Cruachan Horseshoe and a camp on the Hill of the Horse. October 2012.

Date: Saturday/Sunday 6th/7th October 2012
Distance: 11.5km + 7.5km
Ascent: 1700m + 500m

As usual in the run up to a high pressure weekend we’d been watching the forecast. This one was proving hard to interpret as the areas highest likelihood of sun seemed to shift on a daily basis.

In the end we decided to try Ben Cruachan – a hill with a combination of sea, mountain and loch views. The last visit here (8yrs ago) we’d been robbed of views at the last minute on the summit ridge by a build of clag which had lasted til we were descending.

Parked in the rather rough parking area at the Falls of Cruachan rail stop and set off. There is a pass under the railway and then the ascent path heads left from a power generator and then steeply and roughly straight uphill. The day seemed to heat up by 10 degrees and this was sweaty work.

The deciduous woods of the ascent are turning:

At about 280m altitude the path crosses a stile out of the mixed birch/oak woods and climbs muddily uphill to the dam road.

We were going anti-clockwise on this occasion, aiming to camp west of Ben Cruachan.

The road passes the E end of the dam and ends 200m further N. Thereafter there is an eroded, muddy track heading N to about NN 086 287 whereupon the ascent is over easy terrain uphill to the bealach N of the Corbett Beinn a Bhuiridh.

Took a short break here – all day to play with. The stags were roaring in Coire Glas but we couldn’t see them.

The ascent of Stob Diamh over Stob Garbh is very simple being an easy-angled grassy ridge. A bit of a stroll took us to the Munro summit.

The tops were still in intermittent mist at this point although the cloudbase was mainly around 1100m – Ben Cruachan had a hat but in general we were under the ceiling.
Cruachan and Meall Cuanail:

Stopped for an hour on the summit here and watched as things improved.

Dalmally from Stob Diamh:

Eventually set off for the ridge across to Ben Cruachan. We’d already met about 8 folks and would pass at least 10 more on the ridge – a lot more than we usually see.

Cruachan Reservoir from ridge:

The ridge steepens up on the approach to the middle peak with some very minor scrambling up through the boulders to the top.

The skies had by this point nearly cleared.

The summit is out on a little N spur and gave great views of the now cleared Ben Cruachan.

View back to Stob Diamh:

View to Loch Awe:

View N to Loch Etive:

From this point the ridge is a little rockier, but the dry granite is very grippy. Below the summit cone is the so-called “grannystopper” – a chunk of granite sitting on the ridge line, blocking the route. This can be tackled head-on, via a rocky gully in its middle or round a long eroded bypass under it entirely. I guess only option 1 is viable with snow/ice.

The “Granny-stopper”:

We carried on uphill through various areas of rock and boulder. A path picks out a line through most and the summit ridge can be bypassed on the S side (in the absence of significant snow/ice).

Summit of Beinn Cruachan and the Taynuilt Peak:

The day had improved nicely and we were able to view a very extensive vista over areas of the country we’d explored in the 8yrs since our last visit. A classic viewpoint for the SW corner of the highlands and the island groups.

Ardgour/Morvern was a bit cloudy but we spent a lot of time picking out hills across Arrochar and Cowal to the S and Argyll to the N. The islands of Rum, Eigg, Mull, Lismore, Colonsay, Scarba, Jura, Islay and Arran were all visible – quite a collection for one peak.

For some reason a lot of these hills and islands were visited only in the last few years – better late than never.

Loch Etive and surrounding hills:

Back along the ridge:

Taynuilt Peak with Morvern and Mull behind:

Cruachan Reservoir and Beinn a Bhuiridh:

Eventually decided to press on – we’d identified the summit of Meall nan Each as a potential campsite with both Cruachan and the Taynuilt Peak (Stob Dearg) being too rocky.

The route from Cruachan to the Stob Dearg is easy enough angled but does involve some scrambling over rock slabs in downclimb. Nothing too tricky.

