The Cruachan Horseshoe [# 90 & 91]

Ben Cruachan (1126m); Stob Diamh (998m)

  • Pronunciation:              Ben Krooerchan; Stob Dive
  • Translation:                   Conical Heap on the Mountain; Peak of the Stag
  • Total distance:              15.2km
  • Total time:                     6hrs 51mins
  • Total ascent:                 1445m
  • Weather:                        Grey and overcast with mist on the summits all day. A few brief rain showers. Very little wind.
  • Start / end location:   Adjacent to the entrance for the Cruachan Power Station on the banks of Loch Awe and directly beneath the pedestrian access to the Cruachan railway station. Limited parking along the side of the A85 road. [OS Map Sheet 50 – Grid Ref: NN 079 268]
  • 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 buttress design of Cruachan Dam

We managed to squeeze the car onto a small piece of level ground just below the Cruachan Railway Station, which was very handy as this was the start of today’s route. We shouldered our rucksacks and climbed the few steps from the roadside towards the station platform, but just before getting there we “crossed” the railway track via an underpass (of sorts) that was so low that some thoughtful sole had crayoned: “Mind Yer Head – ouch!” on the exposed girders. Once on the other side of the line we climbed steeply for 250m through young scrub trees that were already beginning to encroach on the path. The path ran high above the course of a burn that had cut a steep-sided gorge and created the “Falls of Cruachan”. After around 800m of walking from the roadside we crossed a very precarious high stile before the trees gave way to more open hillside.

Elaine getting ready to ascend the access ladder onto Cruachan Dam

A little further along we joined the Cruachan Dam access road, where we turned left and arced round until the road reached the bottom of the dam, midway between its span. The Cruachan Hydro-Electric Power station sits in a huge underground cavern some way below the dam itself and houses four giant turbines / pumps. It is the largest pump-storage hydro system in Scotland. The dam stands 46m at its tallest point and two large-bore pipes (hidden from view) carry the water from the dammed reservoir down into the underground turbine hall. After turning the turbines the residue water flows into Loch Awe below via a tailrace. During periods of low demand on the National Grid, the turbines are reversed, essentially creating huge pumps, which pump water from Loch Awe back up into the Cruachan Dam reservoir ready for the next consumer peak in demand for electricity.

Cameron approaching the top of the ladder accessing Cruachan Dam

Cruachan Dam from the west side of the reservoir

Looking west up Coire Dearg to Ben Cruachan (R) and Beinn a Bhuiridh (L)

Cameron on the summit of Ben Cruachan

Turning west from the dam’s midpoint, a series of grassy steps took us higher up the sidewall of the dam until we were able to climb a metal-rung ladder to access the dam’s ramparts. It was such a shame that the misty conditions obscured the views from the walkway on top of the dam.

We exited the dam by its west side and followed a good land-rover track round the western shore of the reservoir until we had reached its northern tip. Here we headed WNW into Coire Dearg, which nestled between Ben Cruachan to its north and Meall Cuanail to the south. A path led all the way up this corrie, which steepened noticeably as it reached the col between Ben Cruachan and Meall Cuanail. Once on the col we turned north and followed the steep boulder ridge all the way to the broken Trig Point on the summit of Ben Cruachan at 1126m or 3,694’.

A long and excellent quality rocky ridge that undulated along its narrow course took us due east until we climbed again to reach the top of Drochaid Ghlas at 1009m. Here we had to retrace our steps off the summit to pick up the path again so as to avoid the very steep NNE and east ridges. All of this time the mist was limiting our visibility, which always made choosing the right line of descent a bit more tricky. However, once we had cleared the rocky section leading from Drochaid Ghlas the path became more obvious and easier to follow. After a couple more drops to small cols we began to climb the east ridge of Stob Daimh to reach its summit cairn at 998m or 3,274’. The descent route then took the south ridge initially downward but then back up over a subsidiary top at 980m before finally descending all the way to a broad col prior to it rising again steeply towards Beinn a’ Bhùiridh. At this low col we turned west and facing towards the reservoir dropped down a grassy slope to reach the rocky shoreline some 300m below.  On our descent we stayed to the north of the burn that also flowed down from the col: this was important as the burn formed a deep incised cleft in the hillside whose southern bank would have made for a tricky descent line. Near the shore of the reservoir the cleft that the burn sat in became much shallower and so easier to cross.

Elaine on the summit of Stob Daimh

Once across we continued south along the eastern shore of the reservoir until about 300m from the dam where we joined a good track that led to the dam. The track then followed a broad sweeping line to join up with the access road below the dam that we’d walked along earlier in the day. From this road we found the path back alongside the Falls of Cruachan and through the wooded area to reach our car parked by the railway station.

After a brief look around the Cruachan “Hollow Mountain” visitor centre we headed back to our ‘van, which we’d left parked back near Tyndrum – looking out all the time for a suitable overnight wild camping spot.

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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