Majestic Ben Lui

Ben Lui (Beinn Laoigh) (1130m); Beinn a’ Chleibh (916m)

  • Pronunciation:             Bine Looee;  Bine yuh Chlayv
  • Translation:                  Mountain of the Calf; Creel Hill
  • Total distance:             13.1km
  • Total time:                    7hrs
  • Total ascent:                 1274m
  • Weather:                       Bright and sunny. Only a little cloud to begin with, which soon cleared. Temperature below freezing, Temperature inversion in the glens.
  • Start / end location:    Forestry Commission car-park on LHS of A85 about 6 miles from Tyndrum [Grid Ref: NN 239 278]
  • Map:                               A map of route can be found here– it may take a few moments to load into a separate window.

    Other climbers silhouetted on NE ridge of Ben Lui

We drove from our overnight camp south of Bridge of Orchy (A82) to a large Forestry Commission car park about 6 miles south of Tyndrum on the A85 west towards Oban. The gravel track leading down into the car-park looked reasonably clear so we drove the ‘van down the track. We hit problems with ice, however, around the rough parking bays at the bottom of the site. The ‘van got stuck again and it took us a lot of chipping away of the bumpy ice to eventually free it and drive it back up to the main road, where we were able to park it at the car park entrance without blocking access for others. This wasted more than 30 minutes – not quite the start we had anticipated.

Elaine nearing the top of Ben Lui

The route we had chosen started from the bottom of the car park with the first obstacle being to negotiate the River Lochy. The Lochy is a reasonably substantial river – more that 10m wide and without any convenient stepping-stones. All that we could do was to adjust our gaiters and wade across together – holding onto one another to ensure that neither of us stumbled. The water level was quite low, despite the melt water run off from the recent thaw. Nevertheless, it still reached mid-way up our calves and would certainly have poured into our boots if we hadn’t been wearing our gaiters.

Elaine negotiating rock and ice high on Ben Lui

On the other side we checked that our feet still felt dry before walking down the riverbank for 100m to find a suitable point to cross the Glasgow to Oban railway line. Safely across the railway line we followed the track through the forest (towards Eas Daimh – marked on the map). However, as we climbed higher in the forest following the bank of a small stream the map shows that we should cross this stream and change our direction of travel from due east to a SE – that would take us to a stile across a deer fence at the top of the forest. The problem was that there was no obvious path crossing the stream: instead the path appeared to continue running in an easterly direction.

Cameron on summit of Ben Lui

At a height of about 300m we noticed there had been some forestry work in the area and an access road had recently been pushed through that wasn’t shown on the map – so this work may have obscured the path that was marked on the map. We decided that the access road ought to intersect the path that we had missed so we followed it for a few hundred metres until we came to a bridge and at this point we chose to follow another stream uphill. The grid reference for this point was [246 273]. We followed this stream SSE until we reached the fence-line, where a stile allowed us to cross. This crossing was only about 400m away from where our original path intended to take us. It could actually be a small mistake with the OS mapping.

Elaine on summit of Ben Lui with our route in the background

Once out onto the open hillside we were able to see our route up the very broad east flank of Ben Lui, and could almost see right to the summit. We could also look due south and see the second Munro of the day: Beinn a’ Chleibh. The corrie formed between the two hills still had ribbons of snow and many of the waterfalls and water seepages were still rock hard with blue ice. A small herd of red deer grazed high up in the corrie bowl.

An enjoyable path-free tramp up the east flank took us quite quickly to the west peak of Ben Lui’s twin summit. En route high on the ridge we were able to practice efficiently cutting small steps in the hard snow slopes with our axes. This saved us having to stop to point on our crampons and was a reliable and safe technique for negotiating small sections of snow and ice.

Lower peak on Ben Lui

Up amongst the boulders and the snow patches we came across a single ptarmigan, which was really funny as it waddled away from us down a section of hard snow. It seemed to prefer running from us than simply flying away.

Only when we were within about 150m (vertical) from the summit did we put on our crampons to climb the last section of the ridge that was now getting steeper, with some rocky outcrops to negotiate. Our ridge gave us a tremendous view across to one of Ben Lui’s famous (two) ridges that project NE from the summit to Cononish and guards an excellent high corrie (Coire Gaothach). On the ridge we saw a party of three climbers silhouetted against the skyline. This looked like an excellent route – for next time.

On the slopes of Ben Lui looking towards Ben Cruachan massif

From our first summit peak it was only a short 100m (horizontal) walk across across to Ben Lui’s main summit at 1130m or 3,707’, where we went joined by another ten or so climbers. The top of Ben Lui is actually quite small and how you probably imagine a “proper” mountain summit ought to look like.

We ate lunch at the summit and admired the fantastic views in all directions. Then, still with our crampons on, we headed in a WSW direction to the bealach between Lui and Beinn a’ Chleibh, where the snow ran out and we took off our crampons. The bealach was at 810m, and with Chleibh being only 916m or 3,005’ we were able to make a very quick ascent to the summit up a broad ridge. The views back towards Ben Lui showed the real character of the mountain.

Elaine admiring the view towards Ben Cruachan

It was then a very quick descent back to the bealach where we turned NW and descended into corrie (Fionn Choirei), which led us back to the stile at the top of the forested area. We then retraced our ascent route through the forest, and once again had to wade across the River Lochy to arrive safely at the ‘van.

It had been a wonderful day that we both really enjoyed.

On the slopes of Ben Lui looking towards Beinn a' Chleibh, with Ben Cruachan in the background

Elaine and Cameron on summit of Beinn a' Chleibh

About Cameron Speirs

Born and brought up in the Scottish Highlands, Cameron, has been interested in outdoor pursuits since he was a wee lad. Over the last few decades he has climbed extensively in the Italian Dolomites as well as summiting the Matterhorn and several other 4000m alpine peaks. Closer to home he has spent many wonderful weekends mountaineering and biking in Snowdonia, Cairngorms, Glen Coe, Skye and Lochaber.
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