|The Ben Lui Group|
Ten kilometres north of the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond is the splendid
peak of Ben Lui (calf hill, 1130m) standing tall over its three neighbouring
Munros. Not only one of the finest mountains in the Southern Highlands, it is
also the birthplace of the strong tradition of Scottish winter climbing with
classic climbs up the ice walls of the enormous north-east corrie, the Coire
Gaothaith. The other three Munros are:
Ben Oss (loch-outlet hill, 1029m) with its more rounded summit,
the level summit ridge of Beinn Dubhchraig (black-rock hill, 978m) and
Beinn a'Chleibh (hill of the creel or crest, 916m) - not a high Munro but with impressively steep northern slopes.
The best view of Ben Lui is from Strath Fillian, looking up the glen of the River Cononish, at either Dalrigh or even better from within the glen itself. This shows the steep north-east face to its best advantage - a winter coating of snow gives the mountain an Alpine character. If you look from the west (e.g. from Dalmally at the NE end of Loch Awe) then Ben Lui towers above the upper reaches of Glen Lochy and makes Beinn a'Chleibh seem small. The cone of Ben Oss is best seen from Loch Lomond with the craggy south face of Beinn Dubhchraig falling to the high hidden Loch Oss.
I am actually going to describe 2 routes. The first just includes Ben Lui (and optionally Beinn a'Chleibh) for an nice short days walk out from Tyndrum. The second bags all four Munros - a much longer proposition with the possibility of ending up in Glen Lochy, a long distance from the start. Both routes start and (in theory) end in Tyndrum.
From the Tyndrum Lower Station, cross the tracks to follow a private road through the forest. This rises a little and then contours around a ridge for 1.5 kilometres and into the Cononish glen. Here it joins the other private road from Dalrigh. A slightly prettier (but longer) route from Tyndrum is to follow the West Highland Way south from the station to Dalrigh. Continue up the glen to Cononish farm where the devastation of Scotland's only gold mine should be carefully ignored. A track heads further up the glen, climbing up to the 350m contour before level progress ends at the Allt na Rund stream (2 kilometres from the farm, 3.5 from the private road junction). Cross the stream and head up a path on the north-west side of the brook running down from the corrie. This sometimes steep path brings you to the level ground at the lip of Coire Gaothaith.
This is a good spot for a break and looking back along the glen to the bulk of Ben Challum (Malcolm's hill, 1025m) rising above Strath Fillian. This Munro can also be bagged from Tyndrum by walking down the strath to Kirkton Farm and climbing the smooth grassy hillside firstly to the dome of the South Top and then over rougher ground to the summit.
The corrie offers a choice of routes, both good:
On your left (south) is the Stob an Tighe Aird ridge. This can be gained by climbing south up the steep grass slopes heading for the top of the first set of crags on the ridge. There is no real path until you clamber up the final abrupt slopes onto the ridge crest. A fairly clear path then climbs steadily up the ridge with a nice mixture of terrain - sometimes rocks, sometimes scree, always interesting. As the ridge nears the summit it becomes narrower and rockier with a couple of clefts dropping vertically into the corrie providing exposed scrambles. This is definitely the more exposed route and more suitable for summer walking.
The Stob Garbh ridge to the north offers a steeper beginning but then easier and safer climbing. A faint path heads up the steep NW grass slopes of the corrie to reach the crest of the ridge. The path becomes more distinct as it climbs the narrowing ridge. The climb ends at a cairn a few metres from the NW Top of Ben Lui (1127m) and the summit is a short traverse away along the ridge at the top of the steep headwall of Coire Gaothaith.
These routes present no difficulty in summer but are serious climbs in winter (for experienced trampers only). They take about 2 hours from the corrie.
To return to Tyndrum, drop down the ridge that you did not ascend and then follow the approach route out. If you have time then Beinn a'Chleibh can be bagged via dropping down scree and grass slopes to the col between the two Munros and then winding up easy slopes to the flat top of Beinn a'Chleibh (returning the same way).
|The Ben Lui Circuit|
Bagging all four Munros around Ben Lui makes a long and satisfying day of about 21 kilometres with over 1500m climbed.
Starting from the Tyndrum Lower Station, turn right along the tarmaced lane for a few metres to pick up the West Highland Way where the lane makes a sharp left-hand turn. Head south through nice woodlands on the west side of a stream. The woods are left after 500 metres for a clear path through heather for another kilometre. On joining the private road from Dalrigh, head east to the old bridge across the River Fillian. It is possible to drive here from the A82 road and park near the bridge.
