I fought the Lawers and the Lawers won

Route: Ben Lawers and Beinn Ghlas

Munros: An Stuc, Beinn Ghlas, Ben Lawers, Meall Corranaich, Meall Garbh (Ben Lawers), Meall Greigh

Date walked: 19/09/2019

Time taken: 21 hours

Distance: 25km

I haven’t written one of these up in some time now despite having added a few more peaks and had some great trips in the outdoors. Three years since my last report…shocking. I had the urge to get this outing down in some form other than the photos placed on social media or harboured in a hard drive.

You don’t get to 70 odd munros without having great mountain days, but this one I’ll be holding dear for some time yet.

The Lawers range stuck out like a sore thumb for me on my munro map and the seven tops it offered formulated into a plan. I watched the weather like a hawk on every available source as high pressure hovered over the country a week before I was due to go out. Hold…hold…HOLD!!! …And hold it did. Conditions also looked ideal for an inversion which did little to temper my excitement. A Friday booked off long in advance for my birthday weekend and it looked like I was going to be fortunate enough to cash in on some fine weather.

On a similarly planned trip last year to Torridon and the north west, I was battered by gales, and drenched by relentless sheets of rain, managing 3 munros out of a planned 12. This time I was going to strike gold.

Unfortunately I had to deal with a never-ending day long training session at work, all the while watching the time, and the blue skies outside. Can I go now...? Now…?...Maybe I could just leave at the next tea-break…

I managed to get away and into the car by 4pm, enjoying a stress free drive up Loch Lomond, across Glen Dochart through Killin and up onto the plateau of the Lawers massif. I had hoped to get away earlier in the day and thought I might have to drop Meall a’ Choire Leith from the planned route on account of daylight time.
The sun had shone all day and was still shining as I geared up and began the walk into the nature reserve at about 5.30pm. I had two hours until sundown to get to the top of Meall Corranaich and Meall a’ Choire Leith and Beinn Ghlas…

Here we go...

The sun was strong even at this late stage but I powered ahead passing folks coming off the mountain for the day, while mine was just beginning. I enjoyed the feeling knowing people were heading home and the mountain playground ahead was more likely to be mine alone.

The path is straightforward and solid underfoot and easy progress was made up toward the bealach between Ghlas and Corranaich. The lack of any kind of breeze meant the sun stayed hot on my back as I climbed, and with no cloud cover either I thought I may have a chilly night ahead higher up. It was now just after 6.15pm and I wondered whether I’d even have time for Meall Corranaich and still make Ghlas for sunset. A chap coming off Corranaich indicated the path was steep but good and shouldn’t take too long. I stashed my pack under a rock, took a pouch of water and the camera, and shot off up the 150 or so metre climb. Without the overnight gear I was up in 20 minutes, with the breath-taking view of an ending day across Tarmachan and Glen Dochart and Glen Lyon in front of me. The only disappointment being that I now knew I’d not make it to Meall a’ Choire Leith and back, even as it looked tantalising close. I left that munro unticked on its own for now.

The top of Corranaich towards the out of reach Meall a' Coire Leith

The shadow of Corranaich casts on the side of Lawers and Ghlas

Usually that would really pick away at me as my plans were disrupted, but today just felt far bigger than the box ticking exercise. As I turned around the low light was casting an impressive pyramidal shadow of Corranaich onto the golden slopes of Lawers and Ghlas. Who needs the Egyptian pyramids, when we have these world wonders.

I didn't dawdle about just yet though, quickly but carefully picking my way back down the steep side and reclaimed my pack to start up Beinn Ghlas. I’d thought about a more direct route up from the bealach, however I couldn’t see any obvious route and decided I could move quicker on the established, if slightly longer, path. I moved north eastwards up to the lower part of the ridge to then double back on myself for the top of Ghlas. It was cooler at the back here, but not cold and the grass was glowing a brilliant orange in the late light. Once I hit the ridge I kept my eye out for any camping spots and was glad to see numerous places suitable for the footprint of my one-man tent. The sun continued to dance across the mountain tops, Ben Nevis outlined to the north, the light carrying to boulders, rocks and stones, illuminating the myriad of lichens on top of each. A moment spent in minute detail within the massive surrounding expanse.




There were no clouds to obscure views this evening, and as the time ticked towards sundown, I caught the summit of Beinn Ghlas at 7.30pm and the burning vestiges of the days light. The relative silence was incredible with zero wind to buffet me from the viewpoint as dark horizon of distant mountain tops gave way to intense yellows, oranges, pinks and purples.

Smiling from ear to ear I reluctantly turned my back on the sunset momentarily to find a spot to pitch for the night. The sheer bulk of Lawers now loomed in front and was illuminated in pastel purples giving it the feel of a renaissance painted landscape.
And here I was sandwiched right between these epic landscapes feeling quite insignificant. That's true peace right there.

Ben Lawers

After finding an excellent spot on the ridge, partially sheltered by boulders and the slight rise of the path, the tent went up and I was soon enjoying the heightened elevation in the remaining light.

The evenings pitch

I awaited the cloud cover that had been promised for early evening. And waited. To my delight it never came, and the stars gradually increased in brightness as I cooked up dinner, enjoyed a dram and settled in for the evening. The glow of Glasgow was visible in the distance, preceded by illuminations of rural communities to the single lights of remote homesteads down on Loch Tay. Following that reduced path of light to my mountain top camp brought a real sense of peace and comfort.

