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HOME AT FIRST'S

ADVENTURE

CENTRAL SCOTLAND

HILLWALKERS CATCHING THEIR BREATH AT THE SCENIC COL BETWEEN BEINN GHLAS AND BEN LAWERS.

What follows is written for those mad enough, curious enough, or unconventional
enough to risk discomfort long enough to take a chance on experiencing an
incomparable day while bagging TWO official Scottish MunroS.

 

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED IN SPRING, 2011.                                                   MOST RECENT UPDATE: 2014.

 
 

          Climbing Scotland’s highest mountains puts off most visitors. The changeable climate of the northern regions of the island of Britain almost guarantees its hundreds of jagged peaks see some rain, some wind, and some cold most days.    
          But for most of us it isn’t the notorious Scottish weather that makes us shy about climbing the hills. It’s the whether. Whether we want to get up early enough to get to the trailhead in the early light. Whether we want to slog through dew-drenched, calf-high bracken hunting for a way around the trail that has become a quagmire. Whether we really want to soak our clothes with sweat and make our lungs and legs ache just to have lunch sitting on some unsuitable outcropping unprotected from the gales, or, worse, viewless in the chill cloud. Whether we believe it possible that a pint of semi-warm Scottish ale tastes any better in some mountain pub than it does in your village local, or at home on the couch. Whether your stories of braving Scotland’s rugged, exposed peaks will ever mean much to anybody, self included.

 
 

Munro-Bagging:

Eccentric Sport in Central Scotland

 

120 YEARS OF ECCENTRICITY: Until Sir Hugh Munro, a Scottish aristocrat with lots of time on his hands, published his list of Scotland’s peaks over 3,000 feet high some 120 years ago, some observers believed there to be something fewer than three dozen such summits. Munro’s list expanded the number of top-peaks by a factor of nine. Moreover, Sir Hugh set out to climb every one of the nearly 300 mountains he had listed. He failed, missing just two or three peaks before dying in the great influenza outbreak that followed World War I. But the mountaineer’s eccentricity itself became epidemic among British outdoorsmen, who began categorizing such peaks “Munros”, and founded a new hobby, called Munro-bagging.
          Today, official lists of Munros include about 283 Scottish mountain peaks of 3,000 feet or more. A second — confusing — listing,
“Munro Tops”, includes a further 227 peaks of at least 3,000 feet of altitude that are secondary summits on already-listed Munros. Mountains, unlike most skyscraper buildings, do not cooperate when establishing their high points. Many more closely mimic many-gabled cottages, with several summits of varying height separated by dips that do not require much descent and re-ascent. Oh, and that’s just the beginning of this hobby for the hobnailed set. Scottish (and other British and Irish) mountains, it seems, are

Sir Hugh Munro, pioneer Scottish mountaineer. His first Munro (3,000' tall Scottish mountain) may have been Ben Lawers. Photo PD-Art.
Sir Hugh Munro, pioneer
Scottish mountaineer. His
first Munro (3,000' tall
Scottish mountain) may
have been Ben Lawers.
 

nearly as classifiable as the animal kingdom. Landscape

 

