A steep start, icy conditions and experience counted today (Munros Completed : Ben Cruachan (69), Stob Daimh (70)).
It’s the Easter holidays approaching and the forecast looked quite good. As there’s been quite a lot of snow over this Winter in Scotland I couldn’t resist my third trip up in the space of a few weeks.The forecast for today was very reasonable given the uncertainty at the beginning of the week. Slightly windy, 25-40 mph, snow flurries & showers in the afternoon with 60% chance cloud free tops. The best weather was expected in the West so I decided to do Ben Cruachan & Stob Daimh as these are the furthest West Munros in this area.
The start is by Cruachan railway station in a layby at the side of the road on a steep well defined track up through oak woods. Once clear of the woods it follows a path along a burn up to the Dam. I spotted two guys just ahead of me and I almost caught them up by the Dam, where you ascend a ladder to get to the top before turning left and onto a large track. Just further up turn left up the moderate heathered slopes.
The other two ahead went left off the burn but I headed right as it is supposed to be less boggy. I followed this track to a small plateau with intermittent patches of snow before ascending a lovely looking wide gulley which was 100% snow covered to reach the ridge.
Before ascending the gulley it was time to put on the crampons and take a small bite to eat & drink. The snow was excellent, firm & solid & I soon gained the ridge.
As forecast, the skies started to cloud over and a big squall came in with a biting wind along with snow flurries but fortunately lasted only a few mins. Visibility remained excellent though and I contiuned to ascend the ridge where there is one final moderately steep section to the summit. Here I met another two people coming down slowly and slightly nervious. I spoke to ask them if they were OK and they replied that they had decided to retreat as the final approach was very icy.
I continued further up the slope and the final few metres to the summit expecting it to become very icy as they had indicated but found it to be no worse than on the ridge. I quickly headed down the other side & here bumped into the other two people I had seen at the Dam. They had become stuck at a slightly tricky section on a narrow part of the ridge and were deciding whether to continue on or retreat. I could understand their concern as going directly over the narrmow top could have been on a cornice & the alternative was to circumvent this part & descend a narrow gap down to the right by a rock for a drop of about 5-6 m & about 2 metres wide and gain the ridge just beyond. It was almost a vertical gap with a steep drop off either side of the ridge with the rock covered in ice. I had a quick look & wasn’t happy at first. I thought about going even lower than this part and circumventing this part also, but the slope was steep and any slip would have been serious even with an ice axe. The snow was soft here and on first steps started to slab so I retreated.
The two others decided it wasn’t for them and decided to head back. The wind had also picked up again, which made it even more tricky but I decided to take another look. I rammed my ice axe up to the hilt on the lip and stepped down and kicked out a step with my crampons with a good half a dozen kicks. I felt reasonably securie so I repeated the process too kick out a further 6 or 7 steps to the bottom of the gap where the snow was soft so I was able to use it for a good break. At this point it was just a question of holding onto the bottom rock and a couple of steps around to reach the ridge again where it now widened out again.
It was a lovely ridge walk to the other Munro. The wind was strange though, as for the most part it was completely calm, & then there would be a few blustery cold easterly gusts that would blow for a few mins then stop. There was no further snow flurries though and visibility continued to be excellent throughout the day. I was feeling a bit tired by now so thankfully it was only a small height gain to the second munro reaching it at 2:45 pm. The walk back felt very long as there is a long ridge to continue on to a col before a rise to Stob Garbh, then a descent to the Dam.
Here I descended on the track on opposite side below Dam to that I had ascended earlier, then turn right to reach the point which meets the path on the ascent. From there it was a simple case of retracing my steps back to the car returning at 5:15 pm.
It had been a long day but another wonderful Winters day out in the scottish hills. I can see why the Cruachan hills have such a good rating amongst other hikers.