Date: 15th April 2012
Time: 6hrs 54min
Hills: Ben Chaorach (Corbett, 818m), Cam Chreag (Corbett, 884m), Ben Challuim (Munro, 1,025m)
Weather: Early sunshine giving way to cloud. Very cold wind and low temperatures.
Route: View on OS Maps
Sunday morning, 6:45am. Most sensible, well-adjusted people were still in their beds, grumbling at the noise of ice being noisily chipped off a windscreen and the idling engine bringing some much needed warmth to a frozen car. I was off by 7, the streets of Aberdeen quiet but brightly lit by sunshine. It remained that way for the whole of the journey. The petrol station outside of Dundee still seemed to be catching up with deliveries but I did eventually find a working unleaded pump (are the retailers trying to force us into buying their “premium” stuff with all these continuing shenanigans?) and then it was a fun blast along the road past Loch Earn and over Glen Ogle to Crianlarich and my parking spot besides the A82 just short of Tyndrum.
The hills basked in the early morning sunshine but there was definitely a chill to the air – the car temperature had struggled to get above 4C the whole way. To back this up the higher mountains were crowned in picture book caps of bright white snow. In particular Ben More and Stob Binnein, rising up above Crianlarich, were dramatic, bringing to mind scenes more out of the Rockies or the Alps than humble Scotland.
Crossing the busy road you quickly reach the river Fillan chattering over rocks, the water level very low, and the sound of traffic soon fades away. Here I briefly joined the West Highland Way, following it past Kirkton Farm, the ruins of St Fillan’s Priory, and then through open farmland along to the farms, camping ground and tipis at Auchtertyre. After crossing the stream I left the Way, turning right and following a vehicle track alongside the stream and under the West Highland railway which crosses the gap on an impressive bridge.
The initial stages of this walk are a good warm up. You ascend from the strath at a gentle angle, the views opening out both ahead and behind. The stream chatters along in a wooded gorge to the right until you reach more open moorland. Here there is a small footbridge which could be used to access the slopes of Ben Challum. I carried further on though until I came to the mouth of the glen containing the Allt a' Chaol Ghlinne with views up to Ben Odhar where I crossed over and wound my way up through a sizeable ruined village which was dotted with sheep chewing on grass poking up amongst the stones.
This cuts out a wide loop of the vehicle track which I rejoined higher up for a short way before leaving it again to ascend directly up the broad southern slopes of Beinn Chaoraich. This is a long, long ascent at an almost constant gradient. The views over to Ben Challuim and back to the Tyndrum hills improved the whole time and there were many stops to take in the views, especially as in the lee of the hill, in bright sunshine it was pleasantly warm. I did however manage to fall up to my knee in a bog at one point…
Without much further ado, although it was noticeable that the cloud had started to thicken a little, I arrived at the lumpy summit, adorned with a trig point. Out of the shelter of the hill there was a distinctly icy chill to the wind and I soon had an extra insulation layer on under my thick winter jacket. I breathed in the remarkable views, mountains from horizon to horizon, with views out to Ben Cruachan, the Black Mount and the Mamlorn hills closer by, as well as the Crianlarich and Tyndrum hills. After this I munched on a cereal bar and had some water, sadly remembering my flask of hot tea sitting on the counter at home…
I now had a snow tramp down the north ridge of Beinn Chaoraich, following a strange fence that was barely a foot high with no wire left. In front of me the views opened up to the Bridge of Orchy Munros, the distinctive conical shape of Ben Dorain clearly seen rising above the diminutive line of the railway. Further east were the hills in the Forest of Mamlorn, again capped in snow.
After a slightly steeper final descent I picked up a clear track across the bealach and began the climb up to the second Corbett, Cam Chreag. I followed the strange fence line for some way until it veered off towards some crags. The western side of this hill is a jumble of lumpy overhangs and riven by numerous streams making a direct ascent difficult. By this point I was back above the snowline and a set of footprints left the fence and continued more or less up the hill so I followed these. Soon the views were opening up with Ben Challuim appearing from behind a shoulder, as well as a view back to the day’s first hill.
After wending my way across some snow-choked streams and around a few frozen pools I finally got to the real summit, a tiny cairn perched on a jumble of rocks at one end of an undulating plateau. It had fantastic views, my eyes drawn to the end of Loch Lyon and the Mamlorn Hills as well as further off to the Black Mount. I stopped here for lunch, finding a nice nook of rock to sit in, largely sheltered from the cold wind.
