was the cloud sitting on Ben Lui's summit. It looked like we'd be better reversing WH's route, going up the path to the bealach and climbing the lower hill first. Hopefully by the time we reached Ben Lui the cloud would have cleared.

Heading up to bealach between Ben Lui and Beinn a'Chleibh
IMG_3069-large.JPG


The path was faint but easy enough to follow and mostly dry.

View back to forest
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Higher up the corrie
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It had turned into a beautiful day and I was feeling a little euphoric to be finally climbing Ben Lui. But my walking companion wasn't quite sharing my optimism. Since breaking her ankle on wet terrain she's understandably wary of anything with potential to do further damage and the combination of the forest mudbath and the heat had taken its toll. Two thirds of the way up the corrie she suggested I go on myself while she went back to the car.

I didn't think that was a good idea. She'd already done the worst of it and I reckoned once we reached the bealach there would be a breeze and she'd be fine. With long hours of daylight we could afford to take it slowly so the plan was to go on in short stages. Having overcome the obstacles of river, underpass, heaps of felled branches, lost paths and the forest of gloop we were not going to be defeated by a climb in the sun. So we soldiered on. A young guy overtook us and when he reached the top of the path collapsed on the grass and lay there for quite a long time. We found out later it was one of the warmest days in May - maybe the whole summer judging from what June's been like! :oops:

At the bealach there was a refreshing breeze. I asked Moira if she'd prefer to shorten the route by skipping Beinn a' Chleibh and going straight for Ben Lui, but she said no way was she coming this far not to do them both. The girl had her mojo back! :clap:

SE from bealach - Ben Lomond centre, Arrochar Alps on right
IMG_3072-largec.JPG


We followed the stony path up what would be M's 150th Munro and once up there the views made all the effort worth it.

West to Loch Awe and Ben Cruachan from Beinn a' Chleibh summit
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Zoomed to Cruachan
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SE to Crianlarich hills and Arrochar Alps
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Approaching her 150th Munro summit with Ben Lui behind
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The wind was in our sails now and after a few photos we returned to the bealach and started up the path to Ben Lui. The benefit of doing it this way round was the mountain was free of all the earlier cloud and we had her all to ourselves. We had met lots of folk on Beinn a' Chleibh (summit area was buzzing) but we didn't meet another soul on Ben Lui.

Beinn a' Chleibh from slopes of Ben Lui
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We paced ourselves on the way up, stopping for a snack half way.

Grateful to my pal for keeping going when the chips were down
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Onwards and upwards
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I should have paused to look at the map but adrenalin was pushing me on and I followed the obvious path to what turned out to be the north west (and wrong) summit. Ben Lui has two summit cairns and the true summit is the south east one, perched spectacularly above a huge drop.

Path to north west summit
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But the south east (true) summit is over there
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I realised my mistake so shouted to M not to follow me while I backtracked to join her on the ridge between the two cairns. I didn't want to have come this close and then be outwitted by the final twist in a challenge that started 20 years ago!

Okay I'm coming
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A short easy scramble takes you to the cairn on its lofty perch at 1130 metres.

Ben Lui at last
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I was probably more chuffed about reaching this cairn than I was the day I reached 200. It's interesting the way different hills affect us and this was a significant one for me. Over the past few years every time I climbed a hill in this area I saw her pointed summit above all the others, reminding me this was the one I'd failed to reach and maybe never would. But now after a sudden inspiration a few days earlier we had done it! :D

A long way down into Coire Gaothach and NE to Glen Cononish
IMG_3107-c.JPG


After the usual photos we walked over to the NW cairn where there's more space for sitting comfortably with flasks of coffee than the true summit has. We sat there looking west towards the Cruachan hills, reminscing about the day we climbed Beinn a' Chochuill and Beinn Eunaich, the first pain free hills M did after her broken ankle.

Cruachan hills in the evening sun
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Descending the north ridge
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I wasn't sure how it would be coming off by the north ridge. A guy I'd met earlier had gone up by the north ridge and said he wouldn't fancy coming down it as there were a couple of scrambles near the top that might be tricky in descent. I had kept that nugget to myself as there was no point in worrying about it in advance! In the event there was one place we resorted to a bum shuffle and a couple where hands were needed and that was about as technical as it got. 8)

IMG_3113-largec.JPG


Once below the rocky part of the ridge we began the long descent on grass, keeping our eye on the forest below and trying to follow a sensible line. That went on for longer than you would think and we were glad we hadn't gone up that way.