Linnaeuses further define peaks as Corbetts (2,500-3,000 feet high), Grahams (2,000-2,500 feet high), Donalds, Murdos, Furths, Nuttalls, Hewitts, Wainwrights (fells), Marilyns, Hardys, Council Tops, and County Tops. To my knowledge, a similar stratification by nomenclature does not exist in the Alps, the Rockies, the Sierra, the Andes, the Hindu Kush, or the Himalaya, or in any other mountain ranges higher than the hills of the British Isles. I think eccentric is a fair appellation for this particular Anglo-Celtic compulsion.
          Among the more intriguing — and confusing — classifications are the
Marilyns, so named as a pun on Munro, a classification they often are paired with. Marilyns exist as a statement of “relative height” to their nearest higher neighbor, known as their “parent”. To obtain Marilyn status, a peak must be at least 150 meters (about 500 feet) higher than the height of the high ground “pass” between it and its parent. The Marilyn classification provides mountain hikers and climbers a pretty good idea about the minimum ascent and descent they will encounter when bagging one or more peaks in a given region.
          Munros are scattered across Scotland. Some stand alone. Others cluster in ridges and ranges. Most populate remote portions of the Highlands. Some rise precipitously from the Hebrides. A significant few can be easily reached from populated parts of Scotland. Among these latter are included some of the highest Munros and several within day-trip reach of
Home At First lodgings in Central Scotland, Inverness & Northern Scotland, and the cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow. Because one of these is the tenth highest mountain in the British Isles and in the virtual backyard of (and therefore most easily reached by) Home At First guests who come to Central Scotland, we have selected Ben Lawers (and its companion peak Beinn Ghlas) as our recommended candidates baggable as your first first Marilyn and your first two Munros.

 

 

 

Ben Lawers & Beinn Ghlas
Flanking the northwestern shore of long Loch Tay just beyond the northeastern corner of Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park, these two conjoined Munros contend as markers of the geographic center of mainland Scotland. Both high and accessible, Ben Lawers (pronounced "Ben Lars" in Scots Gaelic) and Beinn Ghlas (pronounced "Bin Glass" in Scots Gaelic) attract steady streams of hillwalkers (British for mountain hikers) in good weather during the warmer months. With the principal trailhead just 15 minutes northeast of
Home At First’s cottages in Killin, Central Scotland, these two big Bens can be climbed together in a single day without leaving home before sun-up or without breakfast.
 

  BEN LAWERS BEINN GHLAS

HEIGHT

in Feet (meters)

3,912' (1,214m) 3,619' (1,103m)

RANK OF HEIGHT
in the British Isles

10th Highest 47th Highest
CLASSIFICATIONS

Munro (#10), Marilyn,
Perth & Kinross Council Top, Perthshire County Top

Munro (#47)
PARENT PEAK Ben Nevis (#1) Ben Lawers (#10)

Range: Grampians (Central Highlands)

Neighboring Peaks: Meall nan Tarmachan (3,425’, #91), Meall Corranaich (3,507’, #69), An Stuc (3,667’, #34), Meall Garbh (3,667’, #35), Meall Greigh (3,284’, #139).

Total Combined Round-Trip Ascent + Descent: 1,958m (6,424’) (Ben Lawers + Beinn Ghlas)

Total Combined Round-Trip Distance: 12-14 miles

Total Combined Round-Trip Time: 5-7 hours

Difficulty Rating (out of 5 Stars): HHHH (Visitor Centre to Ben Lawers via Beinn Ghlas using main route on average day June into October). Add difficulty by lengthening the route, changing the start/end point, during colder times of year, or by cold/wet/snowy weather.

Map Needed: Ordnance Survey Landranger 51 “Loch Tay”.

Nearest Home At First Lodgings: Killin & Kenmore, Central Scotland

Getting to the Trailhead: Drive the A827 about 5 miles northeast of Killin. Turn left on the single-track (one-lane) road for Glen Lyon. Follow this road steeply uphill about 1.5 miles to the parking lot of the Visitor Centre (now closed) on the right (NE) side of the road. Park here. The trailhead is at a gate by the parking lot.

 

 

 

 

The Trail & The Climb

 

BEGIN AT THE VISITOR CENTRE PARKING LOT. Follow the trail from the Visitor Centre parking lot uphill through the fenced off natural alpine garden, a designated National Nature Reserve that straddles the burn. Here the plants — protected from sheep, deer, and any other grazing, browsing wildlife — are as close to “native” as possible. (Although at one time the mountainside would likely have been forested and not an ideal host for alpine flora.)
 

