Ben Lui breaks free of the clouds
THE talk on the radio was all about this winter being comparatively mild, yet as I looked out of the car window it was clear that the higher reaches of the hills were still swathed in snow.
Crampons and ice axes strapped to my pack I set off from the King’s Field – Dalrigh – just south-east of Tyndrum. In 1306 a battle took place here between the MacDougall’s of Lorn and the forces of Robert the Bruce, hence the name, but there was no hint of war or conflict this morning. Chaffinches cavorted around the car, and great tits sang their familiar two-syllable song. There was more blue in the sky than clouds and whenever the sun appeared from behind one of them there was a definite hint of warmth in it. A dazzling warmth too – I was going to need my sunglasses.
I was heading for the Munro pair of Ben Oss and Beinn Dubhcraig, fairly easy hills that rise on the south side of the Cononish glen. Both hills tend to be overshadowed by the beauty of Beinn Laoigh, one of Scotland’s most attractive mountains, but their traverse usually offers some stunning views down the length of Glen Falloch to the Crianlarich hills and Loch Lomond.
From the south Ben Oss, 3373 ft/1028m, appears as a fine pointed peak and Beinn Dubhcraig 3205 ft/977m is more rounded but presents a craggy well broken face. But from the north-east, the usual approach, Oss falls down in steep slopes above Coire Buidhe while the summit ridge of Beinn Dubhcraig, dominates the open slopes of Coire Duchcraig above recent forestry plantations.
Today the corrie slopes were blindingly white and I decided to tackle the hill from its north-east ridge rather than from its north ridge, the usual approach. This meant following a forestry track high into Gleann Auchreoch before crossing the ice splintered burn of the Allt Gleann Auchreoch. The awkward river crossing out of the way I could then enjoy a trackless wander up through the old pine woods of the Coile Coire Chuilc.
This old remnant of the Caledonian Pine Forest looks to be in reasonable health, with a lot of young trees poking through the snow drifts. The older granny pines were gorgeous in the morning light, their trunks bark-orange, contrasting with the glaucous blue-green of the foliage, each tree distinctive in shape and character. Such trees, with a background of snow–capped hills, so magnificently portrays the abiding character of highland Scotland.
On the opposite bank of the deep-cut Allt Coire Dubhcraig, a muddy and eroded footpath runs up into the mountain’s corrie. In contrast, I ambled up unspoiled slopes of moss and lichen, serenaded by siskin, blue tits and chaffinch, the glades shadowy and secretive. But it wasn’t long before my woodland idyll was broken by a band of modern conifers, closely planted and difficult to walk through. A snow-filled forest break took me to the foot of the north-east ridge from where it was a crampon job all the way to the summit, a delightful romp on crisp consolidated snow with wide-ranging views opening up all round.
There was big and bulky Ben More with the more seductive lines of Stob Binnein beside it, and all the Crianlarich hills arrayed above the deep trench of Glen Falloch. Ben Lomond lorded it over the silver slit of Loch Lomond, with the Arrochar Alps looking more Alpine than ever, but it was a hill closer at hand that held the eye. Beyond neighbouring Beinn Oss rose the double-topped peak of Ben Lui. This mountain is surely the queen of the Southern Highlands, its two long and steep ridges bounding its upper couloir. And it looked close enough to touch.
But Beinn Oss was even closer. A high level col connects it to Beinn Dubhcraig’s north ridge from where the route follows a wide ridge over a knobbly summit and then onwards in a south-west direction to the summit. It’s possible to descend immediately north into Glen Cononish but the ground is steep and broken in places so it’s probably advisable to return over the knobbly summit and back onto Beinn Dubhcraig where its north ridge can be followed back down to the lower reaches of Glen Cononish.