The Ben Lawers Five [# 84-88]

Beinn Ghlas (1103m); Ben Lawers (1214m); An Stuc (1118m);
Meall Garbh (1118m); Meall Greigh (1001m)

  • Pronunciation:              Bine Glaz; Ben Lawers; Un Stook; Miaowl Garav; Miaowl Gree
  • Translation:                   Grey-green Mountain; Mountain of the Hoof or Claw or, more likely, Loud Mountain; Rocky Cone; Rough Hill; Hill of the Cattle Herd
  • Total distance:              24.1km
  • Total time:                     8hrs 1mins
  • Total ascent:                 1578m
  • Weather:                        Grey and misty. Light snow showers on Beinn Ghlas summit. Light winds. Weather brightened only on descent from last summit – but still caught in a couple of rain showers.
  • Start / end location:   National Trust for Scotland car-park just south of Lochan na Lairige reservoir. [OS Map Sheet 51 – Grid Ref: NN 609 379]
  • 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.

The mighty Ben Lawers briefly uncovered

Today’s MET Office mountain weather forecast for the hills of the southern Highlands promised much drier and brighter conditions than were actually delivered. This was frustrating as our plans to complete a round of the Lawers Munros (five in total) would have been much more rewarding in brighter and clearer weather than we actually experienced.

Despite our disappointment with the actual versus forecasted weather, we set out early in heavy damp mist from the NTS “Ben Lawers” car-park hoping to avoid the inevitable weekend “crowds”. We needn’t have worried about the crowds as none materialised all day.

Elaine at the summit of Beinn Ghlas

Our route began with us following a path north from the car-park through a fence-enclosed thin ribbon of young trees before we turned NE to join the south ridge from Beinn Ghlas. It was an excellent path that took us up this ridge and all the way to the summit of Beinn Ghlas at 1103m or 3,619’: our first Munro of the day. During the last 200m of ascent the damp mist gave way to a light shower of snow, which we feared might continue and soon hide the excellent path. Thankfully, the shower soon abated.

Cameron at the misty summit cairn of Ben Lawers

From Beinn Ghlas we followed an easy ridge to the NE, which dropped to a col at 990m before connecting to the steep WSW ridge of Ben Lawers. En route to the col the shroud of mist opened briefly to reveal the basic form of the mighty Ben Lawers. All too soon the view was gone. The steep climb to the top of Ben Lawers was then conducted in the thick mist with no reward of a view from the summit cairn and Trig Point. This was a real disappointment as Ben Lawers, at 1214m or 3,983’, is the highest mountain peak south of the Nevis range in the west and the Cairngorms in the east. No doubt the views in all directions would have been spectacular – but today we were denied that pleasure. Instead we had to content ourselves that by the end of day we’d have conquered five Munros: a significant uplift to our growing tally.

Cameron at the summit cairn of An Stuc

Our route from the Ben Lawers summit now turned northward as we descended a ridge to a small col before climbing again to reach the “Top” called Creag an Fhithich (1047m). From this “Top” we continued north to another col, which marked the beginning of the ascent of An Stuc. The path up the ridge of An Stuc was clear and straightforward and we soon came across a small cairn at the top of the ridge. I knew that the summit was close by, but after continuing along the path for a 100m or so I realised that it was beginning to descend and therefore the previous cairn had been the actual summit marker at a height of 1118m or 3,668’. We retraced our steps just so we could get an obligatory summit photo in the glorious mist!

Elaine at the summit cairn of Meall Garbh

The continuation of our route from An Stuc to Meall Garbh involved the descent of a very steep ridge. At the top of this ridge I searched around for the right line to take, and because the snow was fringed with ice in the gullies we donned our crampons to see us safely down. One manoeuvre involved a front-pointed descent down a steep thin gully of hard snow. It is amazing how much more difficult it is to descend slopes than to ascend them.

Once over this tricky section we took off our crampons and continued across yet another col before climbing up the straightforward SW ridge of Meall Garbh. The summit of Meall Garbh, at 1118m or 3,668’ (yes, exactly the same height as An Stuc), was marked by a small cairn of rocks.

Elaine at the summit cairn of Meall Greigh

The final stage of the route between Meall Garbh and the last Munro of the day, Meall Greigh, involved 3km of high-level walking, without any difficulties encountered. There were some pleasant snow slopes to carefully glissade down from Meall Garbh that were mirrored by some less favourable snow slopes to climb up to reach Meall Greigh. Despite the latter we were soon standing at another small pile of rocks at 1001m or 3,284’ on the summit of Meall Greigh.

Looking west towards Ben Lawers and An Stuc from the southern slopes of Meall Greigh

Looking NW across the dam to the SE slopes of Meall Garbh

The line of descent from here was for us to head SSE and then south to a slight saddle in the ridge where we then turned west and aimed towards the dam at the top of the Lawers Burn. This involved an awkward traversing line over about 1.5km dropping from 790m to 610m. Once at the dam it was easy to cross its outflow, which was almost completely dry. Having crossed to the other side of the dry Lawers Burn we joined the land-rover track that skirted at constant elevation around the SE fringes of the Lawers massif. This track went on for what felt like miles … actually about 2.5 miles until it began to zigzag downwards to join the main-road at Tombreck Farm. Unfortunately, this easy descent line was not for us, as we had to leave the track at the top of the first zigzag and take, once again, to the open hillside for another grueling 3km of pathless traversing until we eventually reached the minor road where a final 1.5km uphill march brought us back to our car.

It had been a very long but rewarding day of five Munros climbed: it was just a pity that almost all of it was conducted in thick mist. May be better luck with the weather next time?

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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