Once across the burn above the Nature Reserve, the climb begins in earnest. Photo © Home At First.
ONCE ACROSS THE BURN ABOVE THE NATURE RESERVE, THE CLIMB BEGINS IN EARNEST.
Photo © Home At First.
 

 

After the nature reserve, the trail crosses the burn from west to east and continues steeply up Beinn Ghlas. At first heavy grass and scrub trees dominate the living landscape. Then, with every meter of altitude gained, the terrain becomes rockier, steeper, and less able to support sizeable plant life. Because of the thin foliage, steep landfall, and the heavy foot traffic, considerable erosion affects this trail, inviting it to become a streambed for torrential runoffs during storms, and remain muddy even after rare weeklong dry spells. As a result, the trail fractures and meanders, as climbers and runoff have sought easier paths up and down the mountain.
 

The lower reaches of Beinn Ghlas show the route up the ridge to the peak. White dots in the center-right of the photo are grazing sheep that wander the mountain except for the Nature Reserve. Photo © Home At First.
THE LOWER REACHES OF BEINN GHLAS SHOW THE ROUTE UP THE RIDGE. WHITE DOTS
IN THE CENTER-RIGHT OF THE PHOTO ARE GRAZING SHEEP THAT WANDER
THE MOUNTAIN EXCEPT FOR THE NATURE RESERVE.

Photo © Home At First.

 

 

Most of the ascent to Ben Lawers is accomplished on the climb up Beinn Ghlas. Hikers approaching Lawers from the southwest first see the great mountain when they reach the summit of Beinn Ghlas and most of the climb is behind them. From the summit of Beinn Ghlas Loch Tay, Killin, the Tarmachan Ridge (3,425', 1,044m), and the numerous mountain peaks of western Breadalbane are visible. Indeed, on a reasonably clear day the twin Munros (3,000'+ high peaks) of Ben More (3,851', 1,174m) and Stob Binnean (3,822', 1,165m) are easily seen as sentinel mountains nearly 20 miles away on the southwestern horizon.
 

As the trail nears the summit of Beinn Ghlas, a broad view of Loch Tay emerges below. Photo © Home At First.
AS THE TRAIL NEARS THE SUMMIT OF BEINN GHLAS A BROAD VIEW OF LOCH TAY EMERGES BELOW.
Photo © Home At First.
 

 

At the 3,619' (1,103m) high summit of Beinn Ghlas, the 3,912' (1,214m) summit of Ben Lawers seems a short arm-length away across a gentle, grass-covered saddle-pass (col). The easy descent from Beinn Ghlas summit to the 990m high col is pastoral, broad, and, on a wind-free, sunny day, almost a picnic stroll. This pass (bealach in Scots Gaelic — with fine views to the northwest and southeast — can make a good lunch stop, best after returning from the Ben Lawers summit where conditions may be raw with fierce winds. (The 120m difference between Beinn Ghlas summit and its shoulder pass with Ben Lawers keeps Beinn Ghlas from boasting Marilyn status. A height differential of 150m or more is required to earn a British peak independent prominence as a Marilyn.)
 

The pass between Beinn Ghlas (background left) and Ben Lawers (not shown) makes a scenic picnic spot. Meall Corranaich (3,507'), northwest of Beinn Ghlas, is shown in the center-right background. Photo © Home At First.
THE PASS BETWEEN BEINN GHLAS (BACKGROUND LEFT) AND BEN LAWERS IS A SCENIC PICNIC SPOT.
Photo © Home At First.
 

 

THE FINAL PUSH. The 230m ascent from the col to the pinnacle of Ben Lawers requires 30-45 minutes of steady, steep climbing up an obvious, but rubble-strewn, trail. On a windy day the winds will be magnified by the peak. Ben Lawers is Britain’s highest peak south of Ben Nevis, and nothing in its neighborhood deflects the wind from its highest slopes. The last few meters to the top may require handholds on the rocks along the pathway to keep balance in high winds. Two cairns — one a simple stone semi-cone inverted, the other a concrete-covered stone trapezoid — mark twin summits a few yards apart. Years ago some enterprising locals attempted to construct an 18-foot-high cairn at the summit to enable Ben Lawers to break the 4,000’ altitude barrier, but their efforts neither lasted nor counted: geographic types apparently abide no implants on their mountains.
 