Cross the bridge and follow a rough track upriver (west) to a bridge over the railway. In about 200 metres, leave the track directly westwards to a footbridge across the Allt Gleann Auchreoch and enter the pine forest of Coille Coire Chuilc which is a beautiful remnant of the Old Caledonian Forest. A path heads south to the banks of the Allt Coire Dubhchraig which is followed to the SW through the fine pine woods. At the forest's upper edge, a deer fence is crossed via a stile and immediately another deer fence is crossed into a just-planted conifer plantation. Hopefully this will not affect access in the future since the alternatives are a boring forestry road up the Gleann Auchreoch or trying to walk around the outside of the plantation via the crags of Creag Bhocan.
|Looking back to Ben Dubhchraig from the summit of Ben Oss|
A last deer fence is crossed at the top of the plantation to finally reach the open hillside and the grassy Coire Dubhchraig. The direct route to the summit of Beinn Dubhchraig is straight up the corrie for a kilometre and then arcing south up steeper slopes to the summit. I found it just as easy to stay on the north side of the corrie as I climbed to inspect a small snowfield, climb up the corrie's north ridge to the summit ridge and then head south to the summit from there.
Leave along the broad summit ridge, dropping NW to a level section with a small lochan and then west down steep rocky slopes to the col below Ben Oss. Pause to look down to Loch Oss to the south with a broad, convoluted and probably boggy plateau beyond it stretching towards Loch Lomond. The knoll on the ridge to Ben Oss can be avoided by a path traversing along its south slopes and then climbing to the tiny col hidden behind it. This path also gives a good close-up view of the crags falling from Ben Oss. A straightforward and steady climb from the col brings the summit of Ben Oss.
To continue, descend SSW, south-west and then west down the broad and featureless ridge to the south of Ben Oss. If you are lucky and quiet then you are likely to spot deer in this remote spot. Accurate navigation is required in mist with the important turn to the west needed where there is a flat section in the ridge about 750 metres from the summit. The broad flat col between Bens Oss and Lui presents no difficulty as it leads to the south ridge of Ben Lui which can be followed all the way up to the summit. However a little bit of effort can be avoided by bagging Beinn a'Chleibh first.
Climb up about 100 metres along the ridge until the 830 metre contour is reached. An easy traverse of the grassy slopes at this level to the NW will bring the col between Beinn a'Chleibh and Ben Lui in a little over a kilometre. Turn left to climb the broad north-east ridge up to the summit. The views up and down Glen Lochy are good, especially the glimpse of Loch Awe to the west. Take note that the slopes to the north and north-east are very steep and craggy and should not be used for ascent or descent.
Return to the col and head up the grassy slopes until the scree slopes just below the summit of Ben Lui. A good path zigzags through the scree and up to the cairn at the summit. There can be good views from here but I cannot vouch for then since the top was clad in clouds both times that I was there. The time from Tyndrum should be about 6 hours.
The return to Tyndrum is via one of the steep rocky NE ridges on either side of Coire Gaothaith (see the first route above). Dropping directly from the summit, the Stob an Tighe Aird ridge has few difficulties and the path down it is well defined. The Stob Garbh ridge is gained by traversing NNW to the North-west Top and then dropping north - hugging the cliff edge along a faint path. In mist it is easy to to continue the NNW direction onto a ridge above the next corrie (as I have!) which contains a small lochan. In this case you can retrace your steps but it is just as easy to drop down to the lochan outlet, continue steeply down the corrie and then sidle below Stob Garbh to pick up the exit route on the Allt an Rund stream.
If you can arrange transport from Glen Lochy then walk NNW to the North-west Top and purposely continue the NNW direction on an indistinct path until you are abreast of the small lochan in the corrie to your right (well above the lower rocky steps, the Ciochan Beinn Laiogh). Turn west to drop down broad grassy slopes, keeping clear of the crags to the right. The 1.5 kilometre descent ends at a deer fence where a stile takes you into the forest above the glen.
From Beinn a'Chleibh, a slightly shorter route is to drop to the col at the head of Fionn Choirein and descend into the corrie. This is steep at first but soon becomes more reasonable. Take a course directly for a corner of the forest plantation on the ridge to your right and follow the deer fence down to the stile.
A good path now drops 500 metres through the trees down to the Eas Daimh stream (the stream you can hear to the west drains Fionn Choirein), at first westwards and then heading to the north. Cross the Eas Daimh and follow its north bank for another 500 metres until it joins the River Lochy. There are some stepping stones here that allow you to get across the river dryshod in fair weather. A footbridge is marked on the map about a kilometre down the river but it leads from the railway line. There is a carpark about 200 metres upriver from the river crossing and the busy A87(T) road a few metres further on.