Beinn Chabhair (933m); Beinn a’ Chroin (942m); An Caisteal (995m)
- Pronunciation: Bine Chavair; Bine yuh Kroyne; Un Cashtyal
- Translation: Hawk or Antler Mountain; Hill of Danger or Harm; The Castle
- Total distance: 15.6km
- Total time: 8hrs 10mins
- Total ascent: 1507m
- Weather: Mixed. Mainly bright with some broken sunshine interlaced with some sharp snow and hail showers. Severe gale force winds on the summits, especially Beinn a’ Chroin. Lower down the slopes the wind was generally light.
- Start / end location: At lay-by opposite entrance to Derrydaroch Farm on the A82 just 4km south of Crianlarich. [OS Map Sheets 50 or 56 – Grid Ref: NN 351 220]
- Map: A map of route can be found here – it may take a few moments to load into a separate window. The map displays on most browsers, but not unfortunately Internet Explorer.
This morning we struggled to decide what mountain to climb today. We’d had a physically tough day on the hills yesterday and would have welcomed just climbing an easier single Munro. However, the only single one left to do nearby was Ben Vorlich a bit further north of Beinns Ime and Narnain. The only hesitation that I had was that Ben Vorlich, although only a relatively modest climb of around 14km, does involve a very sustained and steep ascent up the grassy side of the hill, which at this time was covered in thick and thawing snow. Plodding through the snowfield didn’t really bother me but the very real danger of it avalanching did! Yesterday we had seen plenty of telltale debris of small avalanches having taken place and now as the snow begins to thaw and get wetter and heavier the consequences of getting caught in a wet avalanche, even a minor one, is significantly more dangerous.
So having decided not to tackle Ben Vorlich today this left us with a bit of an issue as the only other hills in the vicinity that we still had left to climb were three just south of Crianlarich.
We’ve been using a couple of guidebooks for bagging the Munros: one by Cameron McNeish [McNeish09] and the other by Steve Kew [Kew08]. These books are generally excellent, but on some of the routes, especially those involving multiple Munros, their descriptions on potential ascent lines can vary (understandably). This is definitely the case covering the three we were eyeing up today. Steve Kew suggests that they get tackled over two outings, whereas Cameron McNeish says that despite most people being “disinclined” to loose so much height descending from one to climb back up to the second and third, “the ascent of all three summits in one day is not only feasible, but quite practical”. Cameron McNeish also notes that there is only 950m of ascent required to climb all three in a single round. [The sharp eye’d amongst you will see from my route notes above that there was actually 1507m of ascent required … a quite different proposition altogether! Steve Kew also makes comments that “in winter it would be inadvisable in deteriorating conditions to try to locate the route back to An Caisteal [Munro 3] from Beinn a’ Chroin [Munro 2], as it could be very hard to find the correct point of descent, and the consequences of missing the right line could be very unpleasant. In full winter conditions the ascent of Beinn a’ Chroin by this route would in any event be a serious undertaking.”
Well, we are in “full winter conditions”, so you can probably understand from the description above why I was hesitant in deciding exactly what to do. But after a bit of indecision we decided to climb Beinn Chabhair by a route that did not preclude us from continuing and including the other two Munros should the conditions, and our enthusiasm, allow. So with that plan in mind we parked at a convenient lay-by on the A82 just opposite to Derrydaroch Farm and got kitted up.
As we started out the weather looked quite bright and promising: albeit not as stunning as yesterday. We crossed the A82 and then took the bridge over the River Falloch that leads to the farm. After passing a couple of farm buildings we continued on a track for a few hundred metres until we reached a fork, where we turned left. We stayed on the track for a further 100m before taking to the open hillside in a SSE direction towards the little glen containing the Allt a’ Chuilinn burn between the ridges of Stob Glas and Stob Creag an Fhithich. There was no path to follow and the ground was quite boggy in places. After curving round the lower slope of Stob Glas we soon reached the burn where we followed its course up the NE bank until we were in line with the corner of a small wooded grove on the opposite bank. Here we found a suitable place to cross the burn and continued upwards on the SW side of the burn.