Two cairns mark the twin summits of Ben Lawers a few yards apart. Lawers is the last of the 3,000-foot-tall Munros. Numbers 1 through 9 all break the 4,000-foot barrier. Photo © Home At First.
NOT QUITE 4,000'. TWO CAIRNS MARK THE TWIN SUMMITS OF BEN LAWERS.
Photo © Home At First.

 

 

The heady view from Ben Lawers rewards the eyes as they clear of perspiration. The Munros of the Lawers group gather round like lesser chess pieces protecting the king. Much of the length of Loch Tay may be seen: the northeastern two-fifths to the village of Kenmore, and the southwestern two-fifths to Killin. Beyond in the distance are the suggestions of lower Perthshire at Aberfeldy, and the southernmost Munros of Stirling Council: Ben Vorlich (3,232', 985m), Stuc a’ Chroin (3,199', 975m) by an unseen Loch Earn (), and the lofty twins Stob Binnein and Ben More near Crianlarich twenty miles to the southwest. The sightline along the northern horizon suggests the seemingly endless topography of the Grampians: a rolling tide of Highland ridges and peaks extending to infinity. (See the 360° panorama HERE.)
 


VIEW NORTHEAST FROM THE SUMMIT OF BEN LAWERS. THE SMALL LAKE IS LOCHAN NAN CAT.
THE DAPPLED PEAKS ARE BOTH MUNROS: MEALL GARBH (3,667') AND MEALL GREIGH (3,284').
FAR BELOW LOCH TAY EXTENDS NORTHEAST TO THE VILLAGE OF KENMORE IN THE DISTANCE
.
Photo © Home At First.
 

 

BAD WEATHER AT THE TOP. The wind helps replenish heaving lungs, too, but does no favors by rapidly chilling overheated climbers in sweat-soaked clothing. Best bring along a change of base-layer plus an extra warm pullover to change into at the top of Lawers. Hypothermia is a treacherous enemy to climbers who may have to battle wet, frosty weather on the descent. There is scant shelter atop Lawers when the mountain is busy and the weather windy and wet. Get your snaps, celebrate with a swig of water or tea and take a moment to consider your next move. If onward to An Stuc, note the location of the trail and the prominent neighboring peak. If back to Beinn Ghlas and down to the Visitor Centre car park, prepare to return the way you came. Take good look at the weather to the west and northwest. If sweeping rain showers and lowering clouds are moving in quickly, do not delay your descent: at the peak of Ben Lawers rain can quickly freeze on rocky surfaces, making a descent much more demanding than the uphill journey had been.
 

Hiker at Ben Lawers summit with weather approaching fast. Lawers, tallest peak in the region, is often topped with clouds. Hikers should be ready to descend if cold, windy, icy rain suddenly blows in. Photo © Home At First.
HIKER AT BEN LAWERS SUMMIT WITH WEATHER APPROACHING FAST.
Photo © Home At First.
 

 

GOOD WEATHER AT THE TOP. The top of the Ben may also be benign. Scottish weather surprises both ways. If friendly skies and wafting breezes greet you at the pinnacle, picnic. Few places in the Highlands offer better dining ambiance, a view with the room to convert the rudest fare into the highest of Scottish cuisine. Below you in a corrie (cirque) to the northeast is the little alpine lake Lochan nan Cat — a shining jewel in the sunshine — flanked by three Munros sweeping in a crescent first north then east away from their parent, Ben Lawers: An Stuc (3,668', 1,118m), Meall Garbh (3,668', 1,118m), and Meall Greigh (3,284', 1,001m). Streams from all four mountains and the lochan conjoin in the flats below the little lake to form the Lawers Burn at about 600m of altitude. From here a path follows the burn south toward Loch Tay steeply down to the A827 at Lawers Hotel 4.5 miles east of the turn uphill to the Visitor Centre trailhead, providing an alternative route down from the mountains.
 

