An Caisteal
Beinn a' Chroin
Beinn a' Chroin East Top

Saturday 21st March 2009

Weather/Conditions: Very hazy in the morning, clouded over at the summits and only cleared up when I was off the hills. Wind was a little strong at the tops but no rain.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 14km / 1100m / 6h 10m
Accompanying: Alone

My plan was to begin doing longer routes again as the coldest of the winter seemed to be over. The preceding days had seen endless sun and blue skies but school and other commitments left me unable to do any walking. Saturday would be my first chance, so I planned a fairly large day: An Caisteal, Beinn Chabhair, Beinn a' Chroin, Beinn Tulaichean and Cruach Ardrain. It was a tall order but I knew I could do it for sure. The key would be to be prepared mentally. I knew that with adequate resting time I could cut it physically but it was the mental challenge of taking in such a large route that may cause problems. With so much to climb, it would be easy to simply give up which I'd hoped not to do.

An Caisteal

All was looking up: sunny skies were forecast for this day and I had travel sorted so on Saturday morning, a 5.45am start and a lift up to Crianlarich brought me to the foot of An Caisteal at 8.10am. I followed the track from the A82 car park up to the upper reaches of Glen Falloch and turned off fairly quickly, bound for Sron Garbh and Twistin' Hill. The weather was hazy with visibility of no more than a couple of miles but there was little actual cloud. It would be a slog to Sron Garbh, but I bared it and slogged upwards. I was feeling well and positive about the day ahead.

At Sron Garbh, the terrain levelled out and I picked up a path on Twistin Hill. Ahead of me, sunlight illuminated the haze which, because we'd had a high pressure for the past week, had almost turned to fog itself. The ridge snaking off to the upper reaches of An Caisteal was terribly atmospheric. Through the haze I see tell that the cloud was definitely down on the summit but I'd hoped it would clear later. Twistin' Hill offered an entertaining route of ascent, one which I found preferable to the ascent from Derrydarroch Farm which I'd climbed with Alex in May '08. I continued upwards and into the cloud and from here onwards the climb up An Caisteal began to feel to me to be a little 'intense'.

Arriving at snowfields, I lost the path and headed over the snow. It became clear that I'd lost the path which may lead me to lose the ridge itself, but I was also alone and in thick fog. Exhilarating or what? So I traversed around the hillside and picked up the path again. This led me up to some scrambling above and with snow and wind blowing, I knew that I had to keep on my guard. Still, I only felt a little out of my comfort zone and could proceed knowing that all was going to plan.

I arrived at the summit of An Caisteal at 10.05. Visibility was right down, a wind blew and I can't say it was the most inspiring place to be. I felt a little alone, given the slightly problematic ascent and although it wasn't loneliness as such, it was a place without inspiration, views or company. I met the first person of the day at the summit although he didn't say a lot, just walked up to summit and on past. However I had a schedule and after ten minutes on top I headed onwards.

Beinn a' Chroin and east top

Next on the list was Beinn Chabhair and as can be seen now, I didn't visit. It seemed as if it would be a navigational nightmare. As I descended An Caisteal, cloud was down and I was behind the schedule I'd set myself. By continuing straight onto Beinn a' Chroin I'd get myself ahead and give myself time for the rest of the route. An Caisteal offered a couple of hands-on moments and the hairiest section I'd remembered from May '08 could be bypassed which I'd have been relieved at had I known at the time. I arrived at Bealach Buidhe where I made the final decision to omit Beinn Chabhair and so I headed past the boulder field, past the loch and up the side of Beinn a' Chroin.

I was aware that Beinn a' Chroin has one break in the cliffs but I needed to find it in 5m visibility. I climbed up to the base of the cliffs and looked around from my vantage point, aware that it was off to the left hand side. I was probably around the centre of the cliffs so I traversed the snow fields to the left and spotted the break fairly quickly. It was, like in May, a fun ascent and I emerged on the top of Beinn a' Chroin, slogging the final paces to the top. I came across one cairn and took a photo, but when I came upon a second, it was familiar and I knew well that this was the summit. There were still no views but I felt good about going onto Beinn Tulaichean afterwards.

From Beinn a' Chroins summit, I headed over to the east top and stopped for a break here. After five minutes another guy came along and I got talking with him. From the Czech Republic (non-UK accent...), he was also doing a circuit of An Caisteal and Beinn a' Chroin, but in opposite direction to myself. I had a little chuckle at our conversation:

Him: "You going alone?"
Me: "Yes.."
Him: "Being your age, is that not quite dangerous?"
Me: "Well, I know the hills okay, been here before...
-a moment after- You know that this isn't the summit of Beinn a' Chroin, yeah?"
Him: "... Oh?"

