If one of your new year resolutions is to get out into the hills more and maintain your mountain fitness, you might want to consider tying in a stay at Loch Melfort with a little trip up to Ben Cruachan, by Loch Awe, to bag yourself a winter Munro.
What is a Munro anyway, I hear you say?…It is the term used to designate any mountain in Scotland above 3000ft. There are 282 Munros out there (named after the man who first listed these peaks) and it is something of a challenge for many out there to try and “bag” (or climb) all of them.
At 1126m (3694ft) Ben Cruachan is a substantial hill but one that is accessible to well-equipped winter walkers. Just over an hour by road to the start of the route from Loch Melfort, one of the routes to the summit of Ben Cruachan is via the Cruachan Dam. This impressive dam is reached after a steep walk through woods by Allt Cruachan up to a metal ladder which takes you directly onto the dam. Walking over the dam is pretty impressive in itself. One hiker likened it to a scene out of a James Bond movie. I’d personally go for Force 10 from Navarone (the 1978 sequel to the Guns of Navarone).
Once you have passed the dam, the route takes you to a ridge with mixed terrain, going up steeper tracks, across rock slabs and down more gentle grassy slopes, allowing you to take a breath and a break along the way. It’s a steep climb up to the summit of Ben Cruachan itself but your reward on arrival will be the amazing views down to Loch Etive, other rocky peaks, and the sea and islands beyond. Well worth the trip and the view, particularly on a clear day.
As you carry on from there along a rocky ridge, and after a couple of climbs, the last part of the ridge is a gentle walk to reach Stob Diamh, another Munro (so you’ve bagged two in one day!). The walk down is along a clear ridge and down to gentle ground, taking you back to Cruachan Reservoir and Dam.
Now, this is not a walk for the uninitiated, few Munros are. The Ben Cruachan route takes over seven hours (most of the available daylight in winter) and requires a certain level of navigational skills. Particularly in winter, walkers should check the weather forecast, first and foremost, and come prepared with winter (and spare) clothing, boots, plenty food, head torches and related equipment, and, in case of lying snow, crampons and ice axes. If you are not sure about using this winter equipment, it is worth seeking the support and advice of a local guide who will take you safely along the route.
Don’t forget to tell us where you are going and when you expect to be back before you leave so we can ensure there is help at hand, should anything happen. Mountains are fantastic playgrounds but should be enjoyed, as with all good spirits, with caution so everybody makes the most of a safe and pretty unique experience.
We look forward to hearing of your achievements.