After just under 1km, and just below the major cliffs of Stob Creag an Fhithich, we began to climb steeply SSE towards an obvious notch in the ridgeline between Meall nan Tarmachan and Beinn Chabhair. Once at this notch (small col) at around 720m we turned left to climb the steep NW ridge to reach the summit of Beinn Chabhair at 933m or 3,061’.
The visibility on the summit was mixed with cloud generally obscuring any views. We did, however, catch sight of the summits of An Caisteal and Beinn a’ Chroin, and most importantly I was able to discern what looked to be a suitable approach for getting up to the col between the two. At this point we agreed to continue on towards Chroin and Caisteal.
We dropped quickly from the summit of Chabhair by following a broad ridgeline to the NE, picking our way through some steep craggy cliffs. All the time I was monitoring the potential for avalanches and ensuring that we stuck towards the edges of any major snowfields.
To reach the col below involved a long drop in elevation down to 610m. This loss of height is why Cameron McNeish suggests that many people will be “disinclined” to link Chabhair with its other two Munro neighbours in a single outing. Not us however!
En route to this low col the visibility had closed in and I was only afforded a couple of glimpses of a potential route up the other side. But this was all that I needed to give me confidence in our course once we reached the col. The route from the col skirted ENE below the major cliffs extending from An Caisteal to reach another col between An Caisteal and Beinn a’ Chroin. As we reached this col the wind really picked up causing buffeted spindrift to sting our eyes.
Once at the col I was really delighted to see a set of recent foot-prints in the deep snow coming from An Caisteal and disappearing up towards the very steep ridge of Beinn a’ Chroin. We turned ESE and began to follow the prints and as we did so I noticed a lone man crossing northward just below the steep cliffs a few hundred metres in front of us (he was heading down Coire Earb to the north). I didn’t think that he’d noticed us but I guessed that those were his footprints that we were following and that he’d climbed the steep snowy cliffs on the left hand side and found an easier way off down the right. Just beyond where his ascending footprints were intersected by his descending steps we noticed that his upwards footprints came to an abrupt halt at a particularly steep line of snow. Slightly more worrying was that he appeared to have lost his footing at this point as there was obvious signs that he’d slid a few tens of metres – but nothing serious. I then thought that he’d probably decided to ascend a route more towards the right hand side of the craggy ridge and this was why his other set of prints had descended from that direction. I was sure that we’d come across his prints once we’d overcome this particular section.
So far we’d just been relying on our crampons and walking poles but at this point we changed our poles for our ice-axes and began tackling the ribbon of snow. Although it was quite steep it never felt too intimidating and as I glanced down to see how Elaine was getting on below I noticed the man we’d seen earlier sitting watching us. We exchanged waves.
Once at the top of this steep section the ridge was much more straightforward and we were soon on our way towards the summit. By this time the wind had picked up to severe gale force and at times we actually walked hand-in-hand (how romantic) to keep ourselves from being buffeted too much. There were no additional footprints leading towards the summit and I can only surmise that the chap we’d seen below had tried to overcome these steep cliffs but had not succeeded – and this was why he was probably watching to see how we got on.
When we reached the summit (the true summit is the middle one at 942m or 3,091’ and is not marked as such in older OS maps) I took a very quick photo of Elaine and we retraced our steps back to the top of the steep ribbon of snow. This was the part of the route the Steve Kew indicated was “a serious undertaking in full winter conditions” – as we had today. We descended by reversing our steps – front-pointing on our crampons as we went.
We arrived safely back at the col and the only thing now between where we were and us heading home was the climb of the third, and highest, Munro of the day. Luckily, at the col we were starting at around 810m so it didn’t take us too long to ascend another 185m NNW up an easier ridge to reach the summit of An Caisteal at 995m or 3,264’.
From the summit we continued in a NNW direction following “Twistin Hill” ridge until at a convenient spot about 1km before Sron Gharbh we left the ridge and plunged NW down into the adjacent glen containing the Allt Andoran burn. We followed this pathless glen down a kilometre or so before crossing the burn and veering west passed the foot of Stob Glas to return to Derrydaroch Farm and our car nearby.
It had been a challenging eight hour day with significantly more ascent required than was suggested in Cameron McNeish’s guidebook: a further 59% more to be precise. But it had been worth it.