We decided to bypass the Stob Dearg on its S side – terrain wasn’t too bad, a few rock fields followed by mossy/grassy areas. We cut down to 900m at about NN 059 304 where there’s a cairn. From there we made a reasonable-angled descent to the bealach with Meall nan Each. Looking at the W of the Stob Dearg I personally wouldn’t have fancied a more direct route as there are mixed slab/moss on steep angle.

Stob Dearg W side:

As we got to the bealach a golden eagle appeared from behind Meall an Each heading E, soon out of sight.

Ascended Meall an Each directly from the bealach on tiring legs.

The summit are had a few potential pitches but we decided to head over to the lower, western top in search of the views of Loch Etive.

Found a great spot from where we could look out the tent SW down towards Scarba and Jura.

The view from the top was better than I’d hoped – probably the optimal point for Loch Etive. The whole Loch from its N tip out to the Connel Bridge was visible – even better than Beinn Duirinnis earlier in the year.

Loch Etive north end:

Loch Etive west end:

Got the tent pitched and then watched the sun descend – another sunset blocked by western cloud.

Low-light and Loch Etive:

Sunbeams and Mull:

Dusk view out to the Connel Bridge:

On a plus point we caught sight of a Sea Eagle gaining altitude out over Loch Etive before turning towards Morvern/Mull – heading home presumably.

Freeze-dried meals of Savoury Mince and Chicken Dhansak were consumed with gusto as we sat and watched the lighthouses turn on out towards Jura, Scarba and Colonsay.

Turned in at 2100hrs – stars were appearing and a noticeable glow in the sky behind Ben Cruachan was presumably Glasgow. We planned to get up in the early morning for some night shots.

Unfortunately – on looking out at 0100, 0300 and 0600 there was cloud and no moon so we gave up on that plan. Occasional ptarmigan calls started up around 0600 – not a bad ambient noise.

Got up for dawn and the skies were clearer – quite a pleasant show.

Dawn hits the Etive Hills:

Dawn view SW to Jura:

Connel Bridge and Lismore lighthouse:

Loch Etive:

Tent at dawn:

The clouds were very variable – one minute clear above us, within a couple substantial high cloud. Eventually however cloud built and extended inland leaving us in grey. During the early sunny spell we took the chance to air the sleeping gear.

The change from sun to grey over 40mins:

Got the tent packed up and headed off making slow progress round Stob Dearg the way we’d come. Probably the same Golden Eagle as yesterday was circling Taynuilt Peak before heading back to Meall nan Each – I suspect we may have stolen its digs for the night.

Beinn Trilleachan:

As we turned around the S side of Stob Dearg the skies looked like clearing. Our options were to drop down into Coire a Bhacaill and across to the Cruachan/Meall Cuanail bealach or go back over Cruachan. We picked the latter.

Unfortunately the cloud didn’t clear – and we ascended in mist (with a couple of weak brockens). The upscramble was a lot easier than the down had been and we briefly visited the clouded summit.

The descent from Ben Cruachan crosses a large boulderfield over a 100m drop. There is a faint path through most of it making this easier. From the bottom of this there’s an increasingly eroded Munro path to the Meall Cuanail bealach.

Cruachan horseshoe from descent:

Cruachan Reservoir from descent:

From this point we ascended Meall Cuanail to sit and have lunch. The standard route up Cruachan follows the track on the W side of the Loch and then up Coire Dearg. For us the Meall Cuanail ridge is the far better choice (on a good day) – opening up the views south for the whole ascent.

The cloud cover persisted although as we descended the ceiling receded above us and we could view Arran, Cowal, Jura and Mull.


Loch Awe:

Ben More (Mull):

The Meall Cuanail ridge is easy terrain and a an easy bimble.

Back to the dam we followed the mud soup back to the stile and then took the knee-jangling eroded track back down to the car.

All in all a reasonable trip, although the clouds definitely did not play to the script. Meall nan Each is a superb spot – we’re already looking at a standalone route to return there – a winter camp would be the bee’s knees.

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