Friday, September 03, 2010

On Cruachan's mighty ridges...

Most people who visit Ben Cruachan do so in order to view its insides - the famous underground hydro-electric power station, with its visitor centre. It is (apparently) Scotland's best subterranean tourist attraction. 'Victor Meldrew' & I visited the great mountain yesterday, but rather than using the plentiful car-park for the visitors centre, and underground tour, we wedged the car on the verge by the station, in order to make for the ridges.

Guide-books are divided as to the best way up on to Cruachan. Paths follow both sides of the burn that tumble down from the dam to the lochside. Older books favour the little lane that goes up by the railway arches, to the west bank of the stream. Newer books tend to recommend the steps up to the station, under the tracks and up the path on the burns east-side. We went up the west and down the east and found the eastern path from the station to be in better condition, whereas the older path on the other side of the stream is quite overgrown in places.

From the dam we took the west bank of the loch and then the incredibly steep path up to Cruachan. In blazing sunshine and awesome views from Ben Nevis to Ben More, Schiehallion to Mull, we followed the ridge from Cruachan to Stob Diamh and then back to the dam. In good weather this is simply wonderful, easy and breathtaking ridge walking, although in fog it would require careful attention in a couple of places. The much vaunted 'bad-step' which the local mountain rescue team describe as a 'fatality waiting to happen' (!) proved to be only a 'marginally awkward step' which presented no obstacle when ascending it (ie going west to east) in dry conditions. Descending it in ice could be pretty hairy however.
Having viewed Ben Cruachan's unusual summit from so many angles, so many places, and so many other summits - I was delighted to be able to climb it - and on such a cracking good day too. McNeish rates it the finest ridge walk in the Southern Highlands and he's probably right, it is quite superlative. A wonderful day out.


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