Walk of the week: Ben Cruachan

Ben Cruachan. Picture: Contributed
Ben Cruachan. Picture: Contributed
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RISING above road, river and railway in the congested Pass of Brander, the rugged and complex mountain mass of Cruachan boasts two Munros: 1,126m/3,694ft Ben Cruachan itself and 998m/3,274ft Stob Diamh.

Although lower, Stob Diamh maintains the symmetry of the connecting ridge, a classic traverse high above the Cruachan Reservoir. Hugh Munro was in no doubt about granting dual status. Stob Diamh has been a distinct Munro since the original 1891 list.

Given the near sea-level start, the 1,100m climb puts Ben Cruachan in the top ten of highest climbs to a Munro. It took me nearly three hours, John a bit less, on a well-nigh perfect day. However, that ascent has differing sections: a steep wooded path, a walk by the reservoir, a worn way to a col, and then the final bouldery approach – effort rewarded on reaching what is a superb viewpoint. Continuing to Stob Diamh involves another 300m, but scarcely noticed when enjoying the traverse.

Cruachan is literally a powerhouse of a mountain. The innovative pumped storage hydro scheme, built in the 1960s, has reversible turbine generators to pump water back to the reservoir during off-peak hours. Prior to the damming of the Allt Cruachan, a tiny lochan in the corrie was used as grazing ground for cattle, and the flow of water over the Falls of Cruachan would have justified their mention on the map, but not now.

Map Ordnance Survey map 50, Glen Orchy & Loch Etive

Distance 8 miles

Height 1,400m

Terrain Path (and track) to summit, then ridge traverse

Start point North side of A85, by steps to station halt, map ref 080267

Time 7 to 8 hours

Nearest village Lochawe

Refreshment spot Glenorchy Lodge Hotel, Dalmally

The Route

The Cruachan visitor centre car park is locked early in the evening. Instead, use the lay-by by the stepped entrance to the unstaffed Falls of Cruachan railway halt (with no lighting, it is only open until 26 October).

Crouch through the railway underpass, then beneath tensioned wires known as “Anderson’s Piano” after its inventor and the noise they are said to make; erected on the mountainside to give warning of not infrequent boulders on the railway line.

A narrow path slants through scrubby woodland, then more steeply northwards on the east bank of the Allt Cruachan, a 400m climb, with one awkward stile, then by track to the reservoir dam. Carefully climb the metal ladder (though this can be bypassed) to reach the top of the dam. Note the metal cylinder, a collection box for the Oban Mountain Rescue Team.

Follow the track on the west side of the reservoir, climb north-west into Coire Dearg on a Munro path, and so to the 825m col below Meall Cuanail. The final climb avoids some of the rough granite boulders to reach the aptly named narrow pyramid summit. The trig point is now but a broken stump.

To the west is the seldom-visited 1,104m Stob Dearg, known locally as Taynuilt Peak; arguably the most attractive of all Cruachan’s peaks.

Now for the 1½ mile undulating ridge. The traverse may take longer than anticipated – allow a good hour – but just enjoy the day. The only awkward spot is soon reached, a bulging slab easily crossed on a dry day just below the high point. Otherwise descend even lower to the avoiding path. Thereafter, stay close to the crest at most times and follow the path.

The 1,009m Drochaid Ghlas, just off the main ridge, lies at about the midpoint. Descend to the lowest point on the ridge at 870m, from where the climb to the large cairn on Stob Diamh (peak of the stag) is straightforward.

Descend on the south ridge, albeit with a slight ascent over 980m Stob Garbh, following the worn path. From around map ref 095291 slant SW then SSW to reach the east side of the dam.