Down to the forest of gloop
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Eventually we reached the gate and had another interesting passage through a maze of prickly conifers and deep mud mantraps which at times had you teetering on the edge of a black abyss hanging on to a whiplike branch that would just as soon have whacked you in the face. For the next week M was sporting a bruise from being attacked by one of the crazy trees in that forest. I was being less careful than on the way up and at one point my boot sank into mud above ankle level and I laughed out loud. It felt like a slapstick comedy of errors and by then I wasn't caring how mucky I got. :wtf:

But I wasn't laughing at the Eas Daimh crossing when I stepped on to the same slanting rock I crossed on earlier in the day. It looked dry but my boot must have been wet because I slipped, cracking my shin and head on the rock. I remember thinking "That's not good, I banged my head" and clutching at the rock to stop myself sliding into the water. I managed to get vertical without falling in and staggered up the bank on the far side. My first thought was to stop M doing what I'd done so sat down and waited for her to appear and when she did she must have wondered what I was shouting about over the roar of the waterfall. :eh:

We got to the river without further incident, located our sandals and paddled across. The cold water was bliss for the feet and we were so close to the car we didn't bother putting the boots back on. It was a good end to a great day. The next day I had a bruise on my leg but not a mark on my head so either it's made of wood or I didn't bang it hard enough to make any difference. :shifty:

The indomitable M crossing the Lochy
IMG_3120-largec.JPG


We nipped in to the Green Welly for Solero Exotic Fruit ice cream lollies - perfect for the end of a hot day on the hills before the drive back down Loch Lomond.

The theme of obstacles to be overcome seems to have followed me in the writing of this report. I'd inserted all the photos and was adding the text (saving as I went along - but not as often as I should have) when my fingers must have accidentally hit the control key and another which logged me out, meaning I lost all the text I hadn't saved, which at that point was quite a lot. That wouldn't have been so bad but the really frustrating thing was the photos and text I HAD saved were now all jumbled and I had to delete all the photos and start again. It's not the first time this has happened to me when writing a report. What I'm wondering is if it would be possible to upgrade the software so the text is saved automatically, without the need to click in three places after each time you 'save draft' to get back into the page you're working on, which you have to do at present? 8)
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Re: Overcoming obstacles to reach the Queen of Mountains

Postby Ben Nachie » Tue Jul 04, 2017 10:45 am

Very useful report. I have climbed Ben Lui but not Beinn a'Chleibh (I know, I know) and was thinking of climbing it via your route described. Now I'm thinking I might just go in from the east, back over Ben Lui!
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Re: Overcoming obstacles to reach the Queen of Mountains

Postby dogplodder » Wed Jul 05, 2017 4:30 pm

Ben Nachie wrote:Very useful report. I have climbed Ben Lui but not Beinn a'Chleibh (I know, I know) and was thinking of climbing it via your route described. Now I'm thinking I might just go in from the east, back over Ben Lui!


To be honest I quite enjoyed it - but my pal seriously didn't. If I did it again I'd do it from the east. 8)
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Re: Overcoming obstacles to reach the Queen of Mountains

Postby shredder » Thu Jul 06, 2017 1:24 pm

Great photos and an entertaining read.

Not sure you're selling that route to me however! :lol:
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Re: Overcoming obstacles to reach the Queen of Mountains

Postby tweedledog » Fri Jul 07, 2017 10:39 am

Congratulations on struggling through the mess and finally reaching Ben Lui. It is indeed a beautiful mountain, but the standard route doesn't do it any kind of justice. As per your original 1990s intention the Cononish route shows you why it's called the Queen of the Southern Highlands. But, and it's quite a big but for those of us not as young as we were, it's a long walk in. My GPS claimed 4.6 miles to the end of the track at the foot of Ben Lui (I wasn't going up - just taking The Whippet and a visitor for a scenic walk). Best done by bike I think. I suspect that there are now alternatives from nearer to Dalmally, say via Succoth, since the massive timber harvesting that's going on all along there at the moment has meant them driving new routes for the big wagons through the forest. Or perhaps follow the old Drover's route which passes between Beinn a'Chleibh and Meall nan Gabhar and head up north onto Beinn a'Chleibh. No path though, but maybe less boggy. There has to be a better alternative to the trudge from Glen Lochy since there probably isn't a worse one.
Sorry to go on a bit. It's because these are my local hills - I can see Ben Lui from my garden. Now, don't get me started on the ugly baggers' route for Beinn Eunaich...
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Re: Overcoming obstacles to reach the Queen of Mountains

Postby dogplodder » Mon Jul 10, 2017 5:44 pm

shredder wrote:Great photos and an entertaining read.