Unsafe? I don't know if he thought he was at the summit or whether he was using the OS 1:50 000 map. This map suggests that the east top (940m) is the summit but this is wrong. It doesn't mention that the central summit is higher at 942m but perhaps this wasn't known at the time of printing. I showed him my 1:25 000 with the spot heights marked just to be sure with him. He'd be none too pleased to get home to discover he hadn't been on the top.

Though all this asides, and to be fair, he was a nice guy. I'm not taking the piss out of him either, just the irony... I just left him know that to get to the actual summit he needed continue on the path westwards to another cairn which sat beside a lochan. My opinion was that I was carrying out the route safely but I suppose if you meet someone that isn't even 18, alone on a Munro in the middle of cloud and in the middle of March, you may want to make sure they really know what they're doing.


But I wasn't so clever myself. I intended to head down the northern arm of Beinn a' Chroin and then go onto Beinn Tulaichean and still under the mist, I headed in a seemingly north direction. Two minutes off the top, I met the third and last person I'd see all day. Thinking I was going north to Coire Earb, I asked him just to make sure (because things weren't feeling 100% right) "So you came up from Glen Falloch?". His reply was "Aye, I came over from An Caisteal. If you keep following this path it'll take you over there." Doh!

How easy it is to lose the way in mist! I was in fact heading westwards, the way I'd come because I simply didn't check the map and compass. Even without this conversation I would have reached familiar ground and then realised things weren't as I'd thought they were. But now knowing my mistake I contoured around Beinn a' Chroin's east top and then met up with a path on the northern arm. I was extremely careful with the map and compass.

I descended, now back on course, and feeling okay about going onto Beinn Tulaichean. But I knew that to do so, I'd want good visibility. So I kept to the ridge and didn't come out of cloud until around 600m. The weather was dull. I took a rest and watched the conditions. The hills north of Glen Falloch were in sunlight, but it seemed that cloud built up as they hit the Munros on my side of the valley. The clouds wouldn't leave. Beinn Tulaichean was a long way off through a glen that would be tedious and then I would be spending another couple of hours in the cloud. I accepted that the sun wasn't coming, that the clouds weren't moving and so I turned down in the direction of Glen Falloch.

So much for five Munros! I have to say that I felt up to the task physically, but I'd hoped for a clear day. A clear day, partly because I'm new to the game of long hard days out and because I simply didn't want to walk over another two Munros in mist. I don't want to walk up another bit of similar ground that you only know is the summit, I want to feel it and see the ground falling away. Walking in mist always feels like an intimate experience with the mountain requiring concentration and constant attention to the terrain but therefore the summit becomes a slightly redundant concept. To me it becomes just another piece of ground then, without significance minus the cairn you walked upon.

I descended the ridge and wound up at the floor of the valley. To add salt to the wound, as I arrived down, the cloud cleared spectacularly and I couldn't go back up - partly due to having travel already sorted out and partly because climbing anything would mean I'd need to regain most of the mountains height in vertical metres. I didn't regret turning my back on Tulaichean but my timing couldn't have been worse. The sun was out, the murk of the morning had gone and the skies were beautiful blue. With plenty of time to get back, I rambled down the valley and enjoyed views of Beinn a' Chroin appearing from the mists. After May '08, I decided I'd never want return to this valley but here I was again. My memories were of a boggy, tedious valley that never appeared to end but here now, I was enjoying it and I took it slow. The remainder of the journey was just one of enjoyment, and around about the peaks were in sunlight. Still, I didn't have a problem with descending. The peaks will be here next time.

I picked up the track back to Glen Falloch and followed it to the car park. The views were wonderful now, but if only I was up high! Ben Oss and Beinn Dubhchraig to my left were spectacular, radiating a nearly 'alpine' feel which my pictures simply did not capture. The walk back was pure joy but there was the lingering thought about my decision to turn around. In another mindset, I knew that the peaks will always be there and I'm happy to accept this.

I was back at 2.20pm and got a lift 20 minutes later. The journey back to Glasgow was broken up by some photography and a cup of tea at Inveruglas, a nice ending to the day. In the coming months I'll give these five Munros another go but with that plan asides, I have to say that the day turned out positive itself. I probably boosted my navigational skills another notch and I was also just happy to be out in the mountains again. The winters been quiet for me in the hills, but I've just had a lot on in life, I guess. This I hope to change soon.

Journey Home


Crianlarich Hills from Glen Falloch
Written: 2009-03-22