Saturday, June 23, 2012

Munro Season 2012 Begins

Beinn a' Chroin West Top II
An Caisteal from Beinn a' Chroin

Back to the big hills..

Munro #131 : An Caisteal
Munro #132 : Beinn a' Chroin

Date : 17/03/2012 Distance : 16.3km Time : 7hrs Flickr Set : View GPX Route : Download

A solo visit to the Crianlarich Hill was chosen to start the 2012 Munro season. Departing from home, it was a stunning, if frosty morning. Blue skies all the way down the East coast. As soon as I turned inland at Perth, the cloud started to roll in and the rain with it. Passing through Comrie, the clouds parted and revealed fresh snow down to around 800 metres. Had I bitten of more than I was willing to chew for the first Munro outing of the year?

After a 3 hour drive, I was parked up a few miles south of Crianlarich in a large layby and ready to start walking. The route crossed a spectacularly muddy field full of Highland Cows and then passed underneath the railway line. I fell in behind a group of around 10 walkers and followed them into the glen. I followed the landrover track to the 260m contour line where it goes through a gate. The group of walkers peeled off here, heading for the ridge to Cruach Ardrain. I turned right after going through the gate and began the boggy ascent of Sron Garbh.

Oss and Dubhchraig
Looking across Glen Falloch to Ben Oss and Beinn Dubhchraig from Sron Gharbh.

The ascent of Sron Garbh was slow-going. The legs weren't working properly and the going was wet. At the summit of Sron Garbh I took a break on a grouse butt and surveyed the route ahead..

Twistin Hill
Looking up Twistin Hill to An Caisteal in the centre. Beinn a' Chroin is to the left and Beinn Chabhair is on the right.
Looking down Twistin Hill to Sron Gharbh. Strath Fillan in the background.
Above the Snowline
Near the summit of An Caisteal. Glen Falloch in the background.

Twistin Hill lives up to its name. There are lots of small bumps and humps to cross as the height is gained. Soon, I reached the snowline. I had been a little apprehensive earlier in the day when I saw the snow but I had come too far to turn back so soon. There were two sets of footprints heading up the hill - one human, one canine - so someone else was up ahead of me and I follwed their lead.

Near the summit, there is a small ravine which needs to be negotiated. In the dry, this would be a simple cuple of steps down and back up. In deep snow I suspect you could walk over it. But with the light covering of slushy snow it was slippery and I took care crossing it.

Then I came to The Castle - the rock outcrop which gives the hill its name. It blocks the way to the summit but a traverse around the left-hand side along a mildy exposed ledge led to an easy couple of moves up to the summit - easier if there hadn't been a layer of snow on them. I lost the way briefly at the end of the ledge but soon spotted the pawprints showing the way. The view from the summit was grand. There was a fair bit of cloud spoiling the view to the south, but the Ben More hills looked magnificent.

An Caisteal Summit I
Munro #131. Ben More, Cruach Ardrain and Stob Binnein are to the right.
Beinn a' Chroin from An Caisteal
Looking across to Beinn a' Chroin from the summit of An Caisteal.

There was a cold wind on the summit so I didn't stay for long, preferring to drop down to the bealach between An Caisteal and Beinn a' Chroin for a bite to eat and a coffee..

Approaching Beinn a' Chroin
Heading down An Caisteal. Looking across the bealach to Beinn a' Chroin. Lunch stop.

After a short lunch stop, I headed across the bealach and onto Beinn a' Chroin, following the faint path which gradually steepened as more height was gained. The bad step up was thankfully clear of snow, but was still very wet, with running water on the rockface. I'm glad there was no-one around to witness my ungainly scramble up here - it wasn't elegant, knees were used, but it got me up.

At the top of the bad step, I stopped to take a photograph of the view back down (next photo) and a small dog shot through my legs, making me jump with fright at it's unexpected arrival. It was the creator of one of the sets of footprints I was following. I soon met the dog's owner, DJ from Ardnamurchan, a few moment later, and we walked together across the three tops of the hill.

Scramble on Beinn a' Chroin
Looking back down onto the short section of scrambling through the crags on Beinn a' Chroin. Thankfully it was clear of snow, but still very wet. No photo from the bottom. I wasn't going back down to get one!
An Caisteal from Beinn a' Chroin
Looking back to An Caisteal from the summit of Beinn a' Chroin.

The views back the way we had come, across to An Caisteal were stunning! Beinn a' Chroin has three separate summits. There is some debate about which one is higher and the actual Munro Top has changed in the past. To avoid any debate, I decided to visit all three of them..

Beinn a' Chroin West Top I
Although there is a cairn, this unusual rock formation is the highest point on the west top. Looking south.
I visited all three tops as there is debate about which one is the actual summit. The middle one is the highest according to the OS but the east top is often considered the Munro.
Beinn a' Chroin West Top II
DJ from Ardnamurchan and his dog look over towards An Caisteal.
Beinn a' Chroin Middle Top
Middle Top. Looking towards Ben More, Cruach Ardrain and Stob Binnein.
Beinn a' Chroin East Top
Ben a' Chroin's East Top. DJ's dog on the summit cairn.

After a short break and a chat with DJ on the third and final summit, we went our separate ways. Actually, we both went the same way, but I let him head off and gave myself some space so I could both enjoy the views and concentrate on the descent off Beinn a' Chroin - heading down into Coire Earb.

Coire Earb was a nightmare! From the bottom of the hill, there was a 3km trek through some of the worst, unrelenting, miserable bog that I have ever had the misfortune to cross (and yes, I've walked through Glen Geusachan on a wet day) Every second step and I was in up to my knees. Not able to maintain a rhythm and having to drag myself out of the gloop so often slowed my pace and it felt like it took hours to walk that 3km. In actual fact it only took 40 minutes to walk the 3km - it just felt like an eternity.

Finally, I reached the landrover track and was able to make good progress over the final 3km back down the glen and to the car. All in all a good start to Munro season 2012.

Coire Earb
Almost down the north ridge of Beinn a' Chroin and having a rest break to contemplate the final walk out through Coire Earb.
Looking Back
Finally made it to the head of the track after nearly 3km of hellish bog of Coire Earb. Last look back at Beinn a' Chroin (back) and An Caisteal (right)