Not sure you're selling that route to me however! :lol:


Sorry about that. It's actually not that bad and I've probably overstated the difficulties. :wink:
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Re: Overcoming obstacles to reach the Queen of Mountains

Postby dogplodder » Mon Jul 10, 2017 5:51 pm

tweedledog wrote:Congratulations on struggling through the mess and finally reaching Ben Lui. It is indeed a beautiful mountain, but the standard route doesn't do it any kind of justice. As per your original 1990s intention the Cononish route shows you why it's called the Queen of the Southern Highlands. But, and it's quite a big but for those of us not as young as we were, it's a long walk in. My GPS claimed 4.6 miles to the end of the track at the foot of Ben Lui (I wasn't going up - just taking The Whippet and a visitor for a scenic walk). Best done by bike I think. I suspect that there are now alternatives from nearer to Dalmally, say via Succoth, since the massive timber harvesting that's going on all along there at the moment has meant them driving new routes for the big wagons through the forest. Or perhaps follow the old Drover's route which passes between Beinn a'Chleibh and Meall nan Gabhar and head up north onto Beinn a'Chleibh. No path though, but maybe less boggy. There has to be a better alternative to the trudge from Glen Lochy since there probably isn't a worse one.
Sorry to go on a bit. It's because these are my local hills - I can see Ben Lui from my garden. Now, don't get me started on the ugly baggers' route for Beinn Eunaich...


Thanks for this. Could have done with consulting you before we set off! :D
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Re: Overcoming obstacles to reach the Queen of Mountains

Postby dogplodder » Sat Jan 19, 2019 11:44 am

I'm planning a trip down in May and would like to include Oss and Dubhchraig but wondering if it will be a similar mud bath to the Lochy appoach to Lui? :shh:

Any advice from those who know?
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Re: Overcoming obstacles to reach the Queen of Mountains

Postby jmarkb » Sat Jan 19, 2019 2:56 pm

dogplodder wrote:I'm planning a trip down in May and would like to include Oss and Dubhchraig but wondering if it will be a similar mud bath to the Lochy appoach to Lui?

Any advice from those who know?


The section through the woods on the normal route to Dubhcraig can be pretty awful. Which is a shame as the woods themselves are lovely. There is an alternative for these two using the bridge near Cononish Farm, though it does involve some quite steep and pathless ground. I can post more details and a map for you when I am on a computer and not a phone!
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Re: Overcoming obstacles to reach the Queen of Mountains

Postby dogplodder » Sat Jan 19, 2019 3:04 pm

jmarkb wrote:
dogplodder wrote:I'm planning a trip down in May and would like to include Oss and Dubhchraig but wondering if it will be a similar mud bath to the Lochy appoach to Lui?

Any advice from those who know?


The section through the woods on the normal route to Dubhcraig can be pretty awful. Which is a shame as the woods themselves are lovely. There is an alternative for these two using the bridge near Cononish Farm, though it does involve some quite steep and pathless ground. I can post more details and a map for you when I am on a computer and not a phone!


That would be great! :D
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Re: Overcoming obstacles to reach the Queen of Mountains

Postby past my sell by date » Sat Jan 19, 2019 4:37 pm

I crossed the Lochy from that parking area twice in the nineties once doing your route and on an earlier occasion to traverses round to the foot of Central Gully - but we certainly didn't wade -there was a footbridge . The WH map shows a FB about 1 km further W but there's no path leading up thru the woods from it - you 'd have to follow the railway back - and I'm sure we didn't do that - on either occasion
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Re: Overcoming obstacles to reach the Queen of Mountains

Postby jmarkb » Mon Jan 21, 2019 10:10 pm

dogplodder wrote:That would be great! :D


OK, here goes:

From Dalrigh follow the track to Cononish Farm - just before the farm bear left to cross a bridge over the river (not obvious from the track). Turn right and follow the base of the slope, which is a bit drier than the river bank, for about a mile, then start a rising traverse, aiming for an obvious step on the skyline. Cross the Allt Coire Chruinn below where it flows through a gorge, and follow the grassy rib on its right to reach the step on the skyline. Go straight uphill from here crossing some bouldery bits to reach a small col on the main ridge. Turn right and follow the last part of the path to Ben Oss, Turn round and follow the normal route to Dubhcraig. Again retrace your steps, but instead of descending the path into the corrie, stay on the broad N ridge, passing some small lochans before descending more steeply directly back to the bridge and thence back along the track to Dalrigh.


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It's also possible to descend the NE ridge of Dubhcraig and then try to find a reasonable route through the forestry to join the track that crosses a bridge at NN331262 and leads back to Dalrigh, though the forestry section is not very inspiring.
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Re: Overcoming obstacles to reach the Queen of Mountains

Postby dogplodder » Tue Jan 22, 2019 1:23 pm

That's brilliant - thanks so much! :thumbup:
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Re: Overcoming obstacles to reach the Queen of Mountains

Postby jmarkb » Tue Jan 22, 2019 8:49 pm

No problem!
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