Pulling myself away from the starry night I slept on and off but kept poking my head out to grab another view of the sparkly web above. At about 3am I awoke and felt the tent being filled by an odd glow, too early for sunrise. The moon was resplendent offering another illuminated view from my perch. Such was the available light it would have been easy to pack up and walk onwards to Lawers. For now though I zipped up the sleeping bag and elected for a couple more hours sleep.

Here comes the day...

I woke at about 5.30am, with daylight just breaking the horizon, stirred up a coffee and packed the tent away. It was apparent that despite the high pressure and lack of wind there was to be no inversion this time, but I was still eager to make it to Lawers for sunrise. Although I had a full day ahead of me, I found myself powering to the top of Lawers trying to beat the sun on the other side to the same goal.
Despite feeling slightly sick and regretting the speed at which I wolfed breakfast, the next scene overcame that sensation instantly.

The route ahead

From left to right An Stuc and the rest of the Lawer range munros huddled around Lochan nan Cat far below. The eastern skies began to light up as the sun rose above the cloud layers and I stood in wonder as the early rays skipped across a fog-filled Loch Tay. I welcomed the new day in complete isolation revelling in the morning sunshine as it poured over the landscape around me. The moon that had brightened the night from the horizon was now high and stark against a deepening blue sky.

Ben Lawers - the place to myself

An early morning foggy Loch Tay

The daytime moon

As I looked north into Glen Lyon, I saw some of my first steps to munro-bagging. My first solo munro was Stuc an Lochain, Meall Ghaordaidh had been an exciting day out with my dads photos making the Herald before we had car trouble, as was the Glen Lyon horseshoe. Schiehallion holds sway over my mountain memories too. To the east the Tarmachan ridge one of many walks, hills and mountains completed with my Dad. I was on the 16th highest peak in Scotland surrounded by previous mountain days, each one holding a different tint of significance.
Westwards Ben More and Stob Binnien were waking up and in almost every direction hills upon mountains stretched out.

It took everything to tear myself from the windless top and move on to the rest of the day as John Muir rang out in my head… The mountains are calling and I must go.

The brightness of the day brought lightness to my feet and I moved swiftly and easily towards the base of An Stuc. Although imposing at first, it gave itself up quite easily and in the cool shadows I was on the top of munro number four in no time. With the sun beginning to burn off the fog in Loch Tay, it began to burn off the skin on my face as well. I’m usually quite good at forgetting at least one item when I go out and this time it was a cap and sun-tan lotion!
The north-eastern side of An Stuc gets most folks talking on this route and I was looking forward to the challenge it might present. It was steep and a bit loose, but an entertaining scrambly descent which didn’t last too long.

The lone walker

An Stuc & Lochan nan Cat

Looking back on the descent from An Stuc

Well into the stride of the day I soon topped out on munro five, Meall Garbh, for a short break before heading on to Meall Greigh where I began to see the first people coming up from Lawers Hotel, all chalking off various parts of the range ahead. Once again I felt especially lucky to have had a solid 14 or so hours in the mountains in such glorious conditions to myself.

By now I was feeling the sun a bit and my water levels were beginning to drop. The map indicated some hillside burns coming off Meall Greigh which I hoped to come across, otherwise it was a long walk round on my descent to some of the larger burns coming off Lawers and Ghlas. The ground on the way up to Meall Greigh became much wetter underfoot than the path had been up until now. A bit boggier and muddy in places meant my progress slowed a little, so I took my time and reached the last munro of the day around 11am.

Meall Greigh looking back to Ben Lawers

Looking back now I could see the traverse made over the last 5 hours, right across to my sunrise perch on the top of Lawers. I tried to put the long walk out to the back of my mind, which I estimated was going to take about 3 hours from where I was. With Lawers you have the added benefit of starting at about 400m above sea-level, but that does nothing for the lateral distance travelled.

Aiming for the hydro track and the walk back

I needed to first reach the start of the hydro track close to the edge of Lochan nan Cat down the pathless hillside ahead of me, and fortunately found a small spring bubbling straight out of the side of the mountain. So cold….so refreshing, I gulped down the elixir that is fresh Scottish water.

With renewed energy levels I bounded down to the hydro track to begin the skirt around the huge lower slopes of Ben Lawers first. As per usual it felt great initially to be walking on a track after the descent from the tops, but fairly quickly became a slog in the bruising September sun.

I reached the zigzags indicating the point at which I needed to leave the main track in around an hour, before taking once again to the pathless hillside and continuing the traverse around to the front of Beinn Ghlas.
After an initial climb, it soon levelled out and the views of Ben More, Stob Binnien and Tarmachan in the east began to fill out. It was pretty hot by now and I was sure my neck and nose were likely to be the colour of the last berries still growing in amongst the grasses.

A herd of dear ahead stalked the hillside and I managed a couple of quick snaps before they ran off. I was aiming for a T in the fence line leading to an open field with a direct run at the car park but didn’t seem to come across it and so I continued to walk north-westwards over a couple of tricky streams to eventually run parallel with the fencing of the Nature Reserve. With the car park now in sight I lazily wandered down the hill letting gravity do most of the work and with relief met the path for the last 250m of the route.

The local bouncers keep watch

I reached the car park at about 2.30pm pleased that my estimate was not far off at all. The roasting hotbox of the car offered no respite from the heat, but a change into clean clothes and a bandaged-up blister on my heel did wonders. What a 24-hours it was, a truly special mountain day that when you don’t have the ability to be out every single weekend, tend to only come along once every now and then. The unhurried movement through the landscape, allows the suns reach, dark skies and fresh water to percolate through ancient rock and our hardy souls to build mountain days that are irreplaceable and live long in the memory.

The munro clock ticks over to number 73 and somehow it feels that 100 is going to be here sooner rather than later…

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