Monday, 11 May 2009

Hollow Mountain

From reading MWIS I knew I had to choose my hills carefully (there was talk of lightening you know!) , I chose well as you will see...

Ben Cruachan also known as "the Hollow Mountain" was the choice of destination. It's called the Hollow Mountain as there is a power station hidden inside the hollowed out rock. The only visible features are the dam up on the side of the mountain and the station office and visitor centre below at Loch Awe. The station was opened by the Queen in October 1965 and has been used as the setting for several films including the James Bond film "The World Is Not Enough".

Having packed the night before I was organised for a change, which meant a relaxing breakfast before the usual dash up the A82. On the drive up I was seeing snow lying on the tops from the bad weather we've had recently. It gave everything a nice alpine feel against the perfectly blue skies but left me a little wary as I knew I had no axe or crampons and it was too late to go back for them.

There was no space to park at the train station so I pulled in further round at a laybay. It was only another 10 minutes extra to walk. The weather was nice, so was the view and it gave me time to study the map and do those last minute faffy bits, adjusting the pack etc.

From the train station you go under the line, then its a winding pull up a narrow track through the trees. It doesnt take long to leave the whoosh of the occasional car behind and get up above the trees past the Falls of Cruachan where you follow the Allt Cruachan...

...untill the impressive Cruachan dam comes into view.

After you reach the dam you climb a short ladder to the top, taking in the view back before turning left and following the track around the left side of the reservoir.

Whilst I was wandering along the track I heard the familiar "Whump-Whump" of a search and rescue Sea King. It was an impressive sight seeing it belt down the length of the reservoir against the backdrop of the Cruachan Horseshoe.

I got a better look when I got to the top of the reservoir where they had landed. I'm not sure what they were doing but it wasn't a real rescue. I heard it flying around the reservoir for a good bit of the rest of the day.

From the top of the Reservoir you head left and start climbing up towards Bealach an Lochain. It doesn't take long before the view has no man made interuptions and starts to feel really remote. At this stage I caught up with two other walker's Mike and Findlay and we leapfrogged (not literally of course! We just had a similar pace) all the way until the summit of Ben Cruachan where we parted.

Once you reach the Bealach take in the expansive views out towards Mull and the other Islands before turning right and climbing steeply to the summit of Ben Cruachan.

The views from up here are stunning and it's well worth saving it for a clear day. When you top out on a summit and are greeted with views like these it makes you forget all the mundane worries of modern life...well at least I do anyway.

I was 'done in' by the time I reached the summit and the views were so good I lingered for at least a good half hour eating lunch and shooting the shit with Mike and Findlay. I was also looking at the route along the ridge and remembering my lack of crampons and ice axe. The climb to Cruachan's summit although tiring was fairly easy despite the snow. I'd spotted the dificult sections and could see routes around them. I decided to push on, I could always back track or drop down the inside of the horseshoe if it got too hairy.

I left Mike and Findlay on the top and started to descend down the ridge towards the most dificult looking section which was very slabby. If I took a tumble here I'd be in trouble. I dropped down below the slabs and traversed under them until I reached large boulders that I could pick my way back up through to the ridge again.

Once I was back on the ridge the going was good, the views back to Cruachan were simply stunning (see opening pic). The route along the rest of the ridge to Drochaid Ghlas and then onto Stob Diamh for the second Munro of the day was impressive and easy to follow as well. From Stob Diamh the route is up and over Stob Garbh and down towards the Lairig Torran before descending to the dam where you can rejoin the walk in.

By the time I reached the summit of Stob Diamh the weather was coming in from the north and I ended up racing it off the hill.

Inevitably it won. It was only a passing shower, although it highlights just how quickly the weather can change up there. As a work colleague always tells me "If you dont like the weather in Scotland...just wait 5 minutes!"

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  1. Nice route. It was a near miss for me last summer. Intended to get up into the horseshoe with my wife and daughter Emily but only got as far as the dam. Realised it was too ambitious with baby carrier and small child. As you say its an unpredictable place and we chose to lunch at the dam and walk out to Loch Awe village along the service road. Great easy walk out for little legs. Still, as you say around the dam is a wild and rewarding place. Saw enough to put Cruachan on my hit list though. One possibility I'm toying with for this sumemr is a traverse from Cruachan over to the kings house over a couple of days.

  2. Just had a look at the map, that would be a great few days walking right enough. Plenty of big hills and views to be had there I reckon.

    I'm waiting on a couple of bits of kit coming from overseas and a decent weather window and I have plans for a similar few days backpacking across some really rugged terrain with the new tarp.

  3. I do a lot of virtual backpacking with tracklogs these days :-)Starting in glen Etive and up Ben Starav looks even better but there's no handy station at the foot of Starav!

  4. I suppose the nearest would be Taynuilt, you could walk or bike in from there and camp maybe?

  5. Lovely stuff. One of my favourite ever hills. You got better views than me right enough - I had one of those days where the visibility was great until you were about 100 feet below the summit, and you walked into the cloud. Slightly frustrating!

    I'd forgotten all about about yon slabby bit, funnily enough. Don't think I'd have fancied it in the snow.

  6. I've more than enough day's like that. Aye, the slabby bit had me fair sweating and not from exertion. I had to drop a fair bit of height to get by it safely. I think in future I'll just always leave at least my microspikes in the boot, Id've been a lot more confident in them.

    Christ I've got so much gear I want to review on here, I dunno how PTC* manages it with all the stuff he gets sent!

  7. Andrew Gifford13 May 2009 at 14:59

    wow did this route 3 wks ago and there was almost no snow. Absolute classic walk. looks like you got it preety good.

  8. I certainly wasn't expecting to see any lying, most of the bigger hills north of Loch Lomond had a good dusting. The snow was very wet and loose so I dont expect it'll last much longer especially with how nice its been the last few days.

  9. Alright!
    Magic stuff that, it's such a good hill, all big and sprawling with that tiny wee summit.
    And that granny-stopper slabby bit...

  10. Some girls I met coming the other way called it "The step of death", "We're not being dramatic or anything but we nearly died!"

    And here I was, just out for a pleasant wee stroll on a sunday afternoon.


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