Well Autumn is most definitely here, leaves are turning colour, falling from the trees and the temperature is down a lot never mind the shortening daylight hours. So with that in mind I thought this weekend may be the last chance I’d get to do some big hills especially when you factor in 2-3 hour drive there and back. The WX forecast was good, no rain, 80% chance of clear summits and no wind. I’d psyched out these two when I was up Ben Lawers last August and they didn’t look too challenging at only 1069m and 926m. However, you start at 560m which makes the ascent a lot less than some other Munros.
You normally park at the cairn at NN593416 where there is space for a few cars. A work colleague said it’s always been full when he’s been there so he suggested parking in the last road down to Lochan na Lairige at NN594412. There’s space for at least 5 cars there and is only few hundred metres from the cairn. I drove up on a fairly cloudy day but Ben Cleuch was well clear when I passed as was Ben Ledi approaching Callandar. The road past Loch Lubnaig is always a bit slow and the grockles were out early but once past Lochearnhead I could whiz up Glen Ogle. Turning off onto the Killin road always makes me think I can’t be on an A road but just as you leave the trees Meall nam Tarmachan jumps into view to scare you. You really have to see the view to appreciate just what a sight that ridge is. Shortly after that I could see that Ben Lawers was cloud free. Hoorah! There was a huge layer of cloud hanging over Loch Tay at about the 400m level. Boo!
I got ready and walked up to the cairn where I met two nice guys from The Wirral who were doing some of the same hills I was. We had a chat and I said I expected we’d meet again during the day. There’s a good path for a few hundred metres which suddenly ends in squelchy ground. In fact the whole area around the Allt Gleann Da Eig burn is a huge bog. Peat hags, bogs, squelchy bits. In some places old fence posts have been laid on the worst bits so you can cross. Worse than that, the path ends and there really isn’t anything obvious on the ground. The 1:25000 map shows a fence but really there is only a line on iron fence posts, the wire is long gone. I could see the NW facing ridge of Meall Corranaich and could see a fence post on the skyline so I headed that way. The ground is horrible really until you get to around NN602408 and there is an obvious path by the fence posts on decent ground. I just kept going, I don’t recall it getting steep. The path levels out in another squelchy bit and by now the mist was flooding in from Loch Tay and the summit was gone. I was engulfed from NN611406 and the rest of the climb was in limited visibility. The final climb steepens up a lot but the path moves from grass and mud to hardcore. The path winds a bit and by the time I reached the top I had lost my natural bearings.
I looked at the summit cairn and thought this does not look anything like the photos. It was impossible to see if this was the highest bit or not but it was wrong. So I kept going and at the last obvious post I could see the real summit. This was more like it. I had to use the compass to make sure the map, bearings and viewpoint fitted together which they did. Happy now I set up the gear. With all the iron posts in the ground I was going to use one for the mast but I knew the other blokes were behind me and didn’t want to be across the path so I moved to one side and set up on a big flatish area. The summit is quite flat so a huge area is the activation zone. The guys appeared just as I was ready to go on the air. I could have used a fence post after all.
Conditions seemed OK and a good crowd was worked on 5MHz. For a short period whilst talking to Frank G3RMD, the clouds parted and I had a fantastic view down to Loch Tay, but it went before I had the camera ready. I finished off with a few 2m FM contacts including an S2S with Robin GM7PKT on ES-009. I asked Robin what he was doing so far East and he said he might go out that way more often, he was sat in his T-shirt in brilliant sunshine. Meanwhile I was trying out my new Thinsulate hat! As I finished on 2m the clouds parted behind me and this time, I was quick enough not to get photos, but to check the route out to the next summit. The guide books say it is easy to follow the wrong ridge down and then you find yourself significant (200m) below where you should be especially in the mist. You have to keep hard right, almost on the end of the drop to ensure you get to the bealach. If I hadn’t seen just how far right to go I’d have made that same mistake.
I packed up and headed down eating my butties. We’d run out of mustard so I had to use Wasabi (Japanese water horseradish) on my butties. Tastes good but being green, it looks funny with ham. Almost Dr. Seuss like! As I walked down I could feel myself being drawn to the left in the mist and I had to make an effort to stay right. Then the mist cleared and it was easy to see the way. I got some fantastic views down the valley to Glen Lyon in the North. I could see the sky in the far North was brilliant blue. Pah!
The climb up from the bealach at Coire Liath to the summit of Meall a’Choire Leith is only 180m and I was surprised by how easy it was to get to the next summit. I wasn’t sure of my route back, the guide books say return by reascending Meall Corranaich. I’d rather not. The ground back to the cairn from the bottom of this hill looked rather damp, even from altitude. However, I forgot about that and setup in the fine sunshine. Another vast summit plateau and I was able to do the whole second activation in a T-shirt, only needing another layer when I had packed up and the sun had hidden itself again. Another good bash on 5MHz and I was able to complete with Arthur GW1LDY for the 1st time. It was a struggle for Arthur but we did exchange reports when the QSB finally allowed it. A second S2S with Robin GM7PKT gave him 14 chaser points from me.
Just as I packed up, the two Wirral guys appeared and we had a quick chat. They were heading back to the car via the direct route i.e. across the wet bit and were happy for me to join them. We headed SW off the summit and straight away we picked up a good path albeit steep. We crossed the fairly busy burn near NN605432 and continued contouring around on another very boggy path. We could see an intake for the Lawers power station and headed for that across super squelchy ground. There’s no safety rail around the pond at the top of the intake but there is a filter to stop weeds getting in. Still there’s bits which would never be allowed by HSE laws now! Wondeful stuff to see some 50 year old works in perfect condition. I’m sure anything made with concrete now will fall apart in 10 years. After crossing the next burn at the intake, there’s a good narrow bit, the ground rises all the way until you finally intersect the end of the original path from the cairn. I was fair knackered at the summit as the other 2 guys, both older than me put up a good pace. From there it was a few minutes back down to the road.
I said my goodbyes to John and Brian, who were two of the nicest guys you could hope to meet on a hill. They made my walk out extra enjoyable as I was apprehensive walking that bit on my own due to the squelchyness. I didn’t really need to worry but I suppose better safe that sorry. After that it was few minutes back to the car and a quick change of clothes. If only I could make money from sweating I would be a millionaire! Of course the mist had long cleared by now which is typical. The drive back was uneventful although there was little traffic in Glen Ogle and I think I might have set a new landspeed record on the way down to Lochearnhead! On the way back from Callandar to the M9 I wondered why there was a big bunch of big bikes doing 50mph. Then I saw they were following PC Plod in his SUV. The noise of 7 big bikes all dropping a few cogs and accelerating away when PC Plod turned off in Doune was awe inspiring Best of all I didn’t miss the turn off for Edinburgh when the M9/M80 splits into two. A superb day and 14 points. Next weekend is the UHF contest so hopefully something in Dumfries & Galloway on Saturday and then QRO 70cms, 23cms, 13cms, 9cms and 3cms on Saturday evening/Sunday with the radio club from near Gatehouse of Fleet. Not sure about camping in October though.
Photos at http://www.flickr.com/photos/mm0fmf
Distance walked 6.8miles, ascent 854m/2801ft, distance driven 170miles and 2 Munros.