Cruach Ardrain - 1046m
Beinn Tulaichean - 946m
Thursday 25th June 2009
Weather/Conditions: Fairly overcast at the beginning, although clearing up into the evening. The night was clear and the Friday was a nice morning, although a strong wind from the SE blew.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 17.6km / 1060m / 4h 40m time to campsite
So here was the plan: start out from Crianlarich mid-afternoon on the 25th, camp on, or near the summit of Cruach Ardrain overnight, and wake up at 4am, hopefully for another sunrise over a cloud inversion. Camping high would keep me above the top of the clouds (estimated to be 700m-1000m) and once sunset was done with, I'd get a few hours sleep then pack up and head down to Crianlarich for midday. For the most part, my plan went smoothly and I even had a few unexpected delights.
Why did I choose Cruach Ardrain? For starters, the "Crianlarich Hills" to the south of the village are the most easily accessible high mountains. I wanted to go above 1000m, so Ben More, Stob Binnein and Cruach Ardrain were remaining possibilities. Ben More and Stob Binnein require a long walk out of Crianlarich to get to the bottom while Cruach Ardrain could be climbed directly, without an approach. Additionally, I didn't want to slog Ben More's unrelenting 1000m face with camping gear. Ben More and Stob Binnein would give me the least restricted views east, but I'd hoped that Cruach Ardrain would have good enough views. Given the pros and cons of each mountain summit, Ardrain seemed to give the best balance.
And one more point before I get started: unlike before, it is possible now to climb Cruach Ardrain from Crianlarich, should you know the route through the forest. This offers a more direct ascent than the route from the A82 car park beside the River Falloch. An obscure path leads out of Crianlarich at the park beside the Youth Hostel. Follow it and take the right hand fork into the forest. When you meet up with the forestry tracks, follow the switchbacks until a cairn marks the turn-off point up the felled forests. From here it is an easy climb to Grey Height, although becomes substantially boggy towards the top. This seems to be an increasingly well walked route - a path has been established and I've met other walkers here. If it's use continues, expect a mud bath on wetter days.
Steve dropped me off in Crianlarich midday. The sky was substantially clouded over but it was rather warm too. Having learned about a route from Crianlarich to Grey Height (a shoulder of Cruach Ardrain) I decided to follow it and see if I could find my way without getting lost. After spending five minutes at a bench just above Crianlarich, I was on my way and headed up the forestry tracks. Google Earth gave me good coverage of these forests and was vital in allowing me to find my way. Ordnance Survey 1:50000 maps give no indication of forestry tracks and the 1:25000 map doesn't fare much better, although shows a few. I took the correct turns in the correct places, and even when I was slightly unsure of where to go, my guesswork turned out to be correct.
Above the forests, I slogged my way to Grey Height. Cruach Ardrain was somewhere above but I couldn't comprehend the distances right now. With such a heavy rucksack, distance seemed amplified. When I arrived on Grey Height, Meall Dhamh was the next goal, but Ardrain was still too far away to comprehend. This was down to the weight of gear on my back, which slowed me down considerably. Sometimes I felt like I was being pulled back, often I became frustrated with the weight even when I'd been minimal in my packing.
A little hard work allowed me to reach Meall Dhamh, and it arrived after a spell of 'automatic' walking, where the motions of walking left the conscious mind completely and other thoughts poured in. I also noticed that the cairn was missing. I was sure that there had been one before and guessed that the cairn-kickers had come along and destroyed it.
From Meall Dhamh, I had another 200m of climbing to Cruach Ardrain's summit. I initially miscalculated it to be 300m and felt a little better about the climb ahead when I realised my mistake. It was just hard slogging, there was nothing more to it. I reached Ardrain with some relief, just as the sun began dipping to the north west.
Now I was on top of Ardrain, what to do now? It still wasn't too late, so Beinn Tulaichean was on the agenda. I put on a jacket to see to the wind, ditched the rucksack and weighed it down with rocks, just in case. I headed off with some chocolate in camera in hand, although I was fairly tired by now, much more so than I'd hoped I'd be.
I never felt totally relaxed on the way to or from Beinn Tulaichean, so I didn't stay long at the summit. I could picture someone finding my abandoned rucksack on Cruach Ardrain, or could imagine the wind blowing it away. The wind had been persistent all day, and at times it had make me abandon the idea of camping on the summit. When I arrived back on Cruach Ardrain, I picked up the rucksack, and with the sun lowering in the sky, I began to thinking about finding camp.
Camping and sunset
Having been concerned about the wind beforehand, I was pleased to find that I could camp right beside the summit cairn. The wind blew from the south east, and on the north west side of the summit was a flat patch of ground. It was mossy underfoot which although in retrospect may have been too fragile to camp on, was otherwise an ideal location. It was sheltered, just about flat and would allow me to pitch with my door facing north, allowing me to lie and watch the sunset and subsequent sunrise.
When the tent was pitched, conditions couldn't have been closer to perfect. It did feel a little odd camping on such high ground, but I pushed the thoughts from my head. Ten metres from my tent door was a long drop into Coire Ardrain but I figured that because conditions were calm, I would be fine. It took a while to get accustomed to settling down in a place I'd normally only climb to and descend from. I spent the rest of the night watching the Sun set. I hadn't seen intense reds and glowing oranges like them in a long, long time. And what a way to introduce myself to camping - alone on a wonderfully calm night at over 1000 metres.
After the sun set, I gradually dropped off to sleep. I only got broken sleep throughout the night either because the wind against the tent caused a racket, or because it never got dark. I slept with the tent door open though and when I would wake up, I'd be greeted by the band of orange on the horizon that never left. It was a wonderful experience, one that I won't forget.
When the sun first rose over the horizon after 4am, I was surprised to see that there was no cloud beneath me. The sun was almost hidden by Stob Binnein, so given my fractured sleep, I rolled over and fell asleep having taken one picture. I hadn't woken up above the clouds which was the reason for the high camp, but the experience in itself had easily paid off the effort of climbing up. When morning came and it was time to get up, it was a wonderfully sunny day. I packed up early to descend to Crianlarich and to give myself time to be in the village itself. I certainly wouldn't want a rush.
Descent from Cruach Ardrain
I descended only with a moderate pace, meeting other walkers on the way up. I'd arranged to meet Dave at midday at the Crianlarich car park and public toilets so I had plenty of time. After a wrong turn at Grey Height (I accidentally descended to the top of cliffs, requiring me to reascend and go the correct way), I headed over the stile and down into the forest. Here, I met about three people ascending, and I was surprised. I wouldn't have thought that a route through the forests was so popular and before 4th June I didn't even know one existed.
An easy walk led me down the forestry tracks into Crianlarich, where I waited for perhaps 20 minutes before Dave pulled up at 11.40am. After a roll and sausage and hot chocolate from the train station tea room, we were on our way north, first to Tyndrum to book into the evenings bunkhouse, and then to Glen Coe. I climbed the tops of the Buachaille Etive Mor while James, Dave and Dougie attempted Curved Ridge.
(0.00) 3.50pm Crianlarich
(2.05) 5.55pm Meall Dhamh
(2.50) 6.45pm Cruach Ardrain
(4.10) 8.00pm Beinn Tulaichean
(4.40) 8.30pm Back at Cruach Ardrain for camp
(0.00) 9.30am Packed up camp
(1.45) 11.15am Crianlarich