I’ve been studiously avoiding this summit having read a few dire warnings about how easy it is to fall down the cliffs on the South top. But today it was time to do it. WX was for lifting clouds during the day but chance of heavy rain later and/or fog. 80% chance of clear Munros… seems worth taking the risk.
I did the Munroist’s trade route… a big trench that makes navigation easy. So I parked in the layby on the A82 opposite the entrance to SAC Mountain Research Centre/Kirkton Farm. Down the access road, over the bridge and follow the West Highland Way signs. At the ruins of St. Fillan’s Priory there is a rough vehicle track. Follow this up to the level crossing and over the railway. Easy so far. Now this is a Munro so there will be a motorway sized path, there always is. But I couldn’t find it. I ended up too far West and at the end of the track. I couldn’t remember the directions I’d read and thought when in doubt go up. Looking up I saw some more walkers by a deer fence. Ah, follow the deer fence was the advice.
It’s steep here and the ground is quite wet. Anyway I veered back and up finally arriving out of breath at the first stile. It was very humid and oppressive and there was no breeze. Not nice. Also all the peaks (Ben More, Stob Binnein, Cruarch Ardrain, An Caisteal, Ben Lui, etc. etc.) where lost in the cloud. Bottoms! Now the stile is described as awkward. Someone has made the handrails about 1ft too short so I was very ungainly in crossing the deer fence. The ground gets wetter, you climb steeply and meet another stupid stile that is awkward to cross.
From here the ground just gets worse and worse. Only people with webbed feet will enjoy it. Or make sure your footwear is waterproof. I continued to follow the sheep fence up. In fact you can follow the fence right to the Southern top. The higher sections are just posts now but there are some excellent rusty fence wire trip hazards too. The fence is ideal for navigation in case the predicted fog appeared. Finally the slope eased right off. My trousers were covered in mud already. The level bit is the real bog. Appalling is the only word. The best part of a kilometer of awful ground. Hover boots would be ideal for this section, or rocket shorts. As it was I splashed and waded on.
At least there was a breeze and the cloud was lifting. It seemed that it was lifting at the same rate I was climbing. Finally after ascending the thick-end of 600m did the ground improve. All at once nice good ground to climb. And climb you do, 300m in 1km. If it wasn’t for the lovely breeze I’d have given up. But it was enough to dry off all the sweat which had been running out of my forehead as if the Three Gorges Dam had sprung a leak. The path is really good and easy to follow.
Then I was at the South top. Would I fall off the cliff? Well I suppose you could if you were daft, blind and not paying attention. The trade route trench is oh so obvious as it skirts West, climbs over the strange cleft in the ridge and then along the narrow bit before descending down to the main ridge. A drop of about 50m in fact. I don’t do exposure but had no problem on the narrower bits of this. Especially as the cloud was still lifting. So as I climbed the last 70m I got to see more and more of the target. Bingo, summit reached in 2hr40m.
The cloud lifted right up as a reward. It was very murky though. I’m getting fed up with murk around here. Beinn Dorain: murky day, Beinn Odhar: murky day, Beinn Caorach: murky day, Ben Challum: murky day, Beinn Mhic Mhonaidh: murkey. A pattern is emerging. However, the views were amazing. Even for a murky day. Creag Mhor and Glen Lochy in particular. Boy is that summit remote.
Radio set up, cloud came down. 60m was dead, phone coverage was dead. I gave up and went to 40m CW. Conditions were not good but I started working stations. It was either lots of G’s calling or suddenly just a few week HB9/DL stations. 17 QSOs later there was nothing. I’d been eaten alive by midges (no Skin-so-Soft with me). I didn’t like the way the clouds were getting blacker and the bottoms of the them were rotating. Like the bases of thunderstorm clouds. No crashes on the radio though. I tried 60m again and found Brian G4ZRP and told him the WX was on the turn and I was away. But by the time the LF dipoles were packed up it looked not bad. Hmmm, 20m or go? With a 2hr walkout and 2hr+ drive I decided to go.
I did give a quick call on 2m FM with the handy for Ken GM0AXY. I know he can work this as it’s almost LOS to his QTH in Edinburgh. I got his XYL Christine GM4YMM. Then GM4XQJ whilst Christine got Ken from the garden. Then Ken and then Jack GM4COX. WooT! Qualified on 2m with a handy and rubber duck. A few photos and energy bars and I was off down.
The ridge is a little exposed but you’d have to try hard to come a cropper here. I wouldn’t do it if it was bad. Anyway return was the reverse. But it was a real pain on the knees. Steep winding path down and it was much slippier this way than before. It took me 1 hour to descend from the North top to the start of the b-awful bog section. I sat here and had a Mars Bar looking back at the summit. By now the black clouds had gone the cloud was about 1200m as Ben More was just clear. I should have stayed for 20m With that it was across the bogs. My dry trousers were soaked 1km later. Then down the steep sections by the deer fence with more shenanigans on the stiles.
Crossing the bridge I met a tired walker doing the West Highland Way. His target was Tyndrum, 5km North. I offered him a lift but he declined. Just as I got to the car the rain started. Quite heavy. Boots off and the heavens opened. Not a downpour or deluge. But imagine standing under several thousand fireman’s hoses. I have never seen anything like as I drove to Tyndrum for a cup (bucket) of Rosy at The Real Food Cafe. The rain abated as I arrived so I could get indoors. The food/drinks here are excellent and the staff have a great attitude. I looked at the deluge again as I drank my 500ml cup of tea. Excellent.
Then a drive back in dreik, drizzle, rain, deluge, downpour and Biblical “rains that Noah survived”. Oh yes, the predicted heavy rain did arrive. All in all a good day, Ben Challum mastered, 4 QSO on 2m, bucket of tea and whilst my legs are telling me I’ve been up a Munro, I’m not crippled with knee and ankle aches like I was last week.
Total walked: 12.75km, total ascent: 992m, total driven 170miles