With the two Munros (Beinn Ghlas and Ben Lawers) behind them (literally), one novice and one experienced hillwalker celebrate their return to the heathered meadows of the lower altitudes. With challenges of weather, open heights, and physical endurance, hiking adventures in the Highlands of Scotland are best done in groups of two or more, especially when novices are attempting their first Marilyn and their first two Munros. Photo © Home At First.
WITH THE TWO MUNROS BEHIND THEM (LITERALLY), ONE NOVICE AND ONE EXPERIENCED HILLWALKER
CELEBRATE THEIR RETURN TO THE HEATHERED MEADOWS OF THE LOWER ALTITUDES. WITH
CHALLENGES OF WEATHER, OPEN HEIGHTS, AND PHYSICAL ENDURANCE, HIKING ADVENTURES
IN THE HIGHLANDS OF SCOTLAND ARE BEST DONE IN GROUPS OF TWO OR MORE, ESPECIALLY
WHEN NOVICES ARE ATTEMPTING THEIR FIRST MARILYN AND THEIR FIRST TWO MUNROS.

Photo © Home At First.
 

 

CLAIMING YOUR REWARDS. The Lawers Hotel offers light meals and liquid refreshments to hikers that come its way. Those returning to the Visitor Centre parking lot and driving back to Killin find a selection of inns, pubs, and restaurants waiting to replenish calories burned and liquid lost during the day in the mountains. A favorite post-adventure stop of the author is the Falls of Dochart Inn just across the historic, arched Dochart Bridge at the southwest entrance to Killin. The Falls of Dochart is a traditional Highlands inn that welcomes hillwalkers and other outdoorsmen with a full offering of pub bar, tea room, and restaurant. I once met ex-Python Michael Palin there, standing in the parking lot in a driving rain. While you probably will not meet a Python at the Falls of Dochart Inn, you can expect good food, real Scottish ales, friendly, local service, and reasonable prices. You may also meet other hillwalkers with whom you can share experiences of climbing some of Central Scotland's mountains.
 

The Falls of the Dochart Inn by the historic, arched Killin bridge. Hidden behind the tall pine trees in the center of the phot are Beinn Ghlas and Ben Lawers about six miles away to the northeast. Photo © Home At First.
THE FALLS OF THE DOCHART INN BY THE HISTORIC, ARCHED KILLIN BRIDGE. HIDDEN BEHIND THE TALL
PINE TREES IN THE CENTER OF THE PHOTO ARE BEINN GHLAS AND BEN LAWERS ABOUT 6 MILES DISTANT.

Photo © Home At First.

 

 

 
The trailhead leading to the ascent of Beinn Ghlas and Ben Lawers is easily
reached from HOME AT FIRST’S lodgings in Killin and throughout CENTRAL SCOTLAND.

FOR MORE HIKING & BIKING ADVENTURES IN CENTRAL SCOTLAND, SEE:
WALKS IN ROB ROY COUNTRY 1
WALKS IN ROB ROY COUNTRY 2
RAMBLING ROB ROY'S RUSTLING ROUTE
HIKING ACROSS THE BRAES o' BALQUHIDDER
THE DEVIL'S STAIRCASE (WEST HIGHLAND WAY)
CYCLING IN THE CENTRAL HIGHLANDS — CALLANDER TO KILLIN.

A full menu of walks (rated from 1 star to 5 stars) is listed among dozens of
activities suggested in HOME AT FIRST’s "SCOTLAND ACTIVITY GUIDE
provided exclusively to HOME AT FIRST guests to Scotland.

 

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