Meall Corranaich - 1069m
Beinn Ghlas - 1103m
Ben Lawers - 1214m
Creag an Fhithich - 1047m
An Stuc - 1118m
Meall Garbh - 1118m
Meall Greigh - 1001m
Monday 7th November 2011
Weather/Conditions: Amazing weather! Thick fog in the valleys below 1000 feet. Crystal clear air, vast blue skies and mountains marching away in every direction. Seas of cloud, barely a breath of wind, bright sun and fresh air.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 20km / 1700m / 6h 35m
I prepared the night before, carefully laying out gear, taking bare minimum - no water proof trousers, only a light jacket, map, compass, etc. Not that I expected to use any. The forecast was unbelievable. I bought hill food in advance and got a couple hours sleep before the alarm went off.
I dragged myself off the couch in the wee hours of the morning, got into the car and set off north. The road near my home is flanked by tall trees on either side. Visibility on the road ahead was good, but a ceiling of thick fog lay on top of the trees. Like driving down a corridor, it was incredibly surreal.
The thick fog came and went and often made for difficult driving. I hadn't anticipated it would be so bad. As I drove by Aberfoyle, Callander and Loch Lubnaig I could often see nothing but a sheet of white and a line of cat's eyes running off down the centre of the road. With lot of concentration and patience, I made Killin in good time.
Beyond Killin was interesting - for starters, the Lochan na Lairig road was a lot further out of town than I'd expected. I began to wonder whether I'd missed it. When I got there, the single track road was covered side to side in sparkling ice crystals. For a moment I thought there was a problem. I didn't have experience with this kind of stuff to know how slippery it was. I had brief thoughts that my trip plans might be blown. I took the road with care, without so much confidence in my traction, but ultimately without incident. In hindsight it really wasn't a problem.
Out of the fog, I parked in at the layby at the far end of Lochan na Lairig. I got out the car, stepping into clear, cool mountain air. The place was silent, only the crunch of my feet on the ground to break the peace. The silence seemed poignant after loud music in the car. The eastern horizon glowed. The drive had seemed long and the concentration it took to get here was huge.
But now I was here, ready to go. I packed my stuff and set off in twilight.
Meall a' Choire Leith is a little hill tagged onto the end of the range and invisible from the car park. A well constructed path led me into trackless Gleann Da-Eig. No head torches needed - dim light spilling over the horizon was enough to see by. I immediately felt the great silence of the Highlands all around. I love these moments, the pre-dawn darkness, the sky building to a new day, the silhouettes of as-of-yet unclimbed mountains all around.
I really rushed up to Meall a' Choire Leith. It was classic grass-slogging and I made my way onto the rounded summit dome, which offered false summits by the spade load. I was going too fast and paid too much attention to the ground - but I really wanted to be up there. Stags watched me with a careful eye and trotted off. I panted up to the summit dome. Euphoria surged when the cairn came into view, and the Highland peaks lay dormant in silent, vast beauty.
When the storms lash the Highlands, (as happens most of the time) the mountains put up a front; impenetrable to a degree. Every so often, the rain stops and the wind dies. Dawn arrives and the peaks wake up to a still bright morning. To stand on top of a mountain at one of these moments is to be sole witness to an arena of peaks that encircle you and gently welcome you to their domain. I stood on the first Munro looking northward over Rannoch Moor to the mountains of Lochaber and Laggan. Waves of cloud lapped at their feet; I got a sense of the timelessness of the distant peaks.
I'd always wondered what I would think of the Lawers Range. Many had said they were incredibly easy for their hefty total of seven Munros and now I knew why. The summits began to flick by at an astonishing rate. I made Meall Corranaich in good time and I sat at the summit cairn of Beinn Ghlas at 9.15am. I phoned home, proud to tell of my morning's Munro tally of three. I thought about the world living beneath that sheet of cloud and how everyone will have just started Monday morning work. It was hard to imagine - too distant to comprehend when all I could think of were sparkling summits and golden light.
Beinn Ghlas impressively cuts about 1100 metres, but it's proximity to a car park on one side and Ben Lawers on the other diminishes it's height. I made good time to Ben Lawers. There was a good path to follow - the erosion was incredible. (And I thought this mountain was owned by a conservation body) It's summit is crowned by two trig points. One pillar is of the standard concrete type, and it's concrete base now juts above the ground which in time has eroded away, I suppose. A second is built of picturesque stone and provided me with a place to put the camera to get a striking summit shot! (See below)
The next summits came in rapid fire - Creag an Fhithich, An Stuc and Meall Garbh. I was astonished at the pace I leapt across these hills. Joy fuelled the body, in part, but the hills are also very close together. The An Stuc scramble felt too easy for it's reputation. At one moment, I used a couple of handholds to downclimb into a gully, but it was really just steep walking. (See An Stuc pic for a topo, below far right) Dealing with technical difficultly and exposure is always very subjective, but I also think I took an easier route than many.
At the start of the day, I hadn't expected to go as far as Meall Garbh. I'd left the car by Lochan na Lairig with no sure way to get back other than by walking. When I got up onto the ridge and saw the weather, I knew I'd do the full round - even though it would leave me with a possible 14km walk (Lawers Hotel to Lochan na Lairig) back to the car! I hoped I could hitch a lift, but at the moment it didn't seem to matter. I was going all the way to the end.
Like the first Munro, the last one, Meall Greigh was an awkward outlier to the rest of the range. It required a little more leg power to reach. I met a couple of people leaving the summit but they didn't say much - just walked by. I later found out they were also on the Walk Highlands website. I reached the summit, content to be finished and astounded that in a crazy flash I'd just climbed seven new Munros. I took one last look at the mountains of the north, got a picture of Drummond Hill poking out the fog and headed down.
Descent + back to the car
Descent got a bit hot as I walked down to Lawers Burn. The slopes were amenable and grassy, and I was descending into farmland, following sheep trails to the burn. Ben Lawers' southern flank swept down to the mist in one enormous sweep, and I followed the trail into the valley and then beneath the mist. The air chilled underneath the blanket fog, and I left the deep blue skies for the last time. Happy to go down, I'd had my fill, and walked back to the Ben Lawers Hotel. It was the end of my route: seven Munros start to end in six hours, 35 minutes.
The hotel was quiet when I arrived, but for a man and his wife coming down the stairs to reception. We made chat, but I got to the point quickly: I was looking for a lift back to my car. He declined since he'd been driving all day and had only just arrived. Still, I ordered a cup of tea (it was cold under the fog) and we continued talking.
Somehow the conversation turned to the Gaelic, place names and hill names. The conversation was fantastic, but his wife was left out. She didn't seem to mind. I learned a lot from him, (The meaning of Jakta - Norwegian, the pronunciation of Garbh as garav and not garv. And a lot more). When I announced that I better get going - I had several hours of road walking ahead of me - he unexpectedly offered a lift back up the glen. By that time, I'd put the thought out my mind and it was a nice surprise not to have to walk.
He drove a Land Rover and I remember his name as Peter. He drove toward Killin very slowly (quite nice actually) and turned up the road to Lochan na Lairig. When we drove out the fog, the day was growing late and with a warm thanks on my part, he left me to my car and I made my way home.
But not without doing one more hill...
Meall a' Choire Leith
Ben Lawers - 180° Detail, South
Ben Lawers - 180° Detail, North
(0.00) 6.35am Car
(1.10) 7.45am Meall a' Choire Leith
(1.55) 8.30am Meall Corannaich
(2.40) 9.15am Beinn Ghlas
(3.10) 9.45am Ben Lawers
(3.50) 10.25am Creag an Fhithich
(4.15) 10.50am An Stuc
(4.40) 11.15am Meall Garbh
(5.30) 12.05pm Meall Greigh
(6.35) 1.10pm Horn Carver (end)