Crianlarich Group backpack
The taxi decants me into the syrupy heat of a Scottish afternoon; perhaps a double rarity, the heat and the train mishap that allows me to alight at Inverarnan for gentle beginnings rather than at Crianlarich and the sort of climb that permanently strips your legs of glycogen and mind of will.
Drippy hot and still. It’s a late afternoon kick-off towards a summit camp on Beinn Chabhair.
Red is the first day...green the second...and blue....
Already in a rut - evidence of the popularity of the falls above Beinglas perhaps?
Progress is steady, wet, and humid up the airless oven of Beinglas Burn; a few words being passed with russet returners from the peak.
The trace of a way crosses grasses towards Meall nan Tarmachan whose slopes are noticeably cut by the path as it squirms around rocky excrescences towards Beinn Chabhair. Straight away this hill charms me – you could spend many a happy hour dallying around its slopes.
The bonus of a taxi around the shores of Loch Lomond has been an unanticipated treat, and for once the frailty of the rail system and failing trains is to be applauded.
At around 6pm the tent goes up around 30m below the summit of Beinn Chabhair, facing to the West over what must distantly be Argyll.
Dining is leisurely if expensive with Waitrose 2 minute pasta to thank (take out a new mortgage is this becomes a carbohydrate habit), the sun streams in and frequent visits to and from the summit are paid…just in case I miss something!
At around 10pm the light is beginning to slip from the day and slumber calls.
A bleary morning eye is gladdened by the puck-puck of rain dancing on the flysheet at around 4am and burrowing down is the order of the day. And what a day it will be, easy on paper – hard on the legs. Draining even.
A little cloud is rolling through the valleys around the hill – but nothing very impressive.
A slight curse is bestowed upon a lack of thorough guide-book perusal as the Southern spur of the hill is descended for a while before I swing off [NN3679 1777] and head North-east down steep grass and around – and on one nearly unlucky occasion over, little craglets. Just beyond spot height 619m a path is found heading up to Bealach Buidhe.
Pack hits ground. Immense relief. I hit hill. A floatiness reminiscent of post piggy-back days at school is relived and An Caisteal is easily ascended. And is visible….
….unlike in February
Meanwhile…back at the bealach it is breakfast time. An overfull me wobbles up Beinn a’ Chroin; the few pictures taken did little justice to how delightful this steep and unlikely little ascent was.
The top reveals a plethora of camping spots and two friendly chaps en route for Balquhidder. My polite yet mystified mien is all too revealing and it rapidly dawns on them that I have not a clue… so they tell me where it is and then obligingly point out all the surrounding hills.
We go our separate ways where drainage from the hill drops down into Coire Earb – I pick up a traversing path around the hill that dinks North, leaving it just past two small lochans [NN3928 1938] to slalom downhill too an attractive watering hole just South of Stob Glas Bheag.
Close-up it is mushy and moist with all manner of plant life and a few squirmy tadpoles – yet no sign of midge-life.
Leaden legs (why so?) dictate a line of least resistance working between sheep tracks just North of East towards the bealach between Beinn Tulaichean and Cruach Ardrain; a long leg-drainer that has me casting about for relief – a little of which comes with a shower that spatters down as I reach a mini-howff in which I crouch like a goblin until it passes.
It is a directish line back to the waterfall….
M&Ms, pine nuts, marzipan and a healthy disregard for a macrobiotic diet carry me to the bealach which has nice rock scenery.
Dump sack. Heave sigh of relief. Set up off Beinn Tulaichean like an automaton. Not the best way and I’m tiring (ho ho, doncha know it).
I flop for a bit and wonder… why? Don’t reach many conclusions and so onwards and (wildly enthusiastically) upwards is the way towards Cruach Ardrain and all of its fascinating intricacies; a fine hill. A glimmer of humanity surfaces.
Vigour is restored and required for the verticality that follows as the path drops down to the stolid platform of Stob Garbh, bounded to the East by what must be the midge breeding grounds of choice for these hills – a marshy morass.
But it’s all lovely…I’m ‘totally’ peace and harmony. The descent has popped adrenaline levels to semi-conscious and an inviting if soggy runway leading out North-East from the bealach towards Coire nam Boc seduces with a ‘this is the way to go’ promise. Perhaps it is a way to go – the way, who knows; but it goes on legs shot at by the descents and pathless choices of the day.
All logic aside I decided from a view since gone that camp will be at the head of Inverlochlarig Glen. No rhyme or reason here, a decision based on needing a point of reference.
And once there relaxation and fatigue leave me wandering fecklessly about for a bit looking for the ‘ideal’ pitch.
Eventually a glimmering of rationality breaks through and the tent goes up, sheltered from the veritable hoolie gusting through the pass by a large boulder.
Relaxation. Hunting for a mobile signal; no. A paltry dinner. Some serious consideration of nipping down the valley the morn for an early breakfast as the clouds gather. AKA – ‘giving up’…’throwing in the towel’ that sort of thing.
Some lovely honeyed baklava restores spirits, bounce, and consciousness to an extent…and a play with the GPS gives an idea of commitment. Dreamless sleep follows.
Awake to grey day…..
But last night’s monochome thoughts are gone. Off by 6am weaving my way from the bealach through an area riven by gurgling streams and rivulets towards where I guess a path from Crianlarich will ascend to Bealach-eadar-dha Bheinn; and I join this at about the 700m contour just South of the main stream down from the bealach. Steepness ensues.
Rhythm and sung rhyme help. Shuck sack; instant happiness. I leave it where it falls.
Twenty seemingly effortless minutes later I am at the summit of Stob Binnein where you can just see your hand in front of your face…..
….and 10 minutes after that I am back down at the col.
Mental baggage is not so light though…and the next (final – fanfare of trumpets) climb to Ben More is not so flighty….albeit made more entertaining (distracting) by easy rock work.
I have arrived at the cusp of the day….the clouds are rolling in but burning off with greater frequency, the promise of ‘better’ that I felt through the mists on Stob Binnein will be realized, but not for me on this day; I am not complaining.
Pain follows. A 1000m plummet to a 4km tarmac walk-out is not the best fun to be had in life as you feel several micrometers of patella being eroded.
But it all ends, more or less at the car park, and the rest is brain free.
Into Crainlarich for breakfast – at lunchtime. The Hotel is welcoming; fish and chips more so – the homemade chips being the best (and it’s not just hunger talking here) that I have had in years.
Sated I bask in the hot sun for a few mindless moments and board the train…..a little while later I can see The Cobbler from the window – what magnificence; plans begin
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