Ben Lui and Beinn a'Chleibh

Ben Lui is a large Munro (1,130m) in the southern highlands and it was this weekend's hiking target. As Beinn a'Chleibh sits directly beside it, shares a bealach, and requires very little additional climbing it would be rude not to do the pair. You can actually do a quad of Munros here, but given how I felt on Saturday it was probably best that we had only planned the two. 

Our morning started bright and early at 7am. So early in fact that I didn't realise that my little sniff from Friday night had descended into a full blown sinus cold until I had been in the car for a good hour. The day was perfect- clear, crisp autumnal sunshine. We stopped to gaze in wonder at the sunrise above Loch Lomond before continuing into Tyndrum. 

Sunrise.
The hike up Ben Lui from Glen Lochy car park (off the A85 to Oban) starts by crossing first the railway and then the River Lochy. The railway underpass requires a shuffling squat to duck below the metal gratings. It laughably suggests that if the water level is too high you should wade (part of the stream passes underneath the same underpass). Of course the worn grass leading over the tracks suggests that  many people instead take the illegal option of jumping over the tracks. You can see for miles in each direction so whilst the signs (and myself) wouldn't endorse it... I suspect it isn't dangerous. The water level was very low though, so we just went under the underpass. 

The main river required some navigation, and could be a threat if the water level was high. When you reach the small sub-streams (where the stream from Fionn Choire flows down and joins the Eas Daimh) you must go right, across it, to get to Ben Lui. Many people miss this crossing and although you can turn right further along it's a long and muddy detour. Now you're on the forest path headed up onto the mountainside. The light of the morning was stunning- golden and bright reflecting on burnt red leaves. Lots of the forest and lower hill is very boggy, and this was even with recently low rain levels. I would expect wet feet! There are planks but they flip and sink into the mire. Also keep an eye out for interesting mushrooms galore. I wouldn't eat the black ones if I were you...

Turn right across this!
Up the forest track.
Sunlight hits the mountains above.
Muddy plank adventures.
Toadstools!
Finally you reach the slopes of Ben Lui. You could choose to ascend to the bealach but many (us included) leave that for the descent to avoid boring double backs. Instead we climbed east towards the North Ridge. These are STEEP unremitting slopes. Energy sapping and calf burning grassy tufts form the majority of the ground texture on the sharp ascent. This route does not have a path as per se, but it's obvious where you are going and there's nothing to really get in any danger with. 

To be quite honest, whilst the hike was stunning, I felt terrible. I couldn't breathe through my nose, I felt desperately sick from the mucus running down the back of my throat, and I felt dizzy as hell (I suspect as my sinuses and ears were blocked up). However as I didn't want to waste such a perfect, idyllic day I just tried to soldier on. I did stop roughly every 10 paces and felt terrifyingly low on energy. If it wasn't such a safe mountain, or if I was alone, I would have turned back. Just goes to show that you have to listen to your body, or even a middle challenge hike can hand your ass to you. 

Steep ascent.
You can see the gradient from how much they are leaning!
The view behind you.
Looking down to Beinn a'Chleibh.
We finally reached the ridge line where the ground becomes much rocker and therefore more solid. Be careful here- we found the remaining hoar frost on the rocks to be very slippery. The ridge path becomes increasingly defined as you ascend. It does require a few easy climbing/scrambling moves, which my mum found a little challenging as she has hurt her dominant hand. The weather closed in at this point- we literally had one side with perfect visibility and one completely featureless. Ah, Scotland! As with many Scottish mountains, the first cairn on Ben Lui (when ascending from the North Ridge) is a lie. The cairn on the rocky Southeast Summit is the true one. 

Classic Scottish 'line of visibility'.
Rocks towards the summit.
Summit snap.
We grabbed some lunch and hot tea just below the summit (the mist had thankfully cleared out leaving us comfortably basking in the sunshine), then hiked down towards Beinn a'Chleibh, which looked rather wee from the top of Ben Lui (it is 916m, only just a Munro). It's an easy descent to the bealach, with the exception of a short boulder field just below Lui's summit. 
The boulder field below the Ben Lui summit.
Cross the bealach and an easy path meanders to the top of Beinn a'Chleibh. Which, of course, has three summit cairns. People, stop building rock piles on false summits! We walked to all three just in case and found a beautiful mirrored pond to muck about with. Beinn a'Chleibh is very, very flat on top- flat and long!

Looking back at Ben Lui.
Mirrored playground.
Ben Lui in the last of the sunshine.
To descend properly we pulled back down to the bealach then to home. As a counterpoint to Beinn a'Chleibh, Ben Lui looked massive as soon as we had ascended it. The first part of the main descent from both is a little steep on the knees but it levels out quickly. On the ascent to Beinn a'Chleibh and the main descent I felt so much better- not sick or dizzy, which were my chief complaints. To give you an idea of how ill I felt, my Garmin recorded a total elapsed time of 6hrs 56, of which 3 hrs 56 was stationary or close to stationary... We only took about ~30 mins or less for lunch! Once you hit the streams again, a mile's wander back through the forest and a splash through two rivers and you are back at the car park to change out of your muddy socks.

Late afternoon light playing on the forest trees.
Washing my boots.
A side view of Ben Lui.
Overall, despite how bad I felt it was worth it. It's a lovely hike to tick off two worthy Munros (although Beinn a'Chleibh does end up feeling a little anticlimactic), and a great day out. We stopped at the fish and chip shop in Tyndrum, which is very much recommended (I could only really taste the mint in the mushy peas but I was told the fish also tasted great). It's the only Gluten-Free friendly fish and chips shop I know of- my mum hadn't eaten fish and chips since she was 18!  If you're interested in the stats of our hike, you can check out the below; note how my pace picked up in the second mountain on the elevation plot (includes stationary so shows what the splits do not):




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Are you Munro bagging?

Have you ever felt tragic whilst hiking? 

PS: Normal blogging service resumes this week. If you fancy friending me on Strava, I'm here

8 Comments:

  1. Lovely photos, speedy recovery with the cold. x

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  2. Replies
    1. It could NOT have been a better day to hike, completely stunning weather.

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  3. Ahh it looks beautiful!! Sorry you didn't feel well though, but at least you got some amazing views.

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    1. Thanks Anna, luckily today I finally feel good! It was beautiful :)

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  4. I really want to come and hike in Scotland - It looks so beautiful and I've never visited and feel like I'm really missing out..
    Sorry to read you felt unwell, honestly there is nothing worse, because you know that you can be having so much more fun in full health.
    Stunning pics!

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    1. Please do come hike here and invite me! Blogger trip to Scotland hiking?

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