From here my route took my along the summit plateau which undulates quite a bit before it reaches its rocky eastern end. The views to Ben Challum improved as I crossed each successive top until I reached the final outcrop of rock. Here there were views all the way along upper Glen Lochay to where the Lawers range stood sombre in the grey light.
I now briefly retraced my steps to pick up my descent route down the extreme southern spur of the hill which leads down to the Bealach Ghlas Leathaid. I had eyed this descent line from a few different angles and it looked steep but manageable. It turned out to be fine, steep grass but with plenty of grip and no snow. As I got lower down I came to a section of crags (the fence line leads straight over them so you should be very careful in poor visibility). I found easier ground to my right and after bypassing the crags rejoined the line of fence posts where a faint track took me down to the col.
I was now standing below the imposing northwest ridge of Ben Challuim. I had been checking this out all day to make sure it was passable. The guidebooks don’t mention it at all but I had seen a couple of trip reports that had talked about combining the Munro and Corbett so knew it was possible to ascend and descend the ridge. Looking up it was clear that the difficulties were lower down. My views from the day’s earlier hills had shown the ridge easing off in angle from about a third of the way up with no rocky difficulties thereafter. There are however two sets of crags lower down. I climbed up initially just to the right of the crest where steep grass made for quick progress. Looking up I had a good view of the first slabs and although I had initially thought to bypass them completely, I could now see a weakness, a line of turf and jumbled rock passing between two big areas of rock. I aimed for this and found it provided easy scrambling. As I approached two figures came to the top of the second set of crags. After hesitating momentarily they disappeared to the right and soon after emerged above me, descending through the same weakness. We paused to exchange pleasantries. They were thinking about heading over to the Corbetts and I gave them a bit of advice for the ascent.
Thereafter I continued on my way, scrambling up through some terraces that had some lying snow. The second set of crags were much more straightforward and I had soon scrambled up to their crest enjoying the views steeply down to the bealach and a great sense of achievement. It was now a plod up through the snow on the crest of the ridge which had by now flattened out quite a bit. The snow was crisp and the gentle angle meant I felt happy with just a pole rather than taking out the axe. Soon enough the summit cairn came into view and I was on the top of Ben Challuim, the day’s Munro and number 122 for me.
Although the cloud had gradually built the views were superb with visibility pin sharp in all directions and for many miles. A couple were eating lunch behind the cairn and I too took the opportunity to eat some more food and just wander around enjoying the vista. Another group of walkers arrived. They had had a wintry day in the Mamores and so were pleased with the views from Challuim. Gradually the summit cleared until I had it to myself. Munching on an apple and sipping cool mountain stream water, the views sublime, it was a good way to while away a few minutes on a Sunday afternoon.
Conscious that I still had a long drive ahead of me once I got off the hill I was soon packed up and heading off the summit. As the usual route is an out-and-back from Kirkton Farm there was a very well trodden trench through the snow which I followed off the summit and down to pick up the west ridge. Crossing the snow filled gully I briefly visited the southern top before continuing down.
Surprisingly it was quite a tricky ascent with the steep path covered in well compacted and slippery snow. I cautiously descended and was glad when more patches of grass appeared, giving me a few more options. Soon enough though I was at the point where the land flattens off, a broad shelf sitting above Strath Fillan. I crossed this, initially following a track but quickly doubling back to pick up an alternative route that dropped me down a gully to meet the railway crossing over the West Highland Line.
Then it was a short walk back past Kirkton Farm to the road and my car. I got changed by the roadside and then headed into Crianlarich for a pot of tea and a glass of coke at the Ben More hotel. I was toying with the idea of getting dinner but decided to start back, picking up supplies in Perth on the way back.
The drive back was wonderful with evening sunshine lighting up the countryside. That was until I got to Stonehaven where veils of snow and sleet could be seen hung out across the North Sea like yesterday’s washing. Aberdeen itself was shrouded and I passed through the heavy sleety-rain just as I entered the city. Bizarrely by the time I pulled up at home the shower had passed and though it was gloomy I got the car unpacked without getting wet. Then it was time for a celebratory curry and a beer or two to mark the end of a long but hugely enjoyable day.