Friday, July 22, 2011

The Queen of Scottish Mountains

The long approach to Ben Lui
The Ben Lui approach up Glen Cononish from Tyndrum
It has been a while since I’ve reported on any of our Scottish adventures. I’m sorry about that -- I hope I can make up for it with a story about our Canada Day ramble when we hiked 20 miles and bagged four Munros (Scottish mountains over 914m/3000ft). It was early morning on Friday, July 1 when Mike and I headed up to the Highland village of Tyndrum. The weather forecast was good – some sun, little wind, possible showers. None of that most ominous of Scottish forecasts – “rain, at times heavy” (you ignore that one at your peril!).

We had two mountains firmly in mind; Ben Lui (1130m/3707ft, pronounced Loo-ee, meaning Calf Mountain) and Beinn a' Chleibh (916m/3008ft, pronounced Byn a Chlayv – Hill of the Chest). Ben Lui is regarded by some as the “Queen of Scottish Mountains” because of the perfect horseshoe symmetry of Coire Gaothaich (Corra Goe-ich – Corrie of the Wind) on the mountain’s eastern face. Certainly it drew the eye and focused the attention as we tramped up the long 8km approach from Tyndrum.

Lui, and its lesser consort Beinn a' Chleibh, are usually climbed from the west – a shorter but surely less aesthetic route as the beautiful lines of Coire Gaothaich are hidden from view. Moreover, the eastern approach from Tyndrum up Glen Cononish is not heavily travelled, and on this day we had the mountain vistas all to ourselves. Indeed, we only encountered five other people throughout the entire hike, all of whom we met at the Ben Lui summit.

Looking back to the southern summit of Ben Lui
Summit of Ben Lui - Oss and Dubhchraig in
the background
The Queen of Scottish Mountains is attended by two other Munros; Ben Oss (1029m/3376ft – Hill of Water) and Ben Dubhchraig (978m/3209ft – pronounced Byn Doo-craig - Black Rock Hill), both of which rise over Glen Cononish. Although not commonly taken together, especially as a circle route, Mike and I did talk about the possibility of summiting all four at one go. It would make for a somewhat stiff day, but as we walked up the Glen all four Munros seemed to be calling. The weather was perfect, and, being as we didn’t have anything pressing, except the last bus back to Glasgow at 8:20 that evening, we decided to go for it.

Mary resting on Ben Oss summit -
Ben Lui in the background
Lui provided an interesting scramble up the south east spur – including a diversion to see the wreck of a 1941 Lockheed Hudson plane – and was the most mentally challenging of the peaks. Oss and Dubhchraig provided exceptional views back into territory we knew (Loch Lomond and Arrochar). But, without a doubt, the return trip down Alt Coire Dubhchraig, followed by a dash along the West Highland Way trail to make our bus, was as physically demanding as any marathon I have ever done.

Even though we were in a tearing hurry, the beauty of Alt Coire Dubhchraig stopped us several times – especially when we came upon a grove of Scots Pines. These trees are remnants of the pine woods of ancient Caledonia that once covered much of the Highlands. They are the Scots equivalent of BC’s old-growth coastal forests. It was a treat to walk through them and imagine what the hills would look like covered with their scaly golden-orange trunks and shiny green tufts of needles.

Scots Pine
Grove of Scots Pine
I wish we could have dallied further, but we had to sprint down the West Highland Way to make the bus. Just picture it – Mike and I, two grey-haired old hikers with packs and boots legging it down a dusty trail, turning the air blue with innovative new curses until all we could do was simply gasp. The last 200 metres we must have sounded like ancient steam engines under load coming up a steep grade.

I’m happy to report that we made the bus – with 12 minutes to spare (it was early!). As we gratefully eased into our seats I said “Mike, I think we’re suffering from Munro fever –32 km of hiking, 1800 metres of vertical, four Munro summits and no time for a celebratory beer or wee dram in the pub – what were we thinking! On our next ramble we’ll travel WITH the scotch”.

Map of the hike

View Ben Lui et. al. in a larger map

More images of Ben Lui et. al. from Mary.
More images of Ben Lui et